The following is an editorial, and may or may not represent the views of SCIFI.radio, Krypton Media Group, or their management:
An essay from the ongoing Facebook thread and the upcoming anthology by Thaddeus Howze, Everybody Hates Midjourney
The Box is Open. Everything’s Escaped. Only Hope Remains.
“We just need more regulation. This new regulation will get rid of Napster and illegal streaming of music.”
That was the overall perspective on MP3 technology at the time, or something to that effect.
The most common refrain I have heard of late is: “What about the artists? What will they do for a living if machine-assisted writers and other creatives encroach upon their living space using new technology?”
Are you living on the same planet I am? I was there when taxi cabs were driven into near-extinction by the creation of a new algorithmic system created by Uber, Lyft and a half a dozen other companies “disrupting” the “delivery industry – whether it be food or people” status quo. The taxi industry is still reeling (and will likely never recovery in many places) around the world as entire nations attempt to regulate these disruptive technologies as they drive citizens into poverty.
This is the nature of technology, it enables some and disenfranchises others. It creates new opportunities and obliterates old ones. Artists will have to adjust, just like any person whose technology is being potentially supplanted by new tools.
Art created by synthesis is a tool. It can enable artists or it can disenfranchise them. And every artist will have to make the decision artists have always had to make when new technologies come along: whether to embrace them or eschew them. In the meantime, the technology will continue its march as artists choose a side and recognize the challenges. They will do what artists have always done: they made art.
New technologies will always frustrate the artist even as they offer new ways of thinking about art. Once upon a time it might have taken a scribe a decade or more to illuminate a text like the Bible. This meant books were rare, expensive and impossible for anyone who wasn’t a noble to afford, let alone read.
The printing press changed that. It was not easy. It was not effective. But it did democratize knowledge and allowed reading to come to the masses. Each time a new technology changed the publication process, more people were allowed to participate in it. Literally, anyone who has access to a computing device and the desire to write a novel can do so, and publish it in a variety of forms in a matter of days. It does not have to take a decade.
Unless they want it to. Painting has been a medium for the entirety of Human history. We did it on the walls of caves, on stones, on papyrus, on paper on linen. We once relied only on the creative talents of artists to create meaningful representations of other people which could survive their lifespan and resembled them in a significant way, that is until the early technologies which would become photography came to being. They too started slowly and have gone through a variety of formats. From only being able to shoot non-moving things, to very still Humans, to black and white images, eventually to color images, to being able to produce color images on the fly with Kodachrome cameras in real time. Now we had perfect representations of images, people immortalized on film (for as long as it lasts).
Photographic technology has not stopped. We can now take pictures of objects moving faster than sound, objects which are light years away, objects smaller than a Human hair.
But painters still exist.
Photography did not replace the painter. They have different clients, provide different services and do different things entirely in their creative spheres.
It does mean there may be fewer clients for paintings but for those who want them, nothing less will do. It has become a technologically anachronistic calling, produced for the sake of acquiring a skill, for the desire to use one’s own hands to create meaningful representations of artistic ideals found only within the artist. This gives it meaning different from the awe-inspiring scope of the photograph. It is not less than a photo, it is different entirely. Even photorealistic art is something else, not a photo. It has a sense of aliveness that few photos can match.
Machine intelligence is producing interesting output but it is not nearly ready to replace artists who are masters of their craft. Artists who have begun to experiment with machine intelligence driven art have created new vistas, new opportunities and new ways of seeing the world, which are different from, but not necessarily better than, what has gone before.
Computers allow artists to create in ways unconsidered by the ancient masters. Machine generated art rivals photography in speed and quality, but not in control of what is produced. Right now each piece is unique and dependent upon the understanding of the artist and the quality of the tools they utilize to produce their art. Worse, it relies on the synthesis of data from external sources, which can be regulated, removed, updated or replaced depending on the laws, rules, mores and cultural parameters of the societies using them. If enough people refuse to use the technology, or create regulations for those technologies to not exist within the boundaries of their country, then that will be the case.
Until it isn’t.
As I have said many times before: if you outlaw machine intelligence, only outlaws will have machine intelligence (See: Uber).
Go ahead and make machine intelligence, especially focused on art and its related synthesis technologies illegal in the United States. Regulate the hell out of it until everyone is satisfied no artists loses any aspect of their artwork to this machine.
What about the artists who LIKE the technology and are willing to submit their work to the machine for sampling? If this technology is no longer in the United States, then only China, Russia, India, South America and every other nation with computers and the unrestricted databases will have access to it at its most powerful.
Worse, there is no reason Midjourney and all of the other people producing this technology can’t just put this on a server outside of US legal jurisdiction.
And how should we stop it? Ban all AI and machine intelligence? Because that isn’t going to happen. The tool’s potential is too vast. Should we continue to misunderstand how the technology works so we can maintain our morale superiority?
I know. Let’s get rid of all technology, all algorithms and return to a life where only Human beings exploited other Humans without algorithms to assist them. We have been doing so well thus far.
These technologies are here and they will remain. Regulate them if you can, but know that they will continue to increase in performance, in speed and in quality, like them or not. Understanding them is just the first step. Every artist is sure they are losing money.
And if we stop sampling their art, it won’t stop the artists who will want their work to be sampled, analyzed and utilized to be used with this technology, because some artists have already accepted this fundamental truth: There Is No Stopping This. There is only controlling how it moves through society.
Is there a compensation method we can derive, a sampling rate? A fee could be paid, for example, to any artist whose work is synthesized as part of a piece of new work produced by this process. We are using a machine intelligence, surely we can calculate and place a value on this idea. Now is the time to consider such schema before this ship gets out of sight.
I suspect it will be like earlier arts like photography, changing the art landscape but not replacing painters entirely. Think about knitters, who have abandoned the idea of controlling their technology and focus on new ways of creating patterns which accomplish the goal of producing beautiful, unique and interesting works of art, while sharing the same fundamental tools and means of production.
This has always been the threat of technology. It replaces one kind of work with new perspectives and means of production, putting some people out of work in time, others immediately, and opening new vistas to others willing to embrace the new. Learning machines are the future, and their capacity will make simple jobs capable of being copied. But it will be the leaders and decision-makers in your society who will decide if you can be replaced. If you can be replaced, it is likely you will be.
You can opt to increase your opportunities by understanding what is being done, otherwise the only way to be sure machines don’t replace us is to get rid of the capacity to be replaced entirely (a common science fiction trope – outlawing intelligent machines and making Human intellect the only intelligence that matters). This is ultimately a losing battle, since the outlaws utilizing machine intelligence will prove to be more nimble, more adaptable and more capable of out-performing you as you hold on to your Amish ways.
Is this the future? Every time someone creates a machine intelligence doing something we don’t like, we regulate it into legal non-existence? Does this mean there will be a shadow economy bifurcating the Internet where people who use machine intelligence continue to do so, while the rest of us, sit high in our moral castles pleased that no illegal machine intelligences are roaming our countryside forcing people out of the workplace. Not legally at any rate.
Yes, legislation got rid of Napster, but it didn’t stop streaming technologies. I thought we were capable of taking the lesson from our history but I guess not.
I will see you neo-anti-intelligent machine Luddites in a decade, when you can’t tell what’s real from what’s been produced by a machine intelligence, coupled with Human intelligence, to create a seamless and virtual whole integrated into whatever virtual reality is the result of this new creativity.
Assuming we survive climate change, loss of food production, the host of diseases ravaging humanity and our inability to educate people well enough to recognize the true threats facing our species, of course.
“You gotta find what works for you and then put the pedal to the metal”
- My pencil/brush/camera = My device + prompts.
- My paper/film/SD card = AI.
- My inspiration = The SAME as any other Artist.
This artwork was created with the help of Artificial Intelligence sometimes I use Photoshop or Lightroom. Featuring on DreamLand3k Facebook – Instagram: dreamland3k
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.