This post is part of a collection of thoughts I’m putting together as a companion to Five Seven Five, a stand-alone book that uses haiku I wrote as input to an AI art generator. It was a super-fun project to build. You can get it by backing my kickstarter. Or you can pre-order it at several online retailers.
Fun or not, though, the use of AI in any endeavor is filled with intrigue. So as I came closer to launching the project I decided I wanted to explore the bigger picture of how AI is impacting our world, and specifically the creative world I dwell in.
Today let’s talk about a question I see popping up all over the place.
I keep hearing people ask, “Why AI?” When the question is asked in regard to the arts in specific—I see it as a valid question, at first anyway—but sometimes I hear it in broader contexts. In those cases, the idea behind the question is essentially to avoid the science fictional outcome of dystopian SF in which AI runs amok and destroys everything. Why open the can of worms that leads us down that path.
The answer is obvious: Because in a world of big data, AI can do things so much better than humans can.
What kinds of things?
Exhibit A: I recently listened to an episode of Freakonomics, MD, which was focused on how various Emergency Room professionals are using AI techniques to improve human outcomes in the ER. They do it by, naturally, training the learning AI on a vast database of medical records. And it turns out—not surprisingly—that the AI, once properly worked with, can make direct improvements on results.
The same thing happens in pretty much every field where huge amounts of data can be used to help guide actions. Exhibit B: Autonomous driving is another example. Yes, the AI can make errors and get into accidents but, on the whole, it is already better than humans. Side note: In the past few months, Las Vegas has become a leader in approving autonomous driving vehicles on our roads. So, the future is now here. And I can keep going. The examples are numerous. I noted a couple days back that Microsoft has launched an AI helper for Word. A Google will bring you a bunch of things that AI is already being used for that will improve our lives—the first one that came to mind was an AI helper for video game drivers.
The bottom line is that AI is very good at taking huge sets of data and rendering them down to probabilistic truths. Key word, probabilistic. Turn any rock over today and you can find an article about an AI getting something wrong. Of course they will make errors. Of course they won’t be failsafe. But the baseline is not zero errors. The baseline is “fewer errors than humans,” and as a rule that’s not a baseline modern day AI are finding it hard to cross. This is where the answer to this question lies: The approaches given to us by AI are here because they offer huge opportunities to give people advantages that we’ve never had before. The use of AI in all these areas improves people’s lives.
Or, put it another way, if your loved one is in the ER, your best bet is to have an AI in the loop.
I hear you. Really I do.
The question I’ve been tussling with is not a general-purpose question, so bringing up uses outside the arts might be viewed as ducking the question that people here care about. That question, the question at hand is “how does the use of AI improve the lives of us creative people?”
Maybe the answer is that it doesn’t, but that’s probably because we are focused on our own concept of what we mean by “creative people.” AI artists may well hurt people making their living as artists today. But ultimately, all people are creative to one degree or another. This comes to the forefront when we ask ourselves all those serious questions about what art is and what art is not. If one opens the lid on that Pandora’s box even a little, AI art generators (or text generators, or music generators) can be argued to change the definition of creative people from “us few” to essentially everyone with enough interest and a little time. This is not good for us current creatives—at least not in a business or monetary fashion, but is arguably good for humanity as a whole if it helps that wider array of people feel good about whatever they call creativity. For them, the ability to make AI generated art improves the quality of their lives.
Then there’s this, too: My view is that even asking the question about “why AI” is far too late. That ship done flown, man! That rooster done flew the condo!
The use of Artificial Intelligence is here to stay.
And I think our experience is going to be a mixed bag for as long as it takes us to come to grips with the new status quo.