Why AI will fail as an artist

I love technology and I’m quick to seize the tools that make my life more fun, or give me creative superpowers. AI is the exception – and not just because its developers seek to steal my income (and probably yours too), but because of its potential to accompany us into a lonely and meaningless existence.

It doesn’t have to be this way — we have a choice — conscious choice is one of the unique gifts of humanity – one that our robotic counterparts will never have. We shape our world with every choice we make:

  • what to buy and who to buy from
  • what companies or causes to work for
  • what to create and release into the world
  • how to use our voice and our vote

And yet every day I perpetuate the status quo, buying from certain suppliers because it is convenient or affordable. What? You too?

Globalisation consolidated markets, then technology finished the job, tanking small businesses and replacing them with a few big brands that meet all our daily needs. It’s OVER! The Monopoly game has been won. Now we’re all just circling the board, paying Mr. So-and-So for every property we land on, and collecting money when we “Pass Go”, so we can keep paying Mr So-and-So. Where’s the fun in that?

I digress, but not really.

AI is here because it’s possible, it’s profitable, and therefore in the capitalist race, it’s inevitable.

If AI’s human developers had any power whatsoever to stop themselves, they wouldn’t need to lobby the world’s politicians to establish a global regulator to prevent them from destroying humanity. They could just, ya know — not make it.

But here we are, making it.

This book that I narrated — The Artifice of Intelligence, asks soul-searching questions about what we want AI to be — our tool? our partner? our surrogate?

There are a myriad of horrifying use-cases for AI cited in the book, some of which could lead to our swift and painless extinction. It’s the slow, sad demise that gets me down.

It’s the way we let AI into our inner sanctum; our private thoughts, our sense of the world, and our relationships. AI algorithms decide what we know and who we see. Social media platforms curate communications from our friends, deciding what’s interesting (triggering) enough to share with us. Oh the irony – that Mark Zuckerberg, whose Aspergers syndrome makes relationships puzzling, built the robot that curates our relationships.

Social media gets credit for helping us stay in touch with the outer perimeter of friends from high school, college and old jobs … but what’s also true is that without social media, I would have a more intimate connection with those people that matter most. I would pick up the phone and call them more often. (Not now — a phone just ringing out of the blue – no way!). I know this is true for more than just me – technology has changed how we are comfortable interacting with one another.

I resent that. I’m furious when AI gets entangled with authentic human connections. AI makes the customer experience clunky and frustrating — I’m looking at you automated call centre bot, self-checkout bot, online chatbot…And not only is it worse for the customer, it’s worse for humanity. These jobs gave us a chance to do something nice for each another. Service isn’t just a job, it’s a gift given by one human being to another. Making, doing, serving, caring for each other – this is what gives our life meaning.

Back in the old days, when Google and Alexa weren’t around to answer our pressing questions, we had to phone a friend — whoever was the subject matter expert on that topic. Usually, it was an elder, who probably felt valued because they were able to help. Moreover, I would feel satisfied and enlightened; I would remember what they told me. I wouldn’t have the empty feeling I get when Alexa parrots the answer from Wikipedia and I forget it 5 seconds later. (By the way, I recently asked Alexa “Where do blue ladybugs live?”, expecting to hear a country name and she told me instead “on a leaf”. So she’s a smart-ass too now. I will definitely call my grandmother and ask — she’ll know.)

As our world becomes lonelier because of AI, it’s tragic that we are looking to AI for solutions. AI products are being developed to care for us, to fill the void of our missing human companions. The Artifice of Intelligence points to technology that is programmed to recognise emotional cues in our voice and language and respond with something that seems like empathy. Herzfeld says “We, as the social beings we are, fall for that illusion, not because we do not recognize at some level that “there is no there there” but because we crave relationship and, like children who talk to their teddy bears or imaginary friends, we imagine an interlocutor even though we are really only talking to ourselves.”

I know this is a dead end road. We can’t have a fulfilling relationship with AI. Relationships grow strong when risks are taken; when we choose to share our feelings vulnerably with a friend and they truly listen. We feel understood because we know that our friend also feels fear, grief, shame, sadness, jealousy, excitement, hope, triumph, pride, love and the thousands of other human emotions for which no trite emoji can express and no AI will ever feel.

Art is a timeless channel for this connection between humans. When I read a book, I am reaching for the ideas and feelings of the author, beneath the words. When I’m listening to an audiobook, I’m hearing the vibrant, fluid emotions of both the narrator and the author. When I look at a painting, I sense the artist in the brushstrokes. When I sing along with Ed or Maroon 5 or Nina, or Adele or whoever, it is a recognition of our shared humanity — that we all know what it feels like to be “in love with the shape of you” to “toast to the ones that we lost on the way” to smell the “scent of the pines” and to want to “hold you for a million years to make you feel my love.”

AI can patch together pieces of human art and make you feel something, but we know there is no human behind it. Even if AI “art” may in the future “pass” as human, it will always be hollow; a mockery of a human being. AI cannot feel any of the feelings that it’s programmed to trigger in me; so what I actually feel is abused. We aren’t sharing an emotion together, AI is fiddling with my feelings, while sitting coldly outside.

AI output may display some characteristics of creative expression, but it can never fulfill our need to connect emotionally and spiritually. Just like an excellent sex toy might “do the job” physically, but can’t even enter the inner realm that a lover can.

AI will fail as an artist because the whole purpose of art is human-to-human, heart-to-heart connection. Developers will continue to try to solve this problem, giving the bot ever-more convincing human-like qualities, but no matter how close the approximation becomes, they will never feel like one of us.

Listen to a bit of The Artifice of Intelligence…a book that only deepened my passionate views on the ethical use of AI.

Comments 1

  1. I couldn’t agree more! In my opinion A I is not thing more than common theft which appears to be rampant in society and unfortunately becoming an acceptable means of obtaining anything your heart desires

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