AI art’s real purpose

In the age of machine learning, anything from selfies to scholarly papers may be used to teach artificial intelligence. With the right spark, one piece of media can lead to an uncountable number of new ideas. Using training data, a machine could make an unlimited number of works that look like or are like someone. This is very different from a person putting together a new work from parts of other works. This calls for novel conceptualizations of moral agency and responsibility-taking. When there is a problem that could turn into a long-lasting cultural war, the polar ideas of open culture and strict IP protection from the last century don’t seem to work.

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We are experiencing the payoff of that Faustian pact, the vengeance of free media, at the advent of an internet powered by artificial intelligence. Corporations with the computing resources to analyze billions of data points are developing massive models that will serve as the foundation upon which a new generation of internet services will be constructed. I’m impressed by what they’ve accomplished, but I feel bad that these new empires will be based on information that wasn’t intentionally shared for it. Something else could happen.

To my mind, the threat of AI replacing artists is rather low. The processes involved in creating art are significantly more nuanced than having only a signature look. What we appreciate in art is more communal than is usually acknowledged. What a tribute to artist z says about us is important to us, as is what artist x thinks of y. Even if it is conceivable to create the ideal sound of a choir singing, training neural networks is inevitable and important (on fully consented data) since doing so would contradict the goal of the participation and orgasmic value of choirs. As it gets easier to make media, it also gets harder to give it meaning and make it stand out from other works that are similar. Great works of art tend to emerge in dynamic social contexts. As more people gain familiarity with AI and its outlandish potential, it will become apparent that the area is home to great AI artists, just as the art world has produced great painters.

Establishing new norms of permission is crucial because I believe a new age of plentiful media will validate the societal importance of art and artists. I believe in AI-enhanced expressiveness, but not in stifling research or enshrining antiquated intellectual property regulations. I don’t want to see what life is like in a society where no one agrees. Lack of permission may put a damper on otherwise fruitful interactions, which is a shame since they can lead to some very meaningful bonds. I’m hoping this dress rehearsal for the future of AI in the arts will help us see the potential in the chance we’ve had all along to mend those rotten connections.

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