AI detractors have warned that the emerging wave of generative technology, such as ChatGPT, Bard and Dall-E 2, could usher in an era of declining human creativity and innovation.
Today, it’s true that AI-generated art and literature can hardly be called inspiring, moving, thought-provoking or even very entertaining – the hallmarks of great human-created art. Mostly it is formulaic, bland and, somewhat inevitably, robotic.
But we’re still very much in the early days. One school of thought holds that as technology evolves and better learns to “understand” the creative process, it will become capable of creating increasingly sophisticated works. Can we be sure that we will never see AI artwork as awe-inspiring as that of Michelangelo or poetry as moving as Wordsworth? And if it does, where does that leave us as humans? Will there be any need (or motivation) for us to express ourselves creatively?
It’s a depressing thought. However, it certainly isn’t one I subscribe to. Rather, I believe that AI will amplify and augment our creative abilities in all sorts of amazing ways. Here’s why:
The role of AI in human creativity
There’s magic in human creativity. By that statement, what I mean is that human creativity transcends the mundane. What is it that makes a great artist: a writer, poet, painter, musician or even a film director or video game designer? We can’t know for sure but the best answer is “everything that makes them human”. It is the interplay of talent, creative spark and drive (the burning need to express themselves creatively), of the artist’s values, beliefs and even political leaning … and of many other qualities that machines can’t yet emulate.
However, it also requires many more mundane qualities that are much easier to automate. These include the ability to think in a structured way in order to plan and deliver a piece of art, time management, attention to detail and quality, and even commercial sensibilities. After all, many artistic endeavours of the past 100 years may never have come to fruition if someone hadn’t seen a potential to make money and stumped up the cash to make them happen.
Over the centuries, think how many great artists might simply never have had their chance to shine because they lacked these everyday skills. Now that they can be automated or delegated to our robot friends, this could cease to be an obstacle for many.
Additionally, AI has the ability to process huge amounts of data, drawing together knowledge from thousands of sources and making it quick and easy to access. This means human artists have more information from which to draw inspiration, leading to new ideas they simply may not have had without this collaborative partnership.
The democratisation of creativity
The flip-side of this is just as intriguing. Humans who may lack the mechanical skills of creativity – the ability to paint well, or to structure prose in a readable way, or to write the code for the ground-breaking videogame that so far exists only in their head – might also find themselves unfettered. Now anyone who simply has a good idea can have AI flesh it out and bring it to life. Even if they don’t want to put out something created by AI as their finished product, it can help with getting to the prototyping, first-drafting or pencil-sketch stage, which may have previously been an insurmountable hurdle.
I also believe that, even when a computer does generate the finished output, it’s the human input that differentiates a simple picture, sound or piece of text from a work of art. Tools like Stable Diffusion and Dall-E 2 can create technically proficient images – a picture of a horse that is recognisably a horse, say. And ChatGPT can write a story about a horse. But a human artist is needed to give it context, meaning and artistic value.
Is the image supposed to simply show us what a horse looks like? Or is it meant to convey the beauty and power inherent in horses, as in the work of George Stubbs or Alfred Munnings. Is a piece of writing simply meant to educate us on the qualities of a horse, or tell an exciting adventure story like Black Beauty? The human artist makes these decisions and in doing so shapes and defines the artistic creation.
AI as a creative tool
So, it seems clear to me that AI’s role is not to replace human creativity but to assist and augment it. By handling the mundane or technical elements of creativity, it can free the artist to focus on the specific elements of creativity where they excel, or that they truly love.
Another factor is that just like other tools, it can be thought of as a way to speed up tasks that the artist would be able to do anyway if they had enough time. This allows humans to explore a wider range of creative ideas and opportunities in a shorter span of time. There’s no reason to believe Shakespeare’s plays would have been any less creative if he’d had AI to help him, but he might have written hundreds of them, rather than a mere 39.
AI can also be a hammer to smash through creative blocks, a torch to ignite the creative spark, or a shovel to unearth buried sources of inspiration!
Of course, any exploration of the ways that AI will impact the future of society and humanity has to take into account some ethical considerations. It’s possible that AI could lead artists to unknowingly infringe copyright, as the sources of information that are included in its output are not always clear.
There’s also the question of authorship and attribution. At what point does the artist assign authorship to the AI? Is the initial idea, or spark, enough to claim that the finished work is a product of the author’s artistry? Or should a portion of the credit (and royalties) go to the creator of the AI, or the source of the information it was trained on?
And how can we ensure that access to the democratising impact of AI is available to everyone and not confined to a privileged, techno-literate social elite? This would be likely to lead to further inequality and growing societal divisions.
Answers to these problems are likely to emerge as the shape of AI’s impact on the world becomes apparent over the coming years. But overall, my belief is that rather than replace human creativity, human creatives will find it an increasingly useful tool and ally.