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Is AI Coming For Art?

Not anytime soon.

Advances in technology always results in winners and losers in the great scheme of human endeavor.

The Industrial Revolution, which gave us the word “sabotage.” There are competing theories on the word’s etymology, but the more satisfying one has to do with the invention of the Jacquard loom by by none other than Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801. Jacquard’s innovation was to use punch cards to automate the raising and lowering of warp thread and so, without going into further detail, the machines could weave fabric much faster than any human. Of course, that meant a lot of weavers suddenly found themselves jobless. Textile workers, understandably outraged, retaliated by throwing their clogs, called “sabots” in French, into the machine’s delicate workings.

Well, they tried, but in the end, the machines–and the capitalists–won.

From what I can see, tech advances that impact labor arise from the “bottom” up, and its effects are generally ignored by labor whose work lies outside the affected industries. Automobile assembly lines. Keypunch operators, who punched holes into stiff paper cards so to be machine read. And so many more.

For rote jobs, technology always wins.

The one thing these jobs had in common was that after one gained proficiency, an employee could pretty much work on autopilot. “Mind-numbing,” in other words. I think that’s really a misnomer. The repetitive work freed the mind to wander wherever it wanted to go.

And then the robots invaded the auto assembly lines. PCs in the workplace allowed employees to enter their own information into the system or whatever other information was required, eliminating the need for keypunch operators. Assembly line workers and their unions made a stink, their grievances making the national news for a hot minute. I don’t remember hearing anything about the keypunch operators.

But like the French textile workers, the machines–and the capitalists–won.

These days, technology is no longer doing what laborers at the “bottom” used to do. Tech has worked its way up into the “higher” echelons, where labor comes mainly from brainpower, not brawn.

That technology is AI, and what a firestorm of a debate is raging now!

AI is competent–but not necessarily good.

As a creative, most of my attention has been on the question of whether AI-generated literature and art, assuming they qualify as art, can replace that produced by humans. I decided to take a break from listening and do some investigating.

Literature. I read several AI-generated pieces–children’s to adult, some genre, others literary. The writing was impeccable, and amazingly…flat. The one that sticks out was about a little girl who walks into the woods, meets a dragon, and of course, there’s danger. The descriptions of the character moving through space were well done. But that’s it. No emotion. No motivation. No worldbuilding. Like, the little girl is in the woods picking flowers. How does she feel about it? Is ravaging forest vegetation one of her favorite pastimes? When she meets the talking salamander, is she startled or scared that a salamander can talk? Or is this sort of thing ho-hum in her world? The dialogue, stilted. Reminded me of the children’s reading textbook I had in 1st grade. Both–the textbook and the story–were incredibly boring.

Visual art. Stunning detail and execution. But…flat. Like photorealism without the realism. Still lifes, like vases with flowers, come off better than figures, but even then, to quote Gertrude Stein, “there’s no there, there.” Like AI literature, AI visual art is ultimately boring.

Lawyers might be in trouble, though.

Now, I can see AI writing displacing those in some professions. Law. Legal writing is as about as dry as you can get outside of accounting. Let’s throw in economics, too. Text that’s totally unimaginative because imagination has no place in that kind of writing. And I can see AI displacing commercial art, at least some types. TOR has been criticized for using a piece of AI art for a sci-fi book cover. I’ll grant that the AI’s piece had potential. But to make it work, TOR’s artist had to do a LOT of tweaking. And for the sub-genre (think The Martian) it comes across just fine–after the tweaking, that is. What about a romance cover? Sure…after tweaking.

Although, to be honest, I can see publishers regularly opting for AI covers, at least as a basis for the finished work. Cheaper than an in-house artist creating from scratch, and they probably won’t need as many artists. After all, AIs don’t need to eat or pay rent.

So, in the end, I don’t think AI can replace human-generated literature and visual art. For visual art, it’s good enough to hang in your living room if works sans emotion turn you on. Like velvet paintings. But rest assured, you won’t see it being auctioned at Sotheby’s.

This is not to say it won’t, ever. For now, though, most creatives don’t have much to worry about.



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