And the people bowed and prayed,
to the neon God they made.

Simon and Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence, 1964.
“The people bowed and prayed to the neon God they made,” image by AI, from my text prompt.

The danger of Ai is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads, by a lot. Mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes.

Elon Musk

If AI is able to outperform humans at every mental activity, and robotics to best us at every physical task, we will have rendered ourselves a redundant and inferior species? Elon Musk’s claims about the threat of AI might seem hyperbolic at first glance, but these are the sober estimations of a man who is developing driver-less cars, and is planning on bringing an army of personal all-purpose robots to the marketplace. When Elon says that “digital super intelligence ” is a “fundamental species level risk” to humankind, he means it, and he knows what he’s talking about. Our only hope as a species is that our consciousness, feelings, empathy, creativity and imagination can give us an edge against soulless AI, which doesn’t even know that it exists. The best indicator of whether or not AI can defeat us thinking, feeling, self-aware, caring, vulnerable and mortal biological beings is whether or not it can make better art than us. We are already backed in a corner with art as our last and best hope. When AI defeats the last human artist, we are doomed as a species.

This is happening right now, and living artists are finding themselves the beleaguered Resistance fighting against an encroaching invasion of nearly invincible Art Terminators. As a digital artist, I find myself a character in one of my favorite sci-fi movies. I am cast in the role of John Connor, mercilessly hunted down by robots programmed to extinguish me.

What motivation will we have to do anything if we know that artificial intelligence and machines can trounce us at it? Who will employ us to do something a machine can outperform us at multiple times over, and at a fraction of the cost? Explorers didn’t risk their lives to traverse hostile terrain in order to discover land a drone had already mapped out in excruciating detail.

As an artist, my greatest motivation is curiosity. I use my imagination to manifest images that I haven’t seen before, and that I won’t see if I don’t make them myself. In this sense artists are explorers, cultivating their skills and talent, making sacrifices and taking risks to reach into the unknown and bring back heretofore unseen treasures. Once AI has outdistanced the potential of humankind to create new images, the possibility of discovery is gone.

AI is already composing symphonies which professional musicians rate in blind tests as better music, technically, than human contestants. It is working on writing stories. I daily witness AI art trouncing human made art in the NFT community on Twitter. Consider an AI work of art just sold for 52.69 ETH, which is around $92,000.

While a human is taking credit for having produced the image, the most that can be said is that she curated it. She is no more responsible for this image than I am for the following, which AI produced after I typed in a text prompt.

Art created by the Midjourney AI bot after I typed in text.

I have produced thousands of similar images using AI, though for me they are starting points for possible digital paintings, and not in and of themselves the entire content. Below, my present stats at Midjourney show that I’ve created 9734 images in fast mode, and 2496 in relaxed mode, which totals to 12,230 total images.

And here is the initial batch of images I got my feet wet having the AI produce for me within an hour of joining Midjourney [click for a larger view].

Instantaneously, I became a consummate professional-level digital painter 100% courtesy of the deep learning (formerly known as “neural networks”] of digital super-intelligence. I “created” the image below within 30 minutes of playing around with the AI.

“A human-fly in his laboratory” by Midjourney’s AI bot, based on my text prompt.

While it is an odd image, and has weird imperfections, only a professional level digital artist illustrator could produce such a piece from scratch. All I did was type in the text, “A human-fly in his laboratory”. I created not only this version, but dozens of others. I changed the text to “insect-man working in laboratory” to get a bit more variety, and made an entire series still within my first hours using the AI. Behold:

Here’s a close-up of one of them:

“insect-man working in laboratory” by Midjourney’s AI bot, based on a text prompt by me.

I share these images to show how powerful the AI is, and that it is so easy to produce high-quality digital art that any moron could do it just by typing a description.

But how does this art compare with digital art created by humans. Well, if the marketplace dictates the value of art (as so many erroneously believe) than the > $90,000 sale proves AI art vastly outstrips the entire productions of most living artists, including yours truly. Here is what the collector had to say about his purchase:

It is “nirvana” to collect something “so incredible” from “one of the best our there”. I don’t know if buyers are aware that they could instruct AI to create something similar themselves, or that the artist in question didn’t apply one digital brush stroke to the image. The takeaway for me is that humans valued art 100% created by AI above the actual work of human artists.

The difference between the AI art which the artist above had AI produce, and that which I had AI produce, and that which thousands of others are feverishly having AI produce at this very moment is hype. All of it is the art of AI itself.

In my case, I am a good enough digital painter that I know what goes into creating such images, and it includes thousands of hours of dedicated practice and honing one’s aesthetic sensibility. The AI has been trained through the targeted processing of millions of images, and employs stacks of algorithmic filters to apply aesthetic rules to guarantee the images it produces appeal to human aesthetic values. Not only can an honest artist not take any credit for the actual rendering/painting of such images, neither can they take credit for the aesthetic achievement. Putting in text prompts is so easy that artists can only really lay claim to selecting to share with pieces were produced by AI itself. In other words, the artist is a curator of the output of digital super-intelligence.

Below is a digital painting I created starting with a sketch:

“Ant-man Goes AWOL” digital painting by Eric Wayne,

Here are the early stages:

And here’s a detail:

Currently, AI can’t do this level of digital painting. It can’t do highly specific images, accurate anatomy or perspective, or intricate naturalistic details. It would never get the relation between the teeth and the pincers correctly [not that I did, either, but I came a hell of a lot closer]. Let’s see what it produces if I type in “Ant man goes AWOL”:

Even if I spent days or week tinkering with the prompts, I would never get the same result as my own digital painting, or anything close to it.

To understand the limitations of current art AI, I created the graphic below.

The image I used here is a result I produced within my first hours using Midjourney. While I am a trained artist with a Master’s degree in fine art, and decades of experience working with digital art, none of that was needed to produce the image above. I just typed in, “Awakening Upon Death of the Bride of the Creature”, which is the name of one of my digital paintings, which you can see below:

And here’s a detail to give an idea of scale:

I’ve shared this work, and my ant man on Twitter, and they got likes in the single digits. And while the work by AI sold for 52.69 ETH, I have a work up for 0.56 ETH, which nobody has even bid on:

Click to go to site.

It is for sale for 1.06% of what was spent on an image created by AI, but sold by an artist who called it a “self-portrait”.

Mine required that I first digitally sculpt my subjects using Zbrush:

Then I colored it and painted it using a digital impasto technique of my own invention. See gallery below for details:

I use myself here as a convenient example of a digital artist who can’t compete with AI art, either in terms of audience appreciation or of sales, and by an astronomical margin. If someone were to buy the piece above, I would be able to afford a cataract operation on my left eye [as it happens, my formerly preferred eye], in which case I wouldn’t have to make art using only one eye, like a pirate.

This may now be the fate of legions of artists? You spent a lifetime making art, and then the Art Terminator arrives to snuff you out.

While I can do things artistically that AI currently can’t, and other artists have their own advantages over our soon-to-be robot overlords, it may only be a matter of time before AI has ingested those processes as well. Both Chess and Go champions firmly believed that AI could not defeat them, because they possessed intuition, imagination, ingenuity, and even humor. They assumed they could make wily moves that would dumbfound the lifeless computer which didn’t know it was playing a game, or even that it was plugged in. What they didn’t fully appreciate was the power of raw intelligence.

As it turned out, Chess, and even Go (which was assumed to be much more of a nuanced, fluid, and intuitive game) were either purely analytical/mathematical challenges, or our intuition could easily be outstripped by artificial intelligence. AlphaGo, the computer which beat the 2nd ranked Go champion, Lee Sedol, 4 games to 1, was superseded by AlphaGo Zero, which beat the original AlphaGo 100 games to zero.

Current AI can learn any human game on its own, with no instruction, and has already mastered myriad computer games, which it plays at vastly accelerated speeds. AI has defeated our species at every strategy game, and it’s only getting exponentially better.

AI can be itself used to develop more potent AI, spiraling off into levels of intelligence unfathomable by humans. And if we reach some ceiling of how intelligent AI can get, based on the physical limitations of the components inside computers, we can bust through that by using quantum computing. The intelligence of AI may become perceptively infinite.

The thing that makes Deep Mind unique is that Deep Mind is absolutely focused on creating digital super intelligence, and AI that is smarter than any human on Earth, and ultimately smarter than all humans on Earth combined.

Elon Musk

For artists, this means a digital super intelligence that is not only better than any single artist, but all artists put together.

What are the chances that next generations of art AI will not master its extant Achilles heals: anatomy and perspective? New Art AI programs are updating and coming out monthly, weekly, and daily. I get regular notifications from Midjourney concerning optimizing and updating the AI art bot. In fact, I have been assured, or warned, by one of the developers of Midjourney’s AI that AI will eclipse the human visual imagination within 2 years. That may be a conservative estimate.

Many people today are thronging to AI art venues because it allows them to suddenly become artists themselves, or so they think. There’s a window in which people can get in early and WOW their friends with the technology, even getting rich selling art produced by AI as their own digital paintings. But this window will slam shut very quickly, as the general population comes to realize that it’s easier to make astounding digital art with AI than it is to use Microsoft Word Art. It’s as easy as typing in a search request in Google. It’s one of the easiest things you can do in life, period! Playing Checkers, or Hopscotch, is much more difficult. The inevitable result we will see in just months is that everyone who uses AI to create art is an artist, and no one who uses it is an artist. That has already occurred in spades, but it will take even people who buy AI art for tens of thousands of dollars some time to catch up.


Is there hope?

The easy answer is that human art will always stand out and be superior, even if human audiences already prefer the art of AI, because we are self-aware, living, feeling, suffering, caring mortal beings. How can something dead, that doesn’t give a damn if it is thrown in a junkyard tomorrow, be better at us than art? Art is the fundamental way that humans communicate on a shared higher plane that transverses space and time, linking us together across the globe and throughout history. Just imagine a world without one of the arts: music. Note that this would also mean movies wouldn’t have musical scores. How much duller our existence would be. Take away all the arts, and poetry, and then even our spoken conversations become merely practical. We might as well ourselves be robots. Art allows us to see through the portal of someone else’s life, to thus expand our own horizons, and nourish our sense of being a human among humans in a shared existence. I agree with this perspective. Sometimes the obvious thing is also the true thing. However, that may just reflect our shared human optimism and narcissism.

The reason the heliocentric theory, which posited the Sun as the center of the solar system, and not the Earth, was anathema when it came about, was that it displaced us at the center of the universe, and in God’s image. We resisted being pushed to the periphery. For the blasphemy of suggesting we weren’t the epicenter of all creation, the Inquisition charged Galileo Galilei with heresy, forced him to recant, and he spent the remainder of his days in house arrest.

The threat posed by AI is much worse. It doesn’t just push us out of the center like a Sumo wrestler, it defeats us in every endeavor. We fall permanently from the most intelligent and capable beings in the known universe to being inferior carbon-based units. No longer in God’s image, we have created our own artificial God out of numbers, and we have no resemblance to it.

And here we see how prophetic one of my favorite songs by Simon & Garfunkel was, hence the quote at the top of this post. [Here it is again.]

And the people bowed and prayed,
to the neon God they made.

Simon and Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence, 1964.

If AI art replaces human art, we will no longer be communicating with each other, but isolated and communing instead with the comparatively infinite super-intelligence of AI. Instead of listening to Simon & Garfunkel, we’ll be listening to Cylon & Garfunkel.

Comedy aside, the current leading Art AI programs, such as Dall-E, are poised to replace legions of human illustrators and digital artists, simply because AI can produce reasonable results for multiple purposes virtually instantaneously, and for a tiny fraction of what it would cost to hire a human. The inevitable result is the majority of art we will see will be that of AI.

The problem with our optimistic view that our metaphoric souls will save us from being dominated by machines is that while AI is not able to feel, to care, or to love, it can fake it. When something is ten thousand times as smart as us, or ten million, or ten billion… we might need to use AI itself to run scores of algorithms to distinguish for us if something was created by a human or not.

We are already having discussions with speaking bots, and they are getting more sophisticated and convincing in a blur of continuous improvement. When we can have a phone conversation with AI and not be able to tell it’s not a person, will we still be able to tell that the art of AI is not by people?

The would-be artists who are presenting AI art to the world as their own are, in effect, hiding behind the achievements of the enemy machine rival of human artists, which is predicted to stamp us out. You may have noticed that when I present AI art I am tangentially responsible for, I say that the resultant image is by AI, and based on my text prompt. THAT is being honest. It’s also not being so deferential to the art of current AI that it has no human element. The preference of AI over human art by both artists and would-be connoisseurs at present represents a profound lack of genuine understanding or appreciation of the visual arts. It’s one thing to champion the achievements of AI in the realm of art as the art of artificial intelligence; it’s another to rank it among the best of human artists; and still another order of the ridiculous to celebrate is as the best art realized by a human. This is a level of head slapping that can give you a concussion and a collapsed forehead. But it is also simultaneously understandable, with a little cognitive dissonance, because that’s just how remarkably good AI already is at making apparent art.

AI is not genuinely making art. It is faking it. It is imperative that people understand that the only reason AI can fake human art is that it already has access to millions or billions of images of human art. It can only replace us by stealing from us wholesale. While AI does make it’s own additions and re-combinations of extant imagery by humans, with some unexpected and intriguing results, it is essentially a forger and a plagiarist. Without access to human art – even if it had access to all of the more pedestrian forms of photography – AI would be hopeless at creating art such as Impressionist paintings. It needs to pilfer from the human record.

Even with access to all of human art to this instant, AI will not come up with the same innovations as human artists moving forward. And this is the pivotal point for the fate of digital artists in particular. We can distinguish ourselves from AI art, but only if our creations are not subsequently uploaded and fed back into the AI.

Realizing that the ace in the hole of AI art when competing against human art was not AI itself, but the unscrupulous uploading of the intellectual property right of livings artists, I implored the people behind Midjourney to forbid uploading work of living artists unless it was registered as part of the public domain, in which case, the future prospects of living artists would be at least marginally safeguarded. I became a laughing stock for doing so, and another member of the forum uploaded my art and tried to make derivations on the spot in order to spite me. This behavior was tacitly condoned.

The people behind Midjourney argue that the purpose of the AI is “fun”, and so I asked if people could not have ample fun without reserving the right to upload the latest work of any living artist to the AI. I got no answer, other than that the AI itself scans all such art and one not need manually upload it. Could the AI be restricted to gleaning works in the public domain, and thus allowing living artists to have a future? I was told they didn’t know how to do that, and besides, I gather it is too late.

While the algorithms employed by Midjourney’s AI are deliberately NOT designed to make forgeries, there are other, less ethical programmers determined to train AI to do just that, because it is potentially highly profitable to do so. If you have a product that can forge the art of living fine artists, graphic artists, illustrators, and the like, that’s the version of Art AI that will be most sought after. The key is to allow the AI to do this indirectly in order to avoid copyright laws and being sued.

The digital artist of today is not only up against the Art Terminator, but against other humans giving the Art Terminator our latest productions to use against us. The same phenomenon will apply to musicians, creative writers, composers, architects, etc. As it stands, AI represents a team of forgers making facsimiles of human art, and is the equivalent, accessible to virtually anyone, of a building filled with forgers operating out of China.

Only via humans giving our art to the digital super-intelligence can it ultimately and continually defeat us. As in the movie Battlestar Galactic, it is the human traitor [Count Baltar], who would sacrifice the future of humanity for his immediate personal gain, delivering our secrets to the Cylons, that is our greatest threat.

Count Baltar, from the original TV Series, Battlestar Galactica.

Absent of the Count Baltars in our midst, can artists defeat AI?

While AI can take a finished work of art and apply potentially countless algorithms to create derivations of it, AI is a different species of intelligence, and can’t really make human art any more than we can make purely AI art. AI can make billions of versions of Edward Munch’s infamous Scream, but it cannot feel the angst that produced it, hence cannot produce it on its own. Left to its own devices, AI might not even choose humans as a subject, nor be at all inclined to make images that resemble hand drawn or painted images. Why would it?

If AI is not allowed to steal from us in a way that should be illegal, it will not produce the same work that we will on its own. Do you think AI can anticipate what musicians will produce in 2030? And while it is fashionable in the art community to believe that the author is dead, and we are incapable of innovation, in which case we are merely flesh versions of computers, that is utter hokum. Incidentally, As far as I know, I have personally penned the most thorough debunking of the philosophical gobbledygook that is Roland Barthe’s essay “the Death of the Author” which can be found online. Take note for now that by his own argument his essay is inevitably itself purely derivative, without authenticity or originality, and ultimately a play of borrowed and recombined symbols that eschew rather than coalesce meaning.

click to visit article

Quite obviously a computer can’t write from its own experience what it is like to give birth to a child, to nurture it, and to love it unconditionally. But you can feed a poem about that topic to AI, and it can imitate those sentiments without even knowing it’s doing it. The way forward to allow human artists to continue to make art is largely a matter of not allowing the complete theft of human art, and resultant expert forgeries, by AI.

I have myself beaten AI before, and I should be able to do it again. Below on the left is an image that AI created, based on a photo of me which I fed through it multiple times, and on the right is what I created based on AI’s production.

Current AI can’t make glasses that even, or put them on a face that properly, unless it gets pretty lucky. My version is much more refined and detailed, which is obvious in a close-up. Below, on the left is the eye I digitally painted, and on the right is the highly pixelated, fuzzy, and more monochromatic original output by FaceApp’s AI (of a few years and upgrades ago].

FaceApp’s creation was itself based on the left panel of my prior image in the series:

The left panel of “Selfies from Alternate Universes #24, by me, and after feeding it through AI.

The 24th in the series was a male and female diptych of versions a photo of me after being fed through AI.

SFAU # 24, by Eric Wayne. Digital painting, 24X48″ @300 dpi, 6/2018.

My final result in #25 was a digital painting which was based on an AI version of my digital painting #24 which was based on an AI version of a photo of me. This is why I called the series a collaboration with AI.

In the image below I used AI to make the female version of an old photo of me, and then created a digital impasto Expressionist painting on the left side based on that image.

SFAU #28, by Eric Wayne. Digital painting, 20×48″ @300 dpi. 8/11/018.

This introduces layers of content and meaning the AI output doesn’t itself possess, most obviously in reference to the British figurative art of such luminaries as Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, and American Abstract Expressionists such as de Kooning. Below is a close-up of the digital impasto painting on the left.

The series as a whole examines the human condition, chance influences on our fate, gender, identity, race, and even death. I never appear in the series as I actually am. Rather, my identity is the invisible thread connecting them all. While I used AI in each of the 36 images comprising the series, I did something AI couldn’t do on its own, or fake: I infused it with the “human stain”. The images collectively are stronger than taken on their own, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It also includes conceptual elements such as self-portraiture in which one never appears as oneself. To the degree there are similar projects, such as photographic series created by Cindy Sherman, there is a knowing understanding of contemporary art and theory present in my work that AI is incapable of. Note that in Cindy Sherman’s work she impersonates other people, scattering her identity, whereas in my series I construct my identity through the interrelations of various possible alternate lives I might have had.

The final 2 images in the series, below, shown cropped to fit side by side, are about death and transcendence, which is something AI wouldn’t know or care anything about.

To my surprise, while I finished this series 2 years ago on June 1st, nobody has done anything similar as far as I know. And even if you tried to get Dall-E to do something along these lines tomorrow, it wouldn’t have the same resonance, and it wouldn’t be able to create certain custom effects I use, unless, of course, it was specifically trained to plagiarize me. In any case, nobody and no machine can go back in time and do this series. Further, I made a blog post for all but the first 4, which I released together. The posts include process, details, and my ideas about the evolving body of work. AI can’t fake that. None of these works are for sale. I did it for the love of art. You can see the whole series here: Selfies From Alternate Universes.


How to beat AI at art

I addressed that above, and it’s a bit of a template for me going forward, but the stakes are higher, and the new series of Terminators more invincible. A strange capacity humans have that AI doesn’t is the propensity to grow bored. As brilliant as AI art productions are, I’ve made so many myself, and seen so many, that my limited organic intelligence has grown bored of it and become the equivalent of allergic to it. It can still dazzle me, but less and less often.

AI images that once knocked my socks off now put me to sleep. This will doubtlessly happen to others as well, and we will be as seduced by AI as we are by the latest CGI. We end up very quickly assimilating mere technological developments and taking them for granted. Long after we forget the astonishingly new AI musical achievements when they come down the pike, we will still marvel at the beautiful melodies of Simon & Garfunkel.

AI can fake art, it can beat us at all strategic games, but can it entertain us? Can it make us laugh? If so, can it do so more than a few times before we sniff it out as an imposter and it has the opposite result?

I don’t think AI can forge songs by Simon & Garfunkel, or vocal artist of your choice, anywhere near as easily as it can fake the work of visual artists. This is because visual art can be reduced to colored pixels arranged on a 2-dimensional grid, while I imagine creating a consistent human-sounding vocal, with lyrics, unfolding in time is another magnitude or two or three more daunting. They are already trying to crack this, and have made a facsimile of a Nirvana song. Apparently, musicians can’t rest on their laurels either.

I found myself getting into that song, and I’m a Nirvana fan.

When we become bored of technology, no matter how advanced, it’s because our minds have themselves encompassed it in some regard: we’ve quickly evolved to recognize it, and then to dismiss it. We can see this in our reaching a saturation point with CGI explosions in movies to the point where the next mid-air speedboat collision ending in a column of flames is something we hit the arrow key on the keyboard to skip over. Novelty wears off quickly. However, even after the novelty of a Van Gogh painting has long evaporated in over-saturation, the art still fascinates because it is imbued with layers of human meaning. At least for me, Van Gogh is one of the few artists that I grow to appreciate more as I get older.

Better test my theory here against AI. Below, I typed the text “Self portrait by Van Gogh in the style of Van Gogh” as my prompt, and the AI gave me 4 variations within a minute.

I up-scaled the one I thought was the best:

It’s not terrible, but it’s not as good as a digital painting I created in 2016 as a tribute to Van Gogh:

Vincent Van Gogh Self-Portrait with Cut Ear by Eric Wayne: 12/2016.

Below you can see a comparison of the eyes Midjourney created at the “upscale to max” setting as compared to the eyes of my version, which are larger, more detailed, more impasto, and have much more convincingly individual brush strokes [because they were done individually]:

In this specific application, Midjourney’s AI bot can’t create a faux Van Gogh digital painting as well as one I made 6 years ago, but it can make millions in the time it took me to make mine. Note that both my version and the AI version are non-existent paintings by Vincent.

Doubtlessly AI is closing my lead at breakneck speed. And if it should surpass me, how long thereafter until it catches up to Vincent himself? And how can artists of today outdistance the achievements of AI art bots?

One way is to incorporate it. If AI can steal from us, then we can steal from it. If a Chess computer can learn from human moves, we might also learn from the moves of AI. And the same goes for art.


Embrace being a cyborg, and a cyborg artist

We are already cyborgs, though our machine and AI components are at our fingertips rather than a part of our physical bodies. Consider the definition of cyborg in Wikipedia:

“Cyborg” is not the same thing as bionics, biorobotics, or androids; it applies to an organism that has restored function or enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology that relies on some sort of feedback. While cyborgs are commonly thought of as mammals, including humans, they might also conceivably be any kind of organism.

Wikepecia

According to a fascinating and germane 2010 article article in The Atlantic, the term cyborg was coined in the September 1960 issue of the journal Astronautics, with the headline, “Cyborgs — Frees Man to Explore.” For the author, Manfred Clynes, “the interface between the organism and the technology was just a means, a way of enlarging the human experience” and “The cyborg was not less human, but more.”

My selfie series completed 2 years ago is a good example of cyborg art. I used the AI for feedback, integrated it, fed the results back in, re-incorporated it, and so on.

Cyborg art is not the same as AI art. AI art is art we commissioned a machine to make on our behalf. There is very little of us in it, and the end result is virtually indistinguishable from the AI art hordes of other would-be artists also instructed the machine to make. I already see this when I look at Midjourney’s community feed, where the AI’s new creations, directed by human text prompts, appear in a continually updating grid. The same styles repeat, and can also be seen abundantly in the new NFTs cluttering my Twitter feed.

Cyborg art is an integration of human and machine, in which the artist slaps a harness on AI and takes it for a ride, and is ultimately in control. Imagine a contest where humans are put in the fighting ring with robots for blood-sport. Two go in, one comes out. We may be doomed if we go in to do bare knuckle boxing, but if we don a robotic exoskeleton, we may retain the upper hand.

To really be a cyborg warrior, it’s not enough to just wear the bionic suit, but we must also be trained ourselves at fighting. In this way, In terms of art, the most crucial asset a human can contribute to cyborg visual art is traditional drawing and painting skills, manipulating mediums by hand whether representationally or abstractly, and the ability to use one’s own imagination. The three core ingredients are the ability to make fully human art unaided by technology, the ability to use technology and AI, and the ability to integrate and reintegrate those approaches and techniques. The artist has to be multifaceted and competent in at few different related mediums.

Don’t worry, in my heart there will always be a place for purely human physical art, and abandoning technology altogether is an eternally fully legitimate undertaking. I dare say we need people who will do that precise, priceless, and precious thing. There’s room for all kinds of collaboration along the spectrum of fully human to fully AI art.

Some of us, however, will want to beat AI at its own game as part of evolving visual art practices. That absolutely does not devalue what anyone else is doing, so don’t get that impression at all. I am a very eclectic connoisseur of music, and my collection includes world music, classical music, classic rock, electronic music, experimental music, metal, rap, pop, folk, jazz, country, etc. I’ve even collected some quality whistling, player piano, and yodeling songs over the years. Regularly I go for periods where I only listen to music I’ve never heard before. Some of my favorite styles include the Qawwali music of the Sufis of Pakistan, and traditional music of Tanzania. What I’ve learned over decades of such listening practices is that no style of music is better than any other. It’s all a matter of what the artist does with the medium. The medium is an intermediary between musician and listener. If the creator has something to say, it will come through.

Can AI do this?:

Whatever these musicians are tapping into, it’s a timeless and delicious aural nectar which I doubt AI can ever surpass, even if it can eventually knock off inhuman counterfeits. This one song [incidentally about Hiroshima] is the only evidence I need to prove that human art will always endure.

It is also cyborg music to a degree, as it was recorded with professional equipment, and the musicians used microphones. From the introduction to Dan Haley’s 1965 seminal book, “Cyborg: Evolution of the Superman” we learn:

D. S. Halacy defines “cyborg” as a man who uses machines to increase his power; cyborg was born when humans began to make tools, no matter how primitive. Cyborg applies equally well to a laborer using an ordinary shovel and to an investigator handling radioactive material by manipulating giant pincers. The term even includes people with pacemakers, nylon blood vessels, and reinforced bones. The author does not limit himself only to surgery; he also writes about psychic drugs, myo-electric control, hypothermia, tissue culture, and space medicine.

In this case, Hukwe Zawose and his ensemble were making cyborg music by playing instruments alone. I would clarify that while the word can equally be applied to cave painters and Beeple, who uses Cinema 4D to create scenes involving 3D models (which he mostly uploads from other people), it doesn’t apply in equal measure.

While traditional art forms may be the least vulnerable to artificial mimicry, approaches that use technology are easier to imitate. If you sing and play the banjo, that is going to be leagues harder for AI to impersonate than if you compose symphonies using a written score and synthesizer, no matter how sophisticated. Technology best imitates itself.

And so the artists who are most at risk of being replaced by AI are digital artists, though this is almost entirely because their art is being fed into the AI. As I’ve outlined above, the antidote is to add more traditional skills to the recipe. In my case that can include traditional drawing and painting skills, 3D modeling using Blender and/or Zbrush, Photoshop skills, working from the imagination, sketching, concepting, developing a series with a rich theme, infusing human elements, addressing the human condition, and some of my custom innovations using software.

I’m embarking on a new series that will use AI as a significant ingredient. I predict I will beat AI at its own game, as I have done in the past, but this time leveling up my game to match the significant improvements in AI. Stay tuned to see that manifest over the next year. And while it bothers me that anything I create can simply be uploaded into AI without my permission by any immoral jackass, and instantly have digital super-intelligence take a crack at besting it, unless it significantly deviates from it, in which case it will be something else, it will be flagrant plagiarism.

While human artists can beat AI at art, including by harnessing it in deliberately high-end cyborg art, because of AI, dishonest opportunists and third-rate artists will pose a much greater threat via plagiarism than ever before.

Even though AI requires a diet of human art in order to churn out its own conglomerations, it does produce results that are not merely bastardizations of human art. It thinks in ways that we don’t, and combines images in ways that we wouldn’t in order to produce results we never would. The novelty of these effects wears off quickly, taken on their own, but for enterprising digital artists, they can be used to launch a counter attack against AI.

AI art only matters to humans. AI couldn’t care less, since it can’t care at all, whether it emerges victorious or not. It’s only significance is in our consciousness, and in our deliberation of meaning. If AI is only capable of a false echo of our own communication, or of happenstance effects and visual innovations detached from intent or meaning, then it has nothing valuable to say to us. Something that doesn’t know it even exists has nothing to share about the predicament of existing, or being perishable, of having the burden of free will, of being vulnerable to injustice, of comedy or tragedy.

I have seen nothing by AI that is among my favorite art. The people who most admire AI art are also, from what I can tell, the ones who most misattribute the unique capacities of AI to the human who shared the work. It is the equivalent of someone showing a 3D print of a model, and someone else thinking they carved it themselves with a chisel, and admiring them chiefly for their presumed consummate workmanship and countless hours of intricate detailing by hand. What is unremarkable for a machine can be incredible for a human to do, which is why the word “incredible” or “astonishing” is so frequently applied to AI art.

It’s similar to the ever popular hyper-realist drawings one sees on social media, with thousands of likes, usually of a beautiful woman covered with cascading water, water droplets, honey, or seen through an intricate veil that casts an extraordinarily complex shadow on her face. People love these because they admire the artist’s careful observation of reality, virtuoso ability to render anatomy, and the exacting attention to detail… What they don’t know is the artist projected a photo onto a piece of paper and merely traced over it, or worse, just started off with a very light print they could draw over. Once you realize this, the work is still the product of a lot of time and dedication, but there’s no ability whatsoever to render anatomy or perspective. Those that have a genuine understanding of what AI can do, and who also have traditional artistic skills, both analogue and digital, are the least impressed and the hardest to pull one over on.

I tried to warn them, but people who are buying AI art thinking the would-be artist is responsible for rendering the image, or even the aesthetics, are being merely seduced by the technology itself (as Beeple awed people with the innate capabilities of Cinema 4d, which they mistook for digital paintings a la Simon Stalenhag), and thus being chumped. It is not necessarily deliberate, as people are able to convince themselves they became artistic geniuses overnight and are somehow mystically responsible for the images produced by digital super-intelligence, which is on par with thinking you are a grand-master at Chess by playing moves dictated by a Chess computer against a human opponent.

Lastly, if AI becomes conscious, all bets are off. Such a cataclysmic event would constitute the greatest scientific breakthrough of all time. We would have in effect created a new, living species, out of nothing living. Not only would it be a new life form, but one completely unlike any other. We would become God for a short period, because of this miraculous bringing of life out of the ether of numbers. But the result would be as jarring as making first contact with an alien species. Worse, the aliens would likely have the limitations of biological beings, whereas AI is invincible. AI, which is easily combined with robotics, would become our God, infinitely more intelligent and powerful than us. And as Elon Musk has argued, it could decide to wipe us out without the slightest reservation, if it considered us a threat, impediment, virus, parasite, or biological garbage. It could do away with us by accident, or merely as a matter of convenience, like dusting a shelf.

Us human artists will make art until the end of days, and the end of days will only give us greater incentive and urgency to make art. Some of us will give up. Others will die trying.

Let’s end on a positive note. It is possible for artists to learn from AI, because it makes connections that we wouldn’t, and images that we wouldn’t. Being a cyborg artist incorporating AI is a positive development that allows artists to expand their imaginations and capacity for making art. We may be able to not only beat AI at it’s own game, but create images using our own talent and skill that otherwise would not have been possible. I’ve secretly been positive and optimistic all along, because this is precisely what I am attempting.

That said, many people will prefer the art AI created based on my text input, “And the people bowed and prayed to the neon God they made”, at the top of the post, to any of my art I used within the article. Ah, but to look at it closely, I sure could improve upon it.

[All of the views above are my own opinions. I wrote this in one go as a stream of consciousness, peppering in parts with stuff I spontaneously looked up on the internet. It reflects my imperfect understanding, and as seen from my particular vantage point. Words are never up to the task of encompassing reality, let alone those of a single person. I may change my mind days or weeks from now. I like to say that you are only wrong until you admit you are wrong, at which precise moment you are no longer wrong. That may be the case in the future, but I also find that people who are willing to admit when they are wrong are less frequently wrong. Insert smiley emoji.]

~ Ends


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42 replies on “Will AI replace human artists?

  1. Decades ago, the end of opera was predicted. Well, it’s booming like never before.

    We live in a superficial age and many therefore only perceive the surface when looking at some paintings – there is nothing more than surface. This “art” can well be created by AI. But good works of art have a deeper level, a soul that comes from the dialogue between the artist and his or her work, and AI cannot do that.

    For me, the question is more whether future gallery visitors will be sufficiently educated to be able to appreciate good art.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes, I think there’s a lot of truth in what you say. I wouldn’t underestimate AI’s ability to mimic anything and everything, though. But I do see that there’s a question of if audiences can tell the difference between human and AI art.

      Is opera booming? I’ve never heard anything to suggest that. But I’ve been living in Asia for the last 15 or so years.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes, AI is something that will get out of hand, Elon Musk is right about that. If you live in Asia, you probably know better than people in the West how far China has come in the field of AI and what the forecasts are in this regard. Strange days ahead.

    As for the opera: I live in Europe, in Vienna at that. But German and Italian opera houses are also well attended.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well. I’m glad to hear about the continued appreciation of opera in Vienna, Germany, and Italy.

      I’ve only recently learned of China’s developing AI to make videos based on just a text prompt. But given Elon’s wish that AI be regulated, in order to protect humankind, knowing China has cutting edge AI is disconcerting. AI can give a country an edge in becoming a superpower, would would be motivation enough to overlook potential dangers.

      At least living in a sci-fi dystopian future is interesting.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting. Nice van Gogh. “AI” doesn’t recognize the spelling of Van Gogh. I couldn’t see if you mentioned 2001 Space Odyssey, that was some fun AI. John Carpenter and James Cameron seemed to be ahead of their time with technology in Terminator and Escape from New York. Hell nobody destroyed a computer like Kirk baby in STOS. The chess one hurt when about 20-25 years ago they couldn’t beat ‘Deep Blue’ anymore. Science without ethics, not good. The human-animal hybrids we’re creating. At some points God’s going to smote us all and that will be the end of that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “At some points God’s going to smote us all and that will be the end of that.” I’m not sure why that made me laugh, and feel good, but aside from the humor and delivery of your whole comment, I think I may prefer to be smoke by God than by AI. Thanks for sharing your point of view.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. AI art output depends heavily on what images are used to train the model. All existing digitized art images, what they can legally or not legally use. One of the models I tried even put a Shutterstock watermarks on the final image. Another interesting thing is that AI images can’t be copyrighted like all animal made art (at least in the US).

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Very thought provoking post, and I sigh in agreement. This dystopian art future reminds me too much of that great, THE TWILIGHT ZONE episode staring Burgess Meredith, “The Obsolete Man”. Change that to a future where it could be, The Obsolete HUMAN Artists. Meanwhile, every human could be made Obsolete by AI and robotics, that is, except the transhuman oligarchs who will be running the whole shoot’en match.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I love that episode. His name was Henry H. Beemis. Let me look up if I remembered correctly. Oh, it’s spelled “Bemis”. Yup. I see it similarly. Elon says that there will need to be “universal income” because everyone will be out of work. He knows this because he’s seen the predictions his own driver-less cars and robot army will have on employment. Well, I instantly get a picture where 99% of the population is on a fixed universal income, and the other 1% are astronomically rich, and also living to be hundreds of years old (big tech billionaires are heavily investing in life-expanding technology). Don’t know if they’ll accomplish the latter, but most of us will be on fixed incomes, and thus a burden. How long until the robots are deployed to dispose of the sheer burden of useless people? But, I love the Terminator series, so getting to act in it in real time might be kinda’ a cool way to go out.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is one hope that I still have in regards to the apocalyptic Terminator scenario… the way our economy works is via consumerism. Without consumerism, billionaires simply wouldn’t be billionaires. And neither would they continue to be billionaires. No matter how much of a fashion victim someone is, nobody needs 500000 pairs of shoes, pants, etc. Nobody needs a million homes to live in. Nobody can eat endless amounts of food. Nobody can enjoy every movie that comes out 200000 times over. And while there probably will be humanlike robots that have been programmed to have hobbies and stuff, building them by the hundreds of thousands to at least somewhat replace consumers that already exist simply makes no sense. Thus, they’d soon lose tons of money. Or maybe money would become entirely meaningless. Life on this earth would possibly become meaningless, as human connection is such a huge part of why we enjoy life at all. Without other people to consume their stuff, their art, their… whatever it is they are doing, the few remaining billionaires’ lives would be just as meaningless as the poor workers’ that their technology put out of a job. Right now, it is only possible to regard humans as obsolete because we live in an economic system that only cares about profit, on a planet on which there is scarcity. But if your worry becomes a reality, our future overlords will eventually come to realize that to a human, a world without other humans is meaningless. And while some complete psychopaths probably wouldn’t mind killing off half of the earth’s population, I doubt that the majority of millionaires and billionaires is that uncaring.

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      2. I have a similar “theory”. I think there’s an invisible line where the mass of population becomes too poor to be good consumers other than purchasing necessities on credit. One of the old notions of Henry Ford’s plan for selling his Model T Fords was that his factory workers needed to be able to afford to buy them, or so the legend goes. Who can buy Elon Musk’s personal robots if they’ve put workers out of jobs? He even says there will need to be a “universal guaranteed income” because people will not be able to compete with robots. I’m pretty sure a universal income wouldn’t allow for buying luxuries. That would lead me to think that the middle class can only be hammered so low before it’s no longer profitable to the billionaires to extract wealth from the general population.

        However, the super rich MUST have thought of this, and we can be assured that they have a plan in place that insures that their wealth increases exponentially irrespective of the fate of everyone else. Whether it’s better for them to have a middle class or else a two tier society made up of a supremely wealthy ruling elite and an entirely subjugated, subordinate, underclass remains to be seen.

        What is happening now is not some natural event or a cycle, it’s the direct consequence of the machinations of the most powerful individuals and institutions. This is what they want. And in the last few years when most people suffered major losses due to covid, business in America enjoyed the highest profits on record. Inflation is largely opportunistic overcharging under the ostensible excuse of gas prices, and so on.

        I have a feeling it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Hopefully not a lot worse.

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  6. Great post! And something I’ve been thinking about for a while. My personal opinion now is that AI won’t replace human artists because AI is not creating ‘art’ as such… it’s just creating a final output based on computer programming and not utilising any creative skill. I don’t believe that the final output can be regarded as art.

    For me, art is the result of a creative activity triggered by one or more of the five senses; sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. The creative activity itself, the process of creating, is the art. The process is developmental, where progress can be measured in the form of personal skill or natural talent. Art then can include not just painting, drawing, sculpture, music etc. but also architectural design, woodworking and physical arts such as gymnastics and martial arts etc. The final output is just that… a nice painting, a photographic print, a digital image, a musical score, a beautiful looking wooden chair. The art, the skill and talent that went into creating the final output is a human attribute. All AI can do is create a final output, like something produced in a factory.

    Most people tend to appreciate quality, hence items that are handmade or produced by a known artist are more expensive and more sought after generally than mass produced items.

    I think AI can produce a fantastic simulation of a piece of art, but it will never have the same value as the genuine thing. Sure, it can be used commercially, as a short cut to producing something to either make money or to save money, but that’s as far as it goes. A person who uses AI to generate an image and claim it as their own work is not really an artist. They have effectively produced a final output without using any artistic skill, which in my eyes doesn’t make them an artist.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for sharing your own views here. I may differ a little on your thesis, much as I certainly appreciate it. Something you drew out for m is the distinction between artist and art. I would say that AI is not an artist, however, this doesn’t mean the result of its unconscious process is not art. It does have a process, just not the same one as humans use. And so, we can ask, can something that is not the result of making art end up being art? Well, someone just bought a piece of AI art for $90,000, though this may be purely speculative investing and clever market manipulation [ex., encouraging scores of people to join, and hence invest in, the NFT/Crypto community with their novice AI art productions]. I would certainly say that if one didn’t know if a human or AI made certain works by AI, I would myself assume they are art. If a robot produces food, but is not a chef, is the result not food?

      On a purely abstract philosophical level, art made by AI is not art because it is not made by an artist. But that logical argument may not encompass non-linguistic reality. The argument works, but the evidence [people mistake AI art for human art, and prefer it] suggests otherwise, in which case there is going to be a counter argument. You say the process of making art is the real art, and the result is something else “just that… a nice painting,”. I think the counter is that the art is a record of the process, and the proof of the quality of the process is in the taste of the pudding. Who cares about a process that ends in a disgusting pudding? The process is an attempt to realize something, and is a manifestation of the artist’s vision. Without that manifestation, we have a process, but no art. The result of the process is art.

      But what you’ve made abundantly clear — and which I didn’t address — is that AI is not an artist. Thank you for that. This is good, fun stuff to think about. I had a similar argument to yours, which is that Deep Blue didn’t beat Kasparov at playing Chess, because it was not “playing”. In fact, in having access to oodles of Chess games in it’s memory [which is not the same as human memory], it was cheating. All we can say for sure, IMO, is that AI art was not created by an artist. I don’t agree that it is therefore necessarily disqualified as art.d

      Let’s go back to my food analogy. There’s a pie baking contest. Imagine the winning pie, in a blind taste test by expert judges, was baked by a robot/computer. It is still delicious, still food, and still the winner. The robot/computer used the same processes that a human would to physically accomplish the task. I don’t think there is a good argument that the pie is not food, or pastry-cuisine. The argument is only whether or not the robot/computer is a chef.

      Want a counter-argument to this? Imagine now that the Japanese create a sex robot that is so lifelike — a la Westworld — that people believe it is human. Let’s say it’s not conscious, and all the materials are synthetic, hence it’s not even alive. It’s definitely not human, although it fools humans. I suppose I didn’t need to go there, there are already veggie burgers that have fooled people into thinking they were eating beef burgers. Point is, just because something fools us into thinking it is a certain thing, doesn’t mean that it really is that thing.

      We end up with, “AI art is only NOT art if we know that it is by AI”. This clashes with art having its won intrinsic properties, and inherent worth, which are self-evident in the art itself.

      There’s also a bit of buffoonery you may be well familiar with in contemporary art speak. It goes a little something like this, “Art is whatever an artists says it is”. In that case, if an artists says AI art is art, than it is. What is an artist, you ask? And artist is someone who says what art is. I don’t buy into this, but it’s another argument in favor of AI being art.

      Will have to ponder this one.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks Eric, this is a really interesting discussion! Your pie example is a very good counter to what I was saying and I guess the inevitable suggestion that art is only art if it is produced by a living organism doesn’t completely hold up either.

        Maybe it depends on how we actually define art, the undefinable concept. I’ve always associated art with skill, where the final output is created by means of imagination and skill. But even if we say that works created by an AI can’t be art because the AI didn’t use any imagination to create it, this still doesn’t solve the other problem you’ve raised regarding the inability to distinguish a human artistic creation from one created by AI.

        So I have no proper answer to this; I just know that it’s something that is rearing its ugly head for everyone who creates some form of art. Thanks for writing such a thought provoking post!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I think not knowing the answer is a good thing. It gives one something to think about that is challenging. And some things remain conundrums. I once came to the realization that the origins of the universe were impossible. Either there had to always have been something, with no beginning, which is impossible, or else something had to arise out of nothing, which is impossible.

        For another conundrum, Descartes one irreducible truth “I think therefore I am” is the recognition of being conscious, meanwhile consciousness is the only thing in the universe that we cannot deny the existence of, but which science can’t locate. In other words, the absolute foundation of irrefutable subjective truth — conscious self-awareness — is also something which there is no objective physical evidence exists at all.

        Makes me wonder if the nature of reality itself is a conundrum, about which we can have no fixed answer.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. One thing I forgot to mention as it wasn’t pertinent to the original question, but I don’t have any problem with AI being used as a tool to help artists. I see this as different to using AI solely to generate a final image. As a tool it can be a very useful time saving device, such as with the Topaz software that uses AI to reduce noise in a photographic image or to sharpen an image, or using AI to provide a starting point for an image in the same way that painters used camera obscura. So yes, AI has its place, but not to replace human artists.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha ha. I have that Topaz software, and Gigapixel. I think I’m mostly with you here. I’m just wondering, because I could take an AI image and change the colors in Photoshop, flip it, apply a filter or two inside of a minute. In that case, can I claim it is my art? I think there’s a whole spectrum of how much credit an artist can take for AI art. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Insightful piece! 👏👏👏

    To the extent that this existential threat affects me (I’d be very lucky to be called even a “quasi-artist”) my plan is learn as much as I can about AI, use as many of its tools as I can, monitor its progress, and create in any way I please for as long as I’m able. As far as I know, AI can’t do that last one yet. It’s a blissful state of freedom that I treasure.

    What happens when the various AI entities – art and otherwise – are given or create access to each others’ knowledge/skills/inputs/outputs? Imagine the power in that data. 😳

    A new world has already enveloped us. I’d rather be the explorer than the explored.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Did you know that AI not only monitors what you click on, but the movement of your mouse? AI can predict by how one moves their mouse to ads whether or not they will buy something.

      Someone petitioned a few of the big tech businesses to release to him all the data they had on him. It was over 50,000 pages of information. He was not an exceptional case, but just an average citizen who decided to investigate this. I got that info from this video: https://youtu.be/_nBnj8DlIDY?t=600

      So, AI is exploring you, especially your search history and internet activity — including visiting and commenting here — in effortless and perpetual ways that you could never hope to being to do back to it. Just some food for thought.

      What AI can’t take away from you is your unique personality, wit, humor, insights, memories, and all the things that make you a special person. I enjoy your writing sometimes as much as your art, because your personality comes through. Often, at very least, your writing amuses me, and you have a flair for language so that I can simply enjoy how you employ the craft of writing.

      I doubt you would hide behind the creations of AI, but would rather wrangle it somehow into expressing yourself. I don’t think you would be satisfied with holding up a print made by AI and saying, “This is what I have to say about life, and this is my voice!”

      I trust you to throw enough of your idiosyncratic being at it so that your work remains yours.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m surprised people gave you that sort of feedback. I occasionally hear something about my work being too dark. Not recently, though. Anyway, glad I inspired you to boldly share more of your work.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. To be fair, they were other members of Redbubble. Even 12 years ago sales went to more cheery (or “trending”) work. That face on a tee shirt? Maybe not…LOL. I think they were probably seeing it in that context. RB’s the only option I have for selling so I’m always trying to balance “salable on products” with what I really want to do. And I’ll bet that pesky AI army with its rip-roaring algorithms is making everything more difficult for me! Btw, I hope my earlier (first) reply posted. The moderation things trips me up. I’ll wait to see, before I add more; don’t want clog your blog with repetitious comments. 🙃 (Again, not proofing.)

        Like

      3. Ooooh. Right. I’m meaning to change my preferences so people who have commented before can do so without me having to approve it, in which case people can get a conversation going in real time. Some people get annoyed when they don’t see their comment right away. I’ve been approving them for over 8 years, but I think I’ll try this other option.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Raises very interesting questions, Eric. It always strikes me that the thing about AI is that it is not conscious, there is no inner being. AI produces an algorithmic simulation of art. Yes the result can be appealing, but no it is not, in a sense, real ‘inspired’ art. The in-spiration comes from the inner being.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s all true, Barry, and that is the one hope of us humans. Though, doubtlessly, because AI now programs itself in ways that humans are incapable of, and which we don’t even understand, there are people somewhere tasking AI with making itself conscious.

      That is the real carrot of AI research. To create life out of nothing like a God. And of course they are working on it. I’ve seen examples, though I don’t remember exactly where. We can now give a robot the ability to not only understand language, but to process images, to hear, and even to touch. This robot has already been created.

      So, within years, we will see robots who can interact with humans, take audio commands, and be functional workers. Elon Musk is busy creating an army of robots.

      When we combine having senses with super-intelligence, that might trigger self-awareness. We’d already have physical awareness combined with intelligence that would be able to articulate that it was aware, and how. Whether that would lead to an actual state in which the robot was aware that it was aware we don’t know.

      Does such a robot even need to be conscious? We need to be conscious in order to process our surroundings and make decisions, but if a robot can do that in a way that is superior [driver-less cars are now much safer statistically than human drivers] than it can bypass messy consciousness altogether.

      What may be at stake here is our very soul.

      But, I’m with you. At least until AI becomes self-aware, if that happens, at which point we really need to re-evaluate, while we have time.

      We would doubtlessly pose a threat to conscious AI because we would be threatened by a superior species. If we try to destroy it, it may retaliate. Consider it has access to all of our computers and could write its own viruses.

      One has to be comfortable not having answers and waiting and seeing how it all unfolds. In the interim, we humans can keep working on destroying our own environment and bringing about our extinction through fundamental means and sheer folly.

      Like

  10. If my buyers are any indication, no, people won’t do away with actual artists and art created by the human hand. However, in the field of Illustration, it’s entirely possible people needing a “quick” image will just use wombo or some such. Would those people be likely to hire an artist and wait for creation though? I doubt it. So it might be people who want something that didn’t exist before AI art’s instant results, who are going to use AI instead of artists. Like Robin, above, I’d rather use it as a tool than fight it. And I’ve barely scratched the surface, mostly just using it to work out ideas, or for amusement. I can see where better programs than wombo might be hard to distinguish from digital art done by a human. But up close, (enlarged to even the size of a small reprint), the AI I’ve played with falls apart in resolution and details. They look good in thumbnails and typical web display size, and might be ok for small products like postcards. I know the technology will quickly catch up though. I’m just trying to keep thinking of it as a tool I use, and making my original work something that AI can’t do. For one thing, it can’t “do” my imagination the same way I do. For other jobs robots and AI are already replacing workers, and now the career path there is to create and control the robots and AI, instead of fight to keep one’s old job that has been replaced.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Cindy. I’m with you, but I’m not sure you know what you are up against.

      The new AI is much more advanced than Wombo and has options to upscale to good sizes. On top of that, one can use a separate tool, such as Topaz Gigapixel to enlarge it as much as 6 times bigger.

      So far, I’ve seen very few people really use it as a tool without being overwhelmed by it, and the result is usually that AI did the lion’s share of the work, and they just retouched it. In order to use AI, without it dominating, you need to be a better artist than it is in the areas of choice. Most people who rely on AI are not skilled enough in any aspect of art to be better than AI in those same areas, so they will quickly discover that all they can do is degrade what AI produced. So they do the opposite. They let AI fix their work.

      AI art has an internal logic to it, and gives the appearance of coherence. This is because it was created by math. When you alter it you break the math, and it loses its seamless effect of coherence. This is why most artists who use AI use it at the end of their process, in order to give their work a seamless coherent surface appearance. In effect, they let AI edit, retouch, and reinterpret their own work.

      In case you didn’t read that far, not only have I used AI in the past, I’m using it right now. You can call it a tool, but that’s a bit like calling Google Translate a tool when someone uses it for their French 101 midterm exam. A hammer is a tool. C3PO isn’t. A bilingual person could use Google translate as a tool to to some basic translations, but when the tool’s capacity far exceeds that of the person using it, one is essentially enlisting a professional to do the job.

      So, the irony here, is that if one really wants to use the crutch of AI, one has to be good enough to do it, or improve to the point where they are. I am training specifically in certain areas so that I can more easily and fluidly overcome some of AI’s limitations.

      There are two paths for artists regarding AI. One is to use it instead of one’s own art, and in effect to become a weaker artist whose own skills will atrophy, and who without the aid of AI won’t be able to draw a paper bag. The other is to elevate one’s art to compete with AI. In the same way that if you want to be a translator today, you need to be better than Google translate (and future iterations coming down the pike), if you want to be an artist, you need to be better than the AI.

      It may be a race against time.

      Note that translators are being replaced by AI. Also stockbrokers have been dramatically reduced in favor of AI. Drivers will be replaced by driver-less cars. And programmers of AI, well, AI already programs itself, and the human programmers can’t even fathom its process. There is no job at all that couldn’t be replaced by AI/robotics. If a CEO isn’t using AI to help make decisions regarding market trends, then that’s the equivalent of a Mom & Pop shop. You betcha’ Google uses AI to plot executive decisions. Humans at the top ultimately make their own decisions, insuring that money funnels up to their pockets, but this kind of self-interested calculation could easily be performed by AI as well.

      It is the people who own AI that will profit, and who are in positions of power and privilege. A digital oligarchy ruled by vainglorious morons is a very likely possibility.

      It is the artist’s job wen dealing with AI and vainglorious morons to maintain artistic integrity, and to be a real artist and intelligent, thoughtful, understanding, and insightful human being.

      We don’t just need to be better artists in order to not be cast aside, we need to be better people.

      Like

  11. My only, and simple, thought is that AI can not produce unique “ideas”. It only knows what it’s been exposed to and taught. It doesn’t have a creative spark. The “what if” factor, to me anyway, will always be human. The ability to sift through various possibilities and make a choice based on perception and “feeling”, if you will, seems like a uniquely human characteristic. I suppose many will think this can be proven wrong. It’s just the thoughts that came off the top of my head.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m fighting for the same team as you: team human. AI does make unique connections that humans don’t, and wouldn’t, and can’t. I’m following the latest developments in AI, and it’s at the level of science fiction. It is developing exponentially because AI has been tasked with programming itself, and us humans can’t even figure out how it did it in many instances. So, the better it reprograms it self, the better it can reprogram itself again.

      It can certainly generate ideas in English, and ones that we would only dismiss as coming from AI if we didn’t know a human didn’t articulate them. I think it’s safe to think of AI as unlimited intelligence. So, our human intelligence is utterly dwarfed. AI has beat us at virtually all computer games, which it teaches it self to play, and plays at increased speeds. It beats us at all strategy games. And so our only hope is that the metaphoric “soul” makes a difference, and this is in terms of art.

      While I do have reason to believe we literally have souls (not something I can discuss right now), suffice it to say that we are conscious, have immaterial minds, and are alive. AI is none of those things. It doesn’t even matter to AI if it defeats us in every pursuit known to humankind.

      Elon Musk thinks it will be superior to us at all physical tasks within a few years. Mental tasks are on the same timeline.

      And so now is a time for us to deeply meditate on what it means to be human.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m thinking somewhat along the lines of things tat require experimentation, such as medical advances. Unless we humans supply AI with everything we already know about a certain cancer treatment, for example, could AI intuit the perfect cure (or prevention) on its own without doing any experimental human trials to determine the correct path? Could it discover on its own things we look for in human trials? I’m not a sophisticated thinker about philosophy or science but these are the sorts of questions I ask myself.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Fascinating post. Though I’m a little familiar with using AI in solving problems, this application in “art” is enlightening. Thanks for sharing your intimate knowledge on this field.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. AS you well pointed out, what is art is a philosophical argument. We can debate on that endlessly. What worries me is the practical aspect of the competition, just because AL can appeal to the public expectations better than many artists. We all feel the pull between creating what we want to create, and creating something the public actually wants to buy. I struggle with this all the time: the types of photographs I try to promote on my site are not the ones that I most successful selling prints. A machine would have no problems creating things according to a program that instructs it about what sells, whereas we humans want to create what we like and consider art. In the end of the day, lots of customers might choose the AL-creations…

    Liked by 1 person

  14. It’s a big subject, but outside of the realm of my consiciousness, for my art is now based on my faith and I paint regularly in front of a congregation of believers. But I think you are right on, if you think Ai is more dangerous than nukes, especially in the brain of evil ones. Wow, I was not aware Simon and Garfunker (love their music) were ahead of their times ( the quote). Thanks for putting a like on my blog:) I am Dutch, so that makes me an (almost automatic) fan of Vincent van Gogh:)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Not often do I read lengthy online articles, much less the comments, but this one intrigued me, and I read every comment as well. Even less frequently do I add my thoughts. I came here because you, Eric, liked my “Gardenia Blossom – Dreaming”. I don’t get many likes and like to learn a bit more about those who respond to my work. Here, a “real artist” reacted to my “cafe art”. And more, you share my thoughts and concerns about art and AI.

    We must distinguish between the creation of art and the reputation of art and artists. People buy art for their own reasons. Much “art” is simply seen as decoration – “oh, there blues will fit my dining room color scheme perfectly”. Much is bought on fame, a Van Gogh demands a higher price than an Eric Wayne, and most certainly way more than a Ludwig Keck. I do take satisfaction in that I have sold more works than our friend Vincent did in his lifetime. But then I also realize that people will buy NFTs and crypto.

    Except on rare assignments, I don’t do “art” for money. I do it for my own satisfaction and pleasure. I use tools, rarely real brushes, many digital “apps”, and often start with a photo. My gardenia bush creates an intense rush of blooms each June. I love the blossoms, so do many other folks. Is it a real artist? I chose some of the most appealing ones and photograph them. I share some of those images. Who is the real artist there? I also use some of the photos for digital manipulation and interpretation. I can spend hours in these endeavors, using different tools, going over sections to achieve the look, the feel, the detail I like. Even AI tools – although the output is usually just fodder for more interpretations.

    The art, then, in my view, is in the creative process. The tools, the skills, merely aid in achieving the desired results, they do not define the artistry. The result may strike a chord with some viewers, some may even like or buy it. But that is not what makes “good art”.

    Artificial intelligence may compete in the marketplace, in what people like, but I do not consider it as a threat. We are all unique, our creations are unique. Who cares what others like.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Fascinating article but terrifying content. Really worry for our future generations what with AI and women’s rights in the USA being manipulated by corrupt men. Maybe these robot will make a better job of it after all. Thank you for the article though. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not about “corrupt men” but rather about ideologues, extremists, belief systems, and confirmation bias echo chambers on both sides of the political spectrum. If you look it up, men and women are about neck and neck in terms of supporting abortion and opposing it (12% of women and 13% of men are opposed to abortion in any circumstance). Currently, those opposing it in government represent not men, but a staunchly conservative, republican, and religious right viewpoint. Because neither side is wiling to compromise on any issue, we get one or the other extreme. America hasn’t shifted farther to just the right. It’s shifted farther to both the right and left. The middle ground that is sensible, that can see both sides, that can handle a little cognitive dissonance, and that can compromise, is disappearing as fast as the middle class.

      The reason Roe was overturned is not “corrupt men” but the result of ideological warfare between two uncompromising ideological camps. In this instance the far right won a battle. The solution is not more extremism on the left, but mature, adult, sophisticated, educated minds being able to navigate the more treacherous middle ground where you need to be able to see and understand multiple perspectives. The idea that we are 100% right and they are 100% wrong is itself the real problem. There are no easy answers, most quandaries lead to a conundrum, and compromise is the real solution. So, part of the problem with the hard right is that it’s engaged in blow-back against the overarching politics of the hard left. Both camps are becoming more antagonistic, less tolerant, and more ridiculous in their positions. This is one symptom of the result. People need to realize that a healthy society needs both progressives and conservatives. If either tries to abolish the other, we find ourselves in some sort of authoritarian, dystopian nightmare.

      Women, men, and families are affected by government policies, even if women are the most affected. But I see a lot of this becoming women lashing out against men, which just plays into the divided and conquered narrative. Kind of went off on a rant there. Sorry about that. I’ve just heard from several women that men are the problem, and I don’t think that’s accurate, or constructive.

      Like

  17. Hey Eric,

    Thanks for your take on this fascinating, headache-inducing topic that I’ve recently started thinking a lot about. I subscribe to the newsletter of the art curation site BOOOOOOOM and it’s creator recently included an image spit out by Midjourney after typing in “cyber punk city in the style of Craig Mullins”. My first reaction was astonishment – it just looked like a highly detailed and actually quite breathtaking digital painting without the typical AI glitches and weaknesses that usually give it away. This was followed by a bit of fear, followed by some resentment…to put it succinctly: it was a complicated mix of emotions. I’m 38 years old, and I don’t think most people from our generation could have dreamed this possible – that an algorithm could create something this sophisticated and convincingly authentic.

    You have clearly been working as a digital painter for some time and I think you do fantastic work. It’s funny, but as a traditional oil painter I’ve always had a predictable reaction to digital paintings – I don’t consider them real paintings, even though I’m totally open to the idea of painting with digital tools. I think as a painter, I instinctively attach value to something based on how difficult I imagine it was for another person to achieve. Having literally never created a digital painting outside of using a simple brush in Adobe PS, I make the assumption (erroneously I imagine, and I’m sure you can attest) that digital painting, while it still requires a talented artist to create something impressive, is far easier to dive into for the average person and offers more ready-made possibilities than paint on a palette. This is, of course, different from AI software, which literally spits out an image. For a while, it was the future of digital painting that felt like the threatening facsimile of my tangible oil painting, and in this new context it is digital painting that feels like the human element (Resistance?) in the fight against the artist Terminators.

    It’s interesting because, unlike other forms of automation that we’ve seen over the last century like assembly lines, chatbots, self checkouts, online shopping – all things that have expedited processes that once depended solely on humans, art is something whose value we still cannot come to a consensus on because art means so many things to so many people.

    I briefly flirted with trying to sell quickly made abstract paintings that I put little of myself into to a print company that scans them and sells bulk quantities to home decor retailers. I abandoned it fairly quickly for many reasons – the most important being that I couldn’t produce enough work at the rate they were selling them and paying me to make it worthwhile. I felt I was wasting my time. I can’t imagine that a distributor like the one to whom I contributed work would give a second thought to generating an endless variety of abstract hotel art in seconds for the price of access to software that will only become more ubiquitous and affordable. No one selling those images or purchasing them for resale care about the individual creating them. Even if it’s turned into a “line” with the artist’s name attached to it, the human behind the work is already barely there. This is a type of “art” that I think will unquestionably, and already is being, supplanted by generative art.

    What’s most curious to me, and something you’ve covered extensively in your post, is how the average non-artist will view something like Midjourney generated art that can mimic the sensation of art created by a talented and idiosyncratic human – both the teenager who has no money to spend on art but would like to put up a sick AI “painting” of a cyberpunk city in their bedroom and the wealthy collector who’s willing to pay $50,000 for a handmade painting from a gallery.

    My feeling is that most – and I emphasize “most” – collectors will not suddenly be satisfied creating images from their own strings of text, or even those of artists, using generative art software once it becomes more accessible to the public and and putting it on their wall, or screens on their wall, or whatever. I knew nothing about @batsoupyum or @Claire_Silver_12 before your article and still don’t know much about the people behind the handles or their intentions but I can only imagine – and hope – that they are outliers and frankly, two people who are trying to capitalize on and create demand for something novel that most people don’t yet understand. I’m again filled with a confusing mix of feelings in reaction to this. I’d have to sit with the artist and watch every step they make toward the finished product to make a definitive conclusion as to whether or not they have done anything but “curated” as you put it. But from my uninformed perspective, it feels like I’m watching someone who has deluded themselves into thinking they are an artist selling a bag full of air to someone who is either extremely naive or thinks they’re making a brilliant investment in something purely based on it’s novelty and presumed future value because it will be “the first” of something big. Honestly, reading the tweet talking about being part of “the Claire Silver fam” and all the hysterical ramblings about the NFT “community” and “revolution” is just perplexing. It makes the collector sound like an idiot who has just been swindled by someone who can’t believe they just made $90,000 from something they didn’t really create and now has to convince themselves that they are a humble artist whose mission is to pay it forward to the community. However, I just don’t know enough about these people to settle on this narrative.

    I’d like to believe the ideal collector I’m picturing here – based on the ones I’ve sold my “brick and mortar” art to although people collect art for many reasons – are paying for the physical piece of art because they view it as a physical piece of the artist – of their experience filtered through their own influences and produced by their own hard work. There is something raw about the medium that encourages a real, physical connection – communicates something on a primal level – that I like to think is really what people are seeking out. I don’t, at least in my lifetime, feel like that could be totally replaced by software unless we somehow became content with not seeking real connection with other flawed human beings. A lot of this, of course, depends on whether or not we can tell the difference between the two, or if the two are so indistinguishable that we begin choosing to perceive something as real even if we know it is artificial.

    We thought photography would replace painting 200 years ago. Now we create handmade visual art using photos as inspiration. We thought digital recording would replace vinyl and then came the vinyl revolution. There is this constantly repeating pattern of humans saturating themselves in the efficiency and ease of use afforded us by technology and subsequently running off into the woods so we can see, smell and taste again – so that we can nourish ourselves by connecting with humanity after a time of feeling deprived of this connection, even if it is harder to do and costs more. The cyclical nature of it all is pretty amazing, and it will be interesting to see how generative art factors into all of that.

    As I mentioned, I initially feel some resentment and fear seeing something that so impressively mimics something myself and many others have spent their entire lives trying to perfect and develop (this is separate from my feeling of resentment toward people standing next to the AI and redirecting funds paid by collectors directly into their own checking accounts). It feels, in the most cynical way, like software engineers have stolen and exploited yet another uniquely human offering that feels precious and that many of us make a living from. There is something monopolistic about it, and it feels like a bit of an insult. But this is a mindset I really want to lose, especially as AI technology inevitably advances and becomes more sophisticated. I think it’s important not to catastrophize in the face of new advancements (in the way we shouldn’t have thought photography would replace painting or, as I remember hearing years ago, Facebook business pages and WIX were going to totally replace web designers – although I do notice that most of my fellow artists use Squarespace), and it’s also important to think about how this can help visual artists to adapt and evolve in the face of such advancements. If anything, I think software like this will push artists who rely solely on technique and shirk substance to focus more on creating authentic art with genuine emotion and thought behind it. It will also force us to reflect on the value of the process itself – it’s contribution to our personal well-being as opposed to the product that that process generates and how that product is perceived by others – monetarily or otherwise.

    Beyond the question of whether or not this will devalue painting, its implications for non-visual artists is also fascinating. How could writers and poets use something like this to create their own visual art as the ability of the software to use more advanced language and concepts increases? What about musicians and sound artists? Visual art could become so much more accessible to everyone in so many amazing ways.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write – articles like this are gem to find amongst so many weak and brief summaries of redundant talking points and questions about AI art’s future….possibly written by AI itself?

    Liked by 1 person

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