The new generation of Artifical Intelligences has made rather a lot of excitable people jump up and down on the table. They do have a point, these new AIs are rather impressive. However, they are mostly a rather clever interface on the digested content of the internet. What they produce is a digest of what people have posted.

Having said that, when I first realised just how good the image AIs have become, it shook me. I did wonder whether it was worth continuing with photography when someone could just ask an AI to create a faux photograph of something I’d spent an age trying to achieve. It took me a sleep to realise that there’s nothing new under the sun, images have been faked since the images have existed. AI simply represents another tool in the creators’ war chest, admittedly an exciting and powerful new tool.

But that’s not the real reason I decided not to worry. After all, AIs are going to improve significantly, until one day, perhaps, they will achieve general intelligence. Potentially, anything someone can do in the arts, general AIs could do better. This doesn’t make the arts pointless, because that’s not why they exist. (Iain Banks addressed this, among many things, in his Culture novels.)

image: la nuit de la culture

I contend the need to create art is part of the human condition. We won’t stop creating artworks when general AI comes along, just as songbirds didn’t stop making music when people created the flute, just as cats didn’t stop yowling when people created the viola. Birds still made fledglings as Mozart composed. We will still create art even if general AI does too.

Which nicely illustrates an interesting point about the arts. I write poetry, I sometimes perform it. Some people appreciate those performances, just as I appreciate other peoples’ work. When meeting people immediately after reciting, feeling is strong; poetry is emotional, and the shared emotion hangs around. It can establish a strong connection between those there. Performing poetry is a great way to meet people you very much want to meet.

People won’t stop reciting just because machines might one day be able to write good poems (they really can’t now, which is ironic given the brilliant new AI technology is called a ‘Large Language Model’). Furthermore, no matter how good an AI’s performance of its own poetry, there’s no way there’ll be love in the air between it and its audience. Perhaps that’s me: I can’t imagine AIs heaving their bossoms!

I’ve never felt the same collective emotional effect with photography, but that’s probably because I move in the wrong circles. The point is, though, just as I write poems as a consequence of an innate human needs, so I photo. I’m not going to stop just because some future AI may produce brilliant fakes, just as I didn’t stop despite the news media constantly publishing outrageous fakes.

AI will change the visual arts, undoubtedly. For example, currently, in order to be a film director, you need to film people, you need to set up quite a serious production. Once AI can create decent moving images, anyone will be able to use it to create movies, anyone will be able to be a film director. AI, once it has progressed, will liberate and democratise movie making. AI won’t destroy the arts, it will change them.

As an aside, all this is why the refusal of the US Copyright office to copyright artworks made with AI is really rather silly. It’s as though they’re trying to police the tools people use to create. I do wonder whether, given the US political system is deeply corrupt, whether their move is to establish the principle of being able to block copyright of artworks made with other technology: you want your product protected, pay the US copyright office lots of money, and they’ll refuse to accept ‘wrong’ artworks (just as bribes are perfectly legal and above board at the US federal level; no senator or representative gets elected without massive ‘donations’ from corrupt companies).

So I will keep taking photos, I will keep trying to innovate, and I will watch the AI influence with great interest. There are certain movies I really want to watch (think Iain M Banks), but which can’t be made now because it makes no business sense, but perhaps will be composed when AI melts most the costs away.