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Artificial Art

Todd Powelson

I've been blessed.. I've been able to pay my mortgage and other bills with the creative work that I do for pretty much my whole adult life. As a graphic/web designer, illustrator, and animator. I come home from work and spend most of my "free time" working on my own personal artwork, because it is what I love to do. Although I make sure to spend hours every day outside with the trees and animals, also socializing from time to time, I use computers all day every day to do my creative work. I don't plan on stopping or changing.

I've been thinking about artificial intelligence lately. AI has been thrust in my face, in all our faces, these last months/years. I don't particularly like what I see. Not that it matters to anyone but me, or that anyone asked (well, that's not true. I've been asked directly about my thoughts on AI art by a few people), but.. Perhaps the real threat, as I see it, is that computer-generated AI "art" will inundate our lives so completely that we become numb to all art. It loses all meaning and value. Perhaps we were already heading in that direction.. All art transforms into that song we barely hear playing in the grocery store or riding in an elevator, that video we are forced to watch while we fill our gas tanks, the billboard intrusion, or the Facebook ad we scroll past.

I make my artwork for myself first and foremost, but it's also helped me understand what it means to be a human being. And I want to share what I've learned. That's important too, to communicate with others... communicate in a visual medium in my case. That's what making art is, to me. I started learning how to draw as a little kid from the great masters. From what other human beings made. Everyone from Picasso to Michelangelo. From the ancient Greeks, people living in Asia, Africa, and pretty much everywhere else I could. My interest in art had me learning history, philosophy, and about beauty. I started off copying other people's styles, those styles influenced me, and still do. I never tried to pretend otherwise. But through those years and years of dedicated work and study, I feel I've found a way of expressing myself in a way that is uniquely mine.

AI is scraping other people's years of self-development and work and spitting out a pretty picture. There is no insight, there is no context, just a sparkle surface. Great!

I've come to believe that all these glorious big tech advances are helping tear not only our society apart but also our own individual human psyche. Sure, Mark Zuckerburg (and others) might be scraping all of our personal information to become a Billionaires Billionaire, but in the meantime, we are all at each other's throats. It's gross. What unforeseen surprises will AI pretending to be a human being bring? It's artificial, after all, what does it care?

Many of us told Facebutt all about the things we like 👍 , what we thought was funny, our music, our politics, and how we thought. In my eyes, they've used that information against us. I think social media has had a large role in the divisions and cracks that have shown up in society at large. Now big tech wants us to provide them the keywords to our own personal and private dreams, the keys to our imagination. Right now they may be spitting out all sorts of interpretations of those dream places that were lifted from human creative work for free, but I expect soon those dreams will be sponsored by McDonalds.. or maybe Lockheed. Eventually, human beings may forget that they can visit those imaginal places themselves.

If we are now looking to AI to give us our artwork, insight, and meaning, will we become the more compliant machines? I already see too many people who seem to be traveling down that machine path. Our whole culture is going down that path. It's always punch-in, punch-out, go to work then go back home... with large doses of phone gazing going on in between. Soon, I expect, those dreary jobs will be replaced as well. All we will have left is our phone gazing and the AI presented on those devices. It's not only machines that are programmed, human beings are being programmed too.

I'm not even going to go into the deception, lies, and propaganda that will only get worse as AI is more fully embraced. Perhaps we've all caught sight of that of deep-fake tidal wave forming out on the horizon by now? What a brave new world! Can't trust much these days... oh joy..!

The billions of images in the AI reference library were created by human artists. None of those artists are being compensated for their artwork or are being paid to teach AI, as far as I know. But their work is surely being referenced. Their work is being used by AI simply because those human artists dared to share their artwork on the internet... just so it could be devalued and scraped and morphed into something artificial, apparently. My understanding about why the music industry was not touched (yet) is because, at least in part, the music industry has had enough litigation over the years to make AI developers want to avoid that fight. Visual artists didn't tend to have big labels protecting them and their creative work. I don't know that many musicians do anymore these days either. Another tech-bro casualty. Writers aren't safe either.. say hello ChatGPT! Hell, I read recently that AI has already passed the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School MBA exam.

Do you think Disney would rather pay a team of artists to create their animations? Or would it rather pay a monthly subscription for AI? I expect Disney (and others) will eventually conclude, like a machine would, one route is more cost-effective and efficient than another. This is going to destroy a lot of careers. And it was the artists themselves who inadvertently and unknowingly taught AI how to destroy those careers.. they were never asked. Just because a person can develop this type of machine doesn't mean it is a wise thing to do.

I know that AI is already here, it is being used by millions (billions?), and there may be some beneficial use for it. If you're somebody who is already using AI, then no shade toward you personally from me. We've all got to decide for ourselves how much we want to participate. For myself, I've decided to interact as little as is humanly possible. If AI developers show some integrity and I see something more wholesome arrive, I may change my mind, but I am not expecting to. Anyway, if you're already using AI, just be careful out there.. You've already been targeted.

As an artist, I'll just keep doing what I do. It is ethical for AI developers to provide some sort of artist opt-out... Why wasn't opt-out there from the beginning? We don't have the opt-out choice now. Why wasn't this opt-in from the beginning? And why weren't artists involved from the beginning in AI's creation and development? I tend to think it's because artists would be most inclined to call bullshit on AI, at least in it's current form. These tools aren't meant to help artists, they are being used to mine and repackage human creative work.

Anyway... I'll just keep on thinking, mostly to myself but sometimes on my website here, that we are collectively going down a foolish tech-bro path. But yeah... ANYWAY! Calling AI "intelligent " is, for me, comparable to naming a retail store-front mannequin or some strange robot sex doll a "living and breathing person".

Longer post than intended, even though I am sure I have more to say I'll end with this line from Dune, which I think about a lot:

“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”

Todd Powelson
Todd Powelson works as a Graphic Designer, Illustrator, and Visual Artist.

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