The idea that AI can infiltrate the field of art is frightening and rightfully so. While it has been no secret that AI can definitely replace blue-collar jobs and possibly threaten white-collar jobs, the idea that it can impact the livelihood of artists isn’t one that the media has foretold, nor have dystopian movies explored. However, we can see early traces of AI in art. It has slowly seeped into written literature, journalism, paintings and even music.
Having said that, this isn’t a novel (😉) idea. Sometime in the 90s a music theory professor trained a program to write Bach-styled compositions. Then, to his students, he played both the real and computer-generated versions. To them, both were indistinguishable. Since then, technology has rapidly improved to a state that AI can create music of its own.
Similarly the sphere of paintings have seen leaps and bounds in development so much so that someone bought an AI-generated ‘Portrait of Edmond Belamy’ for $432,500.
These definitely indicate a shift in the tides. If we don’t know the difference between human and AI generated then what stops us from appreciating both? Possibly just robots as over time they’re undoubtedly going to improve. We still compare the Beatles from the 60s to the music of today. Their music has stood the test of time or at least for 60 years. AI music on the other hand is on a completely different level than it was 30 years ago. One might argue even just 10 or 5 years ago. Many of today’s artists get compared to the work they have put out at the beginning of their careers, yet the same can’t be said for AI art. Imagine how much better AI music could get. Does this push many human artists out of the door? This thought definitely has many artists quaking in their boots.
While it may seem like the end is near for artists, in an odd occurrence of harmony engineers and artists seem to concur. Those educated with this budding field are still under the belief that art is one of the few fields that isn’t conquerable by AI. The main arguments are as follows.
Primarily, it is repeatedly argued that art is an innately human ability that it isn’t reproducible by anyone else, animal or machine.
Art is the result of a base emotion. While in the Stone Age humans were preoccupied with hunting, over time we have gotten better-and-better at self-introspection and as a result are incrementally fine-tuning our emotional quotient. Machines can’t replicate that process as they lack emotional consciousness thus the result of whatever they produce can’t be classified as art. Simply put:
Art is a matter of subjectivity whereas AI functions on objectivity. These two are mutually exclusive
While on a philosophical level this may be true, from an appreciation standpoint, humans just can’t tell the difference. Sure an AI song is yet to top the charts but as AI art becomes mainstream, it is bound to happen.
Some also argue that AI music is a passing fad but the evidence so far suggests that it is here to stay. Some may feel a sense of hopelessness. Tasks that we once considered abstract and complex are being done with ease. Tasks that we considered exclusive only to humans are no more the case. This is extremely demoralising, especially for those whose self-worth is closely tied to the success of their art. Whether they consciously acknowledge it or not, artists sense a threat. The fact that we can’t tell the difference may seem deeply insulting to artists but is simply testament to how far AI has come.
AI is evolving. At an unimaginable pace today. While less than a decade ago it was only as competent as a parrot – able to imitate human art- it now is a powerful tool for collaboration. It seems imminent that in the near-future AI is likely to become potent enough to become independent creators. Who knows what the future will hold? But as AI rewrites a new normal to what we consider ‘daily life’ we need art to help us explore who we are and who we want to become.