Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Railing against AI art

I hate computer generated art* and worry very deeply about what a future dominated by artificial intelligence will look like. Both for artists, consumers, observers, fans, and anyone who cares about human creativity in general.

One of the regular YouTubers I enjoy watching is Rick Beato. Rick serves up long form, in depth interviews with artists whose work I admire (recently Sting, and Billy Corgan for example). He attracts great guests because he’s not a quack, or a conspiracy theorist. His large following (3.3M) appreciates his candor, personality, passion, and sharp insights into what makes certain songs, albums, or artists great. Moreover through his talent he replicates many of those sounds in the studio with a guitar or keyboard.

But in his most recent video he touches on something that has occupied my mind more and more these days. “How Auto-Tune Destroyed Popular Music” includes a discussion of generative artificial intelligence music companies set to unleash music wholly made by AI. “The selling point of generative AI is that no musical knowledge or training is necessary. Anyone can potentially create a hit song with the help of computers that evolve with each artificially produced guitar lick or drum beat,” Beato says.

Yuck. Sounds fucking awful.

A quick recap of where we’re at:

  • Humans can prompt AI programs (i.e., Midjourney, etc.) to generate pictures, for example sword-and-sorcery images that look a lot like something Frank Frazetta or Ken Kelly might have created, while also being something new. Many of these are pretty good.
  • ChatGPT is authoring stories with just a few prompts. Not as good, often poor, but in some cases passable… and this technology will get better.

I fail to see how any of this is good for art.

The argument about “democratizing music” is horseshit. Yeah, let’s bypass the cost of having to pay for a studio drummer and democratize the cost of a recording studio for the struggling musician… but now let’s cut out the song writer and the singer as well, and proceed straight to entering prompts in a computer.

My best friend’s son is just starting to learn the guitar. Even though he’s just 13 he’s gotten pretty good… because he’s put in hours of practice. It’s awesome to watch him grow, but also fair to ask: Why bother, kid?

Are human beings supposed to consume computer developed art, and embrace it with our soul (if you believe we have one, and are not just flesh and blood robots)?

What about guys like Beato? Are they supposed to analyze computer generated art? Who are they going to talk to… some nerd who input the prompts, or the software engineer who designed the program? Or maybe some version of HAL 9000?

At that point, why have humans at all? Should we just accept our robot overlords?

Where is the place for high, noble art in all of this?

The real crime is that all of these algorithms are based off mass data that is taken from original work by human beings who will never be acknowledged or compensated for their efforts. Google has floated a repeated claim that all information should be “free,” and all of the world’s library digitized. But they and a handful of other large corporations are the ones getting rich from this process. Beato asks the same: “Really the only question is, who gets paid for it? Who are the songwriters? Are they the programmers that program it?”

And this is just art. No one is really talking about deep fakes, and the destruction of what is truthful through the production of fake news, and the subsequent loss of our grasp on reality.

I think AI has amazing potential for improving the quality of human lives, and in many ways already has. If an AI can detect cancers unseen by a radiologist’s eye, that’s a technology I want deployed STAT. I’m in favor of self-driving cars that reduce the human error that leads to most roadway fatalities. Let’s get cheap self-driving cars out there, even if they cost drivers’ jobs.

But art? Art is not a tool; art is created by humans and enjoyed by humans. Creating art, and putting in the hours to do so, is a meaningful act, i.e., meaning-generative. It’s one of the few refuges of meaning we have left. What’s the point of art without a human mind behind it, guiding its creation?

Call me an old fart but a world where we consume AI generated art is not one I want to live in. I’m glad I have my old CDs and will just sit in my corner and listen to them. And go see cover bands that cover the old shit I like while refusing to auto-tune their voices.

I have tried to embrace new tech, and have (laptop, cell phone, reasonably modern car) but general AI seems to me a bridge too far, and one we should not cross--at least without some serious thinking about the economics and societal impact.

Yup, first post of 2023 and I’m officially an Old Man Who Shouts at Cloud.

*I make an exception for CGI, etc. that adds detail to sets and supplements the work of human actors. 


Paul R. McNamee said...

It's insane. We don't need AI in the arts space. Feels far more like people trying to cheap out on acquiring art than an artistic endeavor.

Brian Murphy said...

Agreed Paul... or more like a business opportunity for Silicon Valley AI companies who can sell subscriptions and licenses to the AI generators.

John said...

Brian, from one old fart to another, I'm in complete agreement. AI might be best served in the medical profession or maybe engineering, but so far as music? Bah! Reminds me of the great quote by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park when he quips: "Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

I love Beato, too, and I listened to this episode of his essential channel. This guy is the real deal and I admire him greatly.

To paraphrase a 60's R. Crumb cartoon, Keep on railing!

John E. Boyle said...

Agreed. And welcome to the club.

Dana said...

Mr. Heinlein, The Number Of The Beast, 1980:

"Thank you, sir. Working title: 'Uncle Tobias.' Start: 'Uncle Tobias we kept in a bucket." Jubal Harshaw broke off. "Where are all those girls? FRONT!"

"I'm 'Front," came a female voice from nowhere. "Talk fast; I'm three paragraphs ahead of you. You put those girls on vacation: Anne, Miriam, Dorcas-all off duty."

"I did not. I told Anne that I did not expect to work but-"

"-if an amanuensis is needed," Athene went on, in perfect mimicry of Harshaw's voice, "I hope that one will be within shouting distance.' I'm in shouting distance; I always am."


"Doctor Harshaw, shall we return to 'Uncle Tobias' or shall I wipe these eight paragraphs? Better save them; between ourselves, I am a better writer than you are."

"I will not dispute it," Harshaw conceded... "I knew the day would come when machines would displace real writers; Hollywood has had their mad scientists at work on the project for years." He stared across the pool in the Longs' north atrium and looked pained. "And now they have."

Brian Murphy said...

Go Heinlein! Very prescient.

Frontier Partisan said...

Once again, I'll stand in the shieldwall with you.

Brian Murphy said...

@Frontier Partisan can two form a shield wall? Let's give it a go.