This is not going to be a technical article about AI, I’m going to share with you the thought process of one artist, me, and hopefully, you will understand where this hesitation about AI comes from.
Recently I was sitting with a few artists, writers, visual artists, and actors, and the conversation turned to artificial intelligence. At first, we were speaking as if in a sci-fi film brought to life. There was talk of singularity and AI robots moving beyond us and then taking over. We imagined what robot theater would be like, plays and musicals about the fools who have emotions. Films with robot protagonists who come to a town overrun by evil emotional desperados, and the robots have to go in and remove the emotion and get the town back to the new normal.
We were joking, and for most of us, the joking is sort of keeping the dread at bay. One person in our group, a young girl who was just starting out as an actor, asked me after our little gathering broke up if I thought what we talked about would ever be true.
Before I could answer, a guy in the coffee shop where we had been talking stepped up and said he had overheard pieces of our conversation. He was “in computers,” as he put it, and he told me we sounded like a bunch of Luddites.
A couple of things struck me, one, why was this guy listening in on our conversation? Two, he pronounced Luddite like loodite. And three, the young actress I was with had no idea what a Luddite was, and she asked. This eavesdropping computer guy said a Luddite is someone who hates technology, hates progress, doesn’t engage in new technology, and wants the world to be frozen in amber in the 1950s.
He didn’t say the frozen-in-amber part, I have embellished here. But the third thought was he couldn’t be further from the truth if Rand McNally created a map for him.
How an Artist Feels About AI
This is not going to be a technical article about AI, I’m sure that article is in the offing, but for now, I wanted to clarify some things. And I am going to share with you the thought process of one artist, me, and hopefully, you will understand where this hesitation about AI comes from. I will discuss “I’m in computers” definition and observations.
I hate technology
Many years ago, when I was writing for Disney, I was sent off to Italy to work on the new cruise line project. Up to that point, I had been doing all my writing on a vintage Olivetti. A solid workhorse of a typewriter. But it was too heavy and inconvenient, so I bought my first Mac laptop. This introduced me to the internet, working without decimating the tree population, and a better way of communicating with people in the company who were across the ocean. I loved it.
I have a cell phone. I have an Alexa app that tells me the weather and the news every morning that has been adjusted to fit my news interests and my geographical location at the time.
I drive a car, which, unlike its predecessors, I don’t have to keep track of oil consumption or spark plug connection manually; there is a computer in there that handles all that. Practically everything in my apartment is connected to blue tooth. So, this proves that I do not hate technology.
I hate progress
I love to read, and when I travel, it used to be a problem because over half the space in my bags was devoted to books I wanted to have with me. Books weigh a lot, and there is a limited number one can carry. Now, I have a tablet that has my entire library in it and that fits neatly in my coat pocket. I would never have been able to do that if not for progress.
Technically, socially and humanistically, we have progressed, and I see the need for more. I look forward to what we can discover in medicine, cars, computers, and even socially. Progress is good; we get better, learn more, and become better humans.
I do not hate progress.
I want a world frozen in Amber
The only amber I want to be frozen with is Amber Tamblyn. The 50s is not a time I want to return to. The ideals are way passed, the way women were seen is ridiculous to me, and I hate jello with things in it, like spam or peas. That seems to have been a very prevalent dish in the 50s.
We were backward in our thinking, and there was so much to learn; it may seem to some like perfect picture life, but I have no desire to go backward.
So, no frozen in amber, unless, you know, Ms. Tamblyn wants to have a moment with me frozen in amber, then all bets are off.
I’m a Luddite
This one I will cop to with a caveat. I am a Luddite in the true sense of what they were after. The Luddites weren’t fighting technology; they were fighting for equality and fair pay, and to have the time and work that goes into mastering a profession mean something.
This is where I am now, being labeled a Luddite by “I’m in computers.” He certainly didn’t understand the word's true definition, only some passed-down idea of what a Luddite is, and he misused the term.
That is one point that I agree with.
I feel the same way as the Luddites did about AI. I am not against progress, and I know, especially as a writer with dyslexia, that I rely on AI to do my job. After I finish writing this article, which is full of errors, I will pass it through my Grammarly program and make it clean so that you, the reader, don’t think a chimp broke into my office and wrote this. I mean, he did, but he’s a very special chimp.
Here’s the rub. I worked hard at being a writer. I worked hard at being an actor. I trained and studied to do both, and being a writer, being able to say I am a writer means something to me. As does being able to say, I am an actor.
In both situations, I paid my dues.
What troubles me is seeing “I’m in computers” getting an AI writing program, feeding in the correct prompts and coming up with a short story, and then telling all his “I’m in computers” friends that he is now a writer.
Just as a painter who has worked on their technique, brushwork, colors, and whatnot is upset when they encounter “I’m in computers” who has some AI art program, he throws some Hieronymus Bosch prompts in, it turns out a painting and suddenly “I’m in computers” fancies himself a painter or worse, an artist.
Maybe I’m Jealous
This isn’t a new emotional state, and it’s undoubtedly not singular to me. Ask a drummer who was working before and in the 80s. They will have a strong opinion about the LM-1. Even though the first drum machine was built in the ‘30s by Leon Theremin, which he called the Rhythmicon, we still had drummers like Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, and Jo Jones come along.
The machine did not replace them. But those drummers had chops, and they earned their place. A drum machine felt like cheating. But, the late great Neil Peart even admitted that, at times, he used a drum machine to help find new beats, rhythms, and patterns.
Artists must earn their chops, pay their dues, and perfect their craft. And I know that the technology that is creating and innovating AI is born of intelligent minds, forward thinkers, and dedicated scientists, the mechanical side of it feels like the human side, the heart, and soul, the guts, pain, and experience that goes into making an artist, is discarded. It feels like cheating.
Now we need to be Centaurs
I accept progress and the possibility of AI. It makes my car easier to drive. My AI writing program tells me there is no 8 in the word singular. You have to understand I am responding emotionally to a technical issue.
Intellectually I know we are not going to be replaced by AI. I have, and I understand, empathy; that’s something a machine will never experience. (Cut to a robot walking into my apartment and telling me it's sorry before it shoots me in the head and dumps me in a ditch). I am excited to see where we can go and what we can achieve working with AI.
That’s the point, working with. I have empathy and emotion; AI has the capacity to cull millions of tons of data and spit out a good social media caption. We have to be centaurs, half person, half AI because by working closely together, we can achieve untold miracles.
Ignoring AI will get you left in the rearview mirror. Fighting it will get you frustrated. Understanding it and becoming more AI literate will open the world to you. I get all that. But, you must realize that artists feel they are no longer legit or needed because a machine can take a few prompts and create Francis Bacon’s “Screaming Pope.”
But, the artist knows, the anguish, the intolerance of society toward a homosexual, the rage against society in that painting that makes that painting what it is, will not have been witnessed or felt by the AI machine. But those emotions matter. Matching brush strokes, sentence structure, and copying what has been earned is not what makes something art.
Like many other artists, I am fighting for the artist to be recognized and their process to be considered and for scientists to know that there is more to art than setting up a machine to put color blots on a canvas in a particular manner. That kind of thing is excellent for a room at Motel Six, but the Louvre displays more than color and shape. It displays testimonies of life, emotion, trials, failures, and triumphs over restrictive laws, suppressive ideals, and personal tragedy.
Things that AI will never experience. Allow us to fight for the wealth of experience we bring to the art, and don’t judge us as haters of technology or progress. Call us what we are, artists and Luddites.