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Misalignment Museum.jpg

If It's AI, It Isn't Art

By Jen Maravegias | Think Pieces | March 31, 2023 |

By Jen Maravegias | Think Pieces | March 31, 2023 |


Misalignment Museum.jpg

I’ve been stewing over the idea that Artificial Intelligence can create artwork for a while, trying to figure out what I want to say about it. It comes down to this: Are you all high?

Robots don’t make art. Artificial Intelligence might be programmed to string some sentences together or create a prompt-based image but that’s not art. You might even feed AI enough information for it to generate passable Seinfeld scripts, but that’s still not art. It’s math. It is algorithms and logic applying the information given to the AI by human beings. Then it spits out what it believes to be the closest proximity to what it was asked to provide. That’s why it couldn’t get fingers right for so long. AI doesn’t know what fingers are for. It just knows that human creatures have small, individualized, jointed extensions at the end of the appendages we call “arms.”

Of course, the more information you feed into an algorithm the more precise the results. That’s how you end up with Pope Francis looking baller in a puffer coat.

Pope In A Puffer Coat.png

But his hands still kind of look like Ken doll hands.

Then I read this interesting article on Medium about an Artificial Intelligence that generated images of various social groups smiling the way Americans smile. It’s hard to pinpoint why they’re all so unnatural looking, except to say that it’s all just unnatural looking. The author of that piece nails it at the end:

In flattening the diversity of facial expressions of civilizations around the world AI had collapsed the spectrum of history, culture, photography, and emotion concepts into a singular, monolithic perspective. It presented a false visual narrative about the universality of something that in the real world — where real humans have lived and created culture, expression, and meaning for hundreds of thousands of years — is anything but uniform.

There’s no nuance for AI — all human reactions are the same. There’s no accounting for different types of human society. Or how those differences would affect emotional expressions. That’s not a thing if you’re a robot. Similarly, if you go to TheseLyricsDoNotExist.com and ask the AI song generator to write you a song about love it does exactly that. It’s not about being in love, or how love feels. It’s literally about love. Although I do think the first pre-chorus might be a cry for help.

Verse 1

Too powerful for love
Too powerful for love
Too powerful for love
Too powerful for love

Pre-Chorus
I want to live. I dream and live
A dream is the dream that always comes true

Chorus
Sad and bittersweet memories of love
Come and time will never learn to spare your pain
Divine love, divine love
Divine love, divine love

Verse 2
But they get so strong
Will always love you anyway
You got a lot of charm
And I love everything you are

Pre-Chorus
This love this pain
This love this pain

Chorus
Sad and bittersweet memories of love
Come and time will never learn to spare your pain
Divine love, divine love
Divine love, divine love

Bridge
Once I was young once in the love
Your love had never died

Chorus
Sad and bittersweet memories of love
Come and time will never learn to spare your pain
Divine love, divine love
Divine love, divine love

There’s no personal history for AI to draw from when you ask it to make art. There is no recall of emotions or empathy involved when an AI generates something. In those lyrics above, it starts the chorus trying hard to make us believe that it has memories of love. But then the second line destroys the illusion by either being nonsense or being about semen. It could go either way. I don’t know.

In January Buzzfeed announced it was pivoting to AI-generated quizzes and had plans to begin integrating with Facebook and Meta. The media company’s stock rose by a whopping 203% after that announcement. Buzzfeed’s CEO even went so far as to declare his intentions to make it the “premier platform for AI-powered content.”

That doesn’t seem to be working out well for Jonah Peretti now that someone uncovered the fact that Buzzfeed has been quietly publishing AI-written travel articles for a while. No one is impressed. Hey, does anyone else remember when Buzzfeed was going to be the premier platform for video content? Right.

Isaac Asimov, one of the greatest contributors to science fiction who ever lived, would be disappointed in us. He had a dream of helpful robots. And while he wrote about robots who were capable of exhibiting earnest human characteristics, he never saw them as artists. Robots and computers are meant to be helpers, to take responsibility for mundane tasks. They’re meant to free us from those things and allow us to be more creative and more artistic, more human. So yes to self-checkout at the supermarket. And no to paying $432,500 for AI-generated artwork.

I’m going to end here with some thoughts about AI songwriting from Nick Cave. Cave has a deep, personal, understanding of human pain and frailty that he wears on his sleeve. If Nick Cave doesn’t know, nobody knows.

* The header image for this article comes from a new exhibition titled the Misalignment Museum that opened to the public in San Francisco on March 9th, 2023, featuring funny or disturbing AI artworks, supposed to help visitors think about the potential dangers of artificial intelligence.*



Header Image Source: Getty Images