Anything humans have discovered so far: electricity, fire, the energy of wind and water, has made life easier, work more efficient, survival more secure. But does this apply to AI as well?
The relationship between artists and technology has been complicated since the first bits of technical progress. Creatives have rebelled against the homogenous industrialization of crafts, but also utilized them in their own visionary ways. Hence, our being artists as well as the essence of art and creativity is being continuously redefined. Marcel Duchamp was one of the first artists to openly redefine art as ‘what I say art is’.
Fast forward to the past two years, with more and more platforms emerging like Open AI’s, DALLE, DALLE-2, Chat GPT, Stable Diffusion, and Midjourney, artists are introduced to supervised and unsupervised machine learning, the difference being how much direction one gives to the machine.
Initially, I struggled to comprehend the hype because, as a designer, I don’t find interest in things just being assembled and shown to me, but rather thrive in creating them.
A thing in particular I have always disliked about AI generated art is its juxtaposition to original art and the bland mixture of inauthenticity it creates for both creative outcomes: the crafted, as well as the generated. For instance, an artist could spend hours creating an illustration or a design just to see a second’s worth of Midjourney artwork with a very similar ideation and quality. This resembles the feeling of using Tinder in dating: merely exchanging meaningless small talk with a stack of photos you’ve swiped takes away all the excitement, connection and ultimately, humanness out of the experience.
Always having something too readily available practically kills all the enjoyment of having achieved it. In fact, there is about the same two-second gratification, followed by a stone cold dissatisfaction and then nothingness after generating an AI as in a post-orgasm situation with someone you never liked. You are gratified but just dead inside.
I do believe, however, that we can use AI in considerably more helpful and well.. exciting ways.
Via unsupervised machine learning, for instance, MoMa has created an exhibition of their archives. What the process consists of is simply letting AI run all archives (unsupervised) and let it create.
What AI does here is reconfigure things in its unique way, it gives a perspective devoid of human opinions, politics, social structure, history and prejudice, it’s like a new mind gone rogue.
It turns out, however, that AI could be trained to recognize thought, historical, as well as political patterns, using data from videos, voices and texts. Trevor Paglen, author of ‘Behold These Glorious Times’ exhibition in 2017, explains that AI training sets actually prepare machines for way more than generating images, they create a whole data set of behaviors, similar to humans learning to walk, grimace, read and create.
This can be extremely helpful in fields such as surveillance and healthcare, and can be utilized in order to make various industry processes more efficient. However, it can be terrifying too. Many of the AI training sets include tapes of vulnerable, intimate moments, which are essentially absorbed in the black box that AI is. Without knowing its potential, it is difficult to estimate what impact this will have on humans’ future. For the sake of curiosity and progress, we might just be putting our privacy, intimacy and, above all, safety, in the hands of a power beyond our recognition.
One is for sure: all that humankind currently puts value in: a loved human being, the warmth of the sun upon impact with the skin or a meaningful a piece of art, is simplified and stripped of meaning by AI. Because machines are devoid of the correlations, memories, conclusions and intuition akin to people, to them the sun means nothing more than a sequence of adjectives and our loved ones are reduced to mere ‘young woman’, ‘commuter’ or ‘shopper of vegan yoghurt’.
One could argue that this is the objective and correct way of looking at things: the unbiased collective memory, but because artists in particular thrive off of their intuition and compassion, it is the question of their livelihood that also raises an eyebrow. Designers are increasingly alarmed by AI and the consequences of its adoption on their career prospects.
In truth, the role of AI in daily business will be increasingly focused around communication and efficacy. Creativity and performance-related design, on the other hand, source inspiration from intuition, impression, association and innovation, which are currently unique to the human brain (some in animals too).
Furthermore, human designers, in contrast to AI, are capable of making decisions, based on quickly changing situations and environments, and problem-solve into a design, coherent to certain requirements. Without presentation, communication and decision-making abilities, AI is just a tool to generate concept outcomes more effectively.
When it comes to ideas, another concern is worth expressing- the centuries old problem in design: copyright. Since art exists, copycats do too. We are all proud carriers of this label and the truth is, probably everything one has ever made was influenced by an already existing thing. We copy from other designs, from nature, from cultures. The trick is to do it with style. Ripping off an entire design is anything but stylish and AI rips art off like a mofo.
Can anything be done about it? Possibly the same thing as when a person copies our designs: take the high road. Seeing as AI is doing this unintentionally (it is incapable intention), artists can embrace the premise that anything at all that gets invented is to foster efficiency and rid humankind of repetitive and intense manual work.
Regardless, I believe that with AI machine learning we have a new type of power and it is up to us how we utilize it. And while some major brands like Nike and G-Star have already dipped their toes in AI design, enthusiasts continue to create fake collaborations between brands, as well as extraterrestrial designs, just because it’s the hype.
One thing is for sure, AI is here to question and redefine the meaning of creativity, purpose, even reality itself.