A decade ago, AI-generated art was overlooked, text generators were considered harmless toys, and most machine learning models were confined to research labs, endlessly refining its parameters. Now, art generators like DALLE-2 are used as an alternative to stock images, and GPT-3’s text generation is so awfully convincing that accessing the model requires background checking to prevent abuse. Full-body deepfakes too, although still in their infancy, are getting closer to reality. Almost every branch of art – a discipline considered a uniquely human skill – is put to the test by machines, with attempts ranging from poetry to pixel art to orchestral music.
We’ve seen a lot of discussion bubbling up on our internet feeds, but a quick glance at trail camera footage of Joe Biden or skimming over a post about AI-generated art winning the Colorado State Fair isn’t enough. not to justify my predictions about the future of entertainment. The interaction between computers and art has been around for a long time, but accelerated research into machine learning and artificial intelligence has led me to believe that by the turn of the century, most internet content will be generated by machines – and it makes more sense to accept it.
To explain my reasoning, consider a thought experiment.
The medium is not the message
Suppose you read two stories of equal length, let’s call them A and B. Both stories gave you the same positive enjoyment while reading and the same positive level of satisfaction after you finished. However, Story A was generated by a non-sentient computer program while Story B was written by a human. Armed with this knowledge, how would your beliefs about story A change from story B?
The fundamental question we ask is whether nonhuman agents deserve the same creative respect as humans. If you enjoyed both stories equally, then it’s safe to say that no matter who wrote it, after all, both stories produced a positive result. Also, if the human author carries controversial baggage, some people may be morally disinclined to appreciate the B story. In this case, the computer-generated story would be a best choice than human-written history, although the computer is devoid of any emotional or creative intuition.
But because the computer lacks intuition, it would also be reasonable to claim that human history is better because it can be steeped in symbolism, nuance, and other literary devices. In fact, one could argue that it is impossible for a machine to match or exceed human creativity because creativity is, ultimately, a human ideal. We cannot define creativity as a set of rules that the machine must understand. Instead, we have to feed the machine artwork and hope it can learn something meaningful, though we don’t fully understand how.
Personally, I lean towards the history written by man. Our minds are designed to work with complex ideas – computers are great at manipulating numbers, but that’s about it. Still, I’m not entirely convinced by my own answer; despite the potential for more complex narratology in human history, we’re still equally happy with the choice, human or machine. The ephemeral knowledge of what human history could involve is unknown and unrelated to the outcome of this scenario. So, if your satisfaction and enjoyment were the only metrics to measure, the two stories are functionally equivalent. A new question, then, is to identify what describes our most basic form of entertainment.
The Age of Discontent
Art requires reasoning beyond an aesthetic configuration of shapes and colors. Art requires intuition and emotion, which did not develop in machines – I hope. But what about art that requires neither intuition nor emotion to create? What if someone just needed an image of a bear on a tricycle rendered in pencil? This is where things get tricky, because we now have two distinct definitions of art: one that embodies the human element and one that lends itself to mass publication.
Let’s call the second definition contents, because that’s all it really is – a superficial, direct expression of an idea or two. Content sits at the lowest level of the cognitive pyramid not because it’s “dumb,” but because it gets the job done. Most memes fall under content because they strive to maximize humor. Stock images, prompt generators, and background music are all considered content because they accomplish a single purpose.
Because content is such a basic form of communication, it will be the first creative product to fall into the hands of AI. If we somehow improved the image generator and refined the text synthesizer, content creation would be driven by the consumer rather than the producer. Imagine generating high-quality stock photos for an article based on a user-defined prompt, or running a program that creates compelling logo designs for your flashy new business. How do you compete with an image-spitting monster who drew a hundred concepts before you took up the pen?
Right now machines are getting pretty good at imitating human works, and sometimes an imitation is all you need. After all, we care more about how content makes us feel than where it comes from; this is why we are so malleable to misinformation. So the most important safeguard is to fortify AI-generated content to avoid any cognitive pitfalls – no one wants to tame a beast that has outgrown its cage.