A.I. - A Boon to or Death of Imagination?
Advanced algorithms already influence many aspects of our lives, from ads to product recommendations to telemarketers to design engineering, and they have been doing it for years. Now, these algorithms are advancing on artistic fields, creating digital artwork and writing digital novels. Are they the panacea for delivering ultimately-personalized content, or are they the death of human imagination?
Before digging into that dilemma, I first have to address the ridiculous fact that we refer to these programs as ‘artificial intelligence.’ They are nothing of the sort. There is no intelligence in today’s A.I. – a term too recklessly thrown about and completely incorrect. These machines don’t make decisions. They don’t have taste. And they certainly don’t have ethics. They are amalgamators. Nothing more.
No computer system has yet passed the Turing test (or as I like to call it, a precursor to the Voight-Kampff test) where a human can't tell the difference between responses from a computer or another human with greater than 70% accuracy. There is no intelligence there.
And when it comes to the creative arts, there is nothing truly new created - not even by the most advanced algorithms. These systems produce mixtures of the content to which they have been exposed. They are the ultimate mash-ups, but far from true artists.
Could a visual AI paint in bold impasto like Van Gogh without referencing the master’s works? How about the drip-and-splatter of Jackson Pollock, the ben-day dots of Roy Lichtenstein, or the bold primalism of Keith Haring? Can a text-generating AI write with the lyricism of Walt Whitman or Robert Frost before reading what they wrote? Could it be savagely bleak like Cormac McCarthy, saccharine sweet like Nicholas Sparks, or mind-blowingly demented like Hunter S. Thompson before being exposed to those authors?
No, no, and no.
But what they can do is feed the muse of true artists, and that’s how I use them as an author – just like I would any other tool. When I need help plotting a story, I turn to Save the Cat to help me map out the appropriate beats. And now, when I need help describing a character or visualizing a setting, I can create something in MidJourney that fills in the details my mind left out. Or, if I need ideas of a sick twist, I can query ChatGPT and morph the suggestions it gives.
But the root of the story remains my own.
Someday, we may reach a point where a person could prompt a system with all the elements they enjoy in a good book - a badass hero with ninja skills, a tragic backstory, a daring heist, an impossible escape, a doomed love interest, and a plucky sidekick set in a monastery on a cyberpunk planet – and have it quickly generated for them to read, along with system-created artwork of the characters, settings, and battle scenes. (That sounds pretty cool, actually. I may have to write a story about that.)
Isn’t that okay? Isn’t the customer entitled to what they want?
But human imagination comes into play when an artist gives a customer something unexpected, something they never realized they wanted but can’t live without. Something new. And that’s the sweet spot of any artist. Not creating something tailored to a specific customer, but something organic resulting from the artist's own wonderful mind. The story that they want to tell. The expression of their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Let’s see an A.I. do that.
(And, if you were curious, I wrote this post myself, though I did get some help with the artwork.)