Art and Artificiality: What Is the Future of AI Art?

Artificial Intelligence is here to stay. What does that mean for the future of the arts? I’ve been studying the situation, and I think I see a path through the negatives to reach a situation that’s good for all, and I’d like to share that with you.

AI is, of course, the New Thing. As is always the case with the New Thing, people are seeing what they can do with it. And most of what they want to do with it is stupid. But like a woman trying on clothes at the store, she may consider a lot of options, even experimenting with some ridiculous choices, but she’ll only keep the ones that work for her. I see the same thing happening with AI.

I talked in a previous post about originality, and how the goal as an artist is not only to remix older things but contribute something new to the pool of inspiration that future artists can draw from. AI cannot truly create anything new; it can only recombine things it’s seen in patterns that mimic real art but without any understanding of what it is doing or ability to create art with deeper meaning. In that way, it’s much like a Hollywood Studio. AI art is starting to crop up everywhere now, but that was the case with autotune as well. People got sick of it being overused and wouldn’t put up with art that used autotune excessively. I’m anticipating the same dynamic with AI art.

Does that mean I think AI is overhyped in the art sphere? No. I think it’s underhyped. I think this because we’ve been here before, and I’m thrilled with how things turned out.

When the mechanical loom was introduced in the 19th century, weavers were outraged. Machines were taking human jobs, and manufacturers were passing off inferior machine-made goods as if they were made by human hands. They rose up against this outrage and became known as the Luddites. But they’ve now become a byword for people who senselessly oppose technology, and I think it’s right to mock them. Talk to anyone in the fashion industry now and ask them how they’d fare if all cloth had to be woven by hand. Talk to any economist and ask them if they think mechanical looms were a net benefit or detriment to the workforce; not one will say they were a mistake.

Similarly, at the start of US history, 90% of workers did backbreaking labor on the farm. Now it’s 1.3%. We don’t have 89% unemployment as a result. Instead, mechanization freed people up for job opportunities that were unimaginable at the start of US history and made those who remained in agriculture far more productive than they could ever have been before. That’s the power of technology; it multiplies what people are capable of achieving.

With all that said, let me sketch for you a new vision of a world where artists create grander and more amazing art with the tool of AI supporting them. In any artistic endeavor, there are the big tricky parts that have the most creative freedom but also require the most artistic skill. But most of an artist’s time is spent on the finicky bits that are tedious and petty, but also necessary. Guess what kinds of tasks AI specializes in?

We’ve already started using it. Musicians will play a short beat and have a computer endlessly loop it while they play the more complicated parts. The movie Big Hero 6 used an algorithm to create a digital city for the character to fly through, and it allowed the creation of something incredibly majestic without tying up huge numbers of people managing tedious details that no one would have noticed. I personally rely on my word processor checking my spelling and grammar and giving suggestions for improvement. In fact, it just fixed my spelling of the word “improvement” in that last sentence automatically, and I’m grateful for that.

If that’s what simple algorithms can do, imagine what we could do with even more complex ones. Picture what your artistic discipline would be like if you could do the big, important parts of your work and leave AI to take care of the tedious details. Currently, the most effective way to create hand-drawn animation is to have a skilled artist create the initial drawings and then turn the rest of the work over to animation sweatshops in North Korea where workers toil in endless drudgery to fill in the missing frames. I have friends who dream of creating animation but can’t afford to hire the thousands of workers it would take to produce even a thirty-minute film. The thought of AI replacing the original artists fills us with outrage and rightfully so. But if AI means a resurgence of classic animation and an end to the tedium and massive expense of farming out animation work, I think that’s a net win for society and a major victory for the arts.

I expect that’s the kind of revolution that’s coming for all of the arts – AI slowly replacing the least creative, most expensive, and most time-consuming parts of the artistic process and freeing artists to create things that are grander, more expansive, and more meaningful.

Cameron Miller, writer
Photo by Steve Johnson, Unsplash

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