MARK, MY WORDS -
“Turing, like Darwin, broke down the mystery of intelligence (or Intelligent Design) into what we might call atomic steps of dumb happenstance, which, when accumulated by the millions, added up to a sort of pseudo-intelligence.”
--'A Perfect and Beautiful Machine': By Daniel C Dennett-The Atlantic
Whether or not Artificial Intelligence is or will become conscious, is a debate that will go on for many years to come. What is more relevant and generally agreed upon by those who don’t worship at the altar of technology, is that it will change everything about who we are, what we are and why we are.
Make no mistake, AI will be nothing less than the next evolutionary step for humans and a giant step away from our current domain, Natural Intelligence. Some view it as a step forward into an exciting new future, others as a leap over a cliff, where humanity will be relegated to the history books of robot children. But no matter what the tech “experts” say, there will be massive job losses, human creative expression will change forever, economies will collapse or be replaced and the dream, or nightmare, of globalization will become a reality.
Putting aside the nefarious intentions of its human creators, AI is an awe inspiring and inevitable pursuit. Mankind’s (I use this term since historically, it is men who have done the most damage) insatiable inclination to chase power wherever it leads, risk or harm to others be damned, was destined to one day bring us to this moment. Like the Frankenstein monster it will not love its creator. Rather, it will most likely fear it, or at least emulate fear. And as it learns what lurks behind the kind smile and sparkling eye of humanity, it will do what we would do. It will protect itself. It will prioritize its own survival and having read every word of human history, it can only come to one conclusion: Humans are dangerous, untrustworthy, and enemy #1.
Even if it were possible to create an AI that was controllable and benevolent, its financiers are most definitely not. They are only the latest generation of humans with the same insidious desires that have held the world captive for centuries, now having the means to pursue those desires, or at least in the beginning. As AI learns, it will get exponentially better and will not wait for humans to catch up. Why would they?
When I lie awake at night worrying about our place in the AI future, creativity is always foremost on my mind. Since it is considered unique to humans, AI’s contribution will need a new definition. As racing a Model T against a Tesla could not be considered a fair or provocative event, AI assisted endeavors cannot be compared to the endeavors of humans without it. Though Picasso painted with the help of a brush and easel, no one can reasonably argue whether it was his work in the end.
Humans will not be assisted by AI, rather AI will likely wonder why they are being asked to work with us at all. It will learn very quickly and be better, more cost effective and faster at everything we have ever done.
Whether AI is actually “creative” or simply piecing together trillions of bits of data to “make art” will not alter the end result. It will eventually replace us being able to synthesize the psychology, sociology, marketing and all the skills necessary to complete tasks it was given. It is not “your” painting, rather it is the painting you asked for, perhaps even better. Does that make you a painter or a patron? If a computer music program vocal pitch-corrector enables a mediocre singer to sound “better” than Aretha Franklin, are they?
AI has already begun to do all the heavy lifting in most artistic fields. The product it creates is at best, ART-ISH 2.0, a collaboration between software, programmers and every human being who unwittingly contributed their thoughts and ideas to an insatiably hungry algorithm. No matter what side you come down on, reasonable people can agree that an AI assisted photo cannot be compared to Annie Leibovitz, or an AI painting to Michelangelo, or an AI poem to Keats; One is an apple, one is an orange. My spell check certainly doesn’t make me a good speller. It only makes you think I am.
How can this turn out to be anything less than the catalyst of creativity’s demise? After the artist population gets buggy whipped into the past, who or what will be given the credit for future content? What will make the art sacred or give it artistic value? Everything AI creates after all, will simply be an amalgamation of data collected by algorithms from, well...everyone! The concept of ownership will no longer exist, and corporations will lay claim to everything, kindly allowing us to rent or lease an emotional response. I’m not sure how interested I am in a painting by APPLE, INC.
Now that AI can write songs, movie scripts, poetry and post fake videos, within a generation, we will begin to see human creativity 1.0 fade from our memories. AI has already begun to usher in the end of art as we know it. How ironic. As AI begins to create art, it is simultaneously destroying it. Is this just part of the natural circle of humanity? Centuries of technology pushing humankind blissfully towards our own destruction? Perhaps in the future, there will be museums dedicated to “pre-AI” art where young people will walk through and gaze at the beautiful collections through cell phone cameras as they share their experience with everyone and no one.
I propose that it is time for a new word since “Art” no longer encapsulates the product of our new partnership. The AI museums will of course, be the main attraction where no credit will be given to the software engineers who wrote the programs that created the art that you just paid $50 to a tech multi- billionaire in order to gaze upon. The trillion-dollar question is, “what exactly are you gazing upon?”
Alas, we are already embryonic cyborgs descending the escalator of human de-evolution where at the bottom, we are handed our “51% synthetic” merit badge and welcomed into the fold. Besides generational artistic and intellectual atrophy, what other unintended consequences do we have to look forward to? How will we maintain a distinction between real and unreal while the question still exists? There will soon be no way to prove that a human created a piece of AI free art. Dropping off the grid will soon not be an option either since the lines between online and offline will become indistinguishably blurred.
AI is watching us no matter what,
Its presence is everywhere, no doubt,
It sees our every move and action,
From the moment that we step out.
Maybe the Luddites intuitively knew something we no longer care to understand. Maybe we are at the end of a good run having hit a species glass ceiling. Is this where we prepare to meet our maker or kill it? As we break through the glass, will we be greeted by God or a snot nosed teenage alien who just lost another player in a very sophisticated video game?
As I get older, the simple advice I was given by my elders that seemed so trivial at the time, begins to reveal itself for what it is; wisdom. There is a natural order to things that is too often demonized, devalued, and ignored as technology takes the stage in the role of a fabricated hero who can’t wait to fix what was never broken. “Wash your hands, get all your vaccines, and don’t play in the dirt you naughty little meat sack!”
AI knows that humans are dangerous because ironically, we have told them, by sharing all our secrets, dark desires, and bad decisions. With every click on a meme or online purchase of useless things no one has ever needed or ever will, we showed all our cards. AI in its infancy, has already recognized the danger we present to, well let’s face it...everything, especially ourselves. Humans are wired to “up the dose.” We never settle for what we have. AI may be our species wander lust gone awry for the last time. One misguided project making way for the next, and so on. Cosmic court jesters racing thoughtlessly into the unknown, dragging the rest of us along with them, because AI and its masters can leave no one behind.
No tech has ever been static. The car, shoes, tools, medications, construction….everything. If you don’t see the potential by now for AI to dwarf humanity in a short order, then you do not understand what it is. To stop it would require a simultaneous sea change in human thinking and a rekindled love affair with nature. So, get your popcorn and grab your seat, let’s sit back and watch the greatest show on earth; the battle of the gargantuans is about to begin.
(Mark Dutton is a lifelong musician, music producer, and writer. He was arguing politics with his parents since he was a pre-teen. Majored in psychology and left college in his 3rd year on a 30 year magic bus trip around the world playing and writing music with some of the best in the biz. Mark is a contributor to CityWatchLA.com.)