On an unseasonably hot afternoon last December, I found myself flung away in a Bellevue office building, swallowing my words. I was there to criticize a third party AI generated content. My mood was skeptical at best.
“How would you rate the quality of the copy?” asked one participant. A silence ended graciously when someone offered a seven out of 10. I nodded politely. Hell if I had to straighten them out.
Clearly, artificial intelligence is having a moment. Back in November 2022, San Francisco-based OpenAI debuted ChatGPT, a large language model chatbot that can mimic human writing styles, from a simple Siri-level response to a new short story in the style of Shakespeare. The reaction was voracious. “The College Essay Is Dead,” proclaimed a headline from The Atlantic of ChatGPT’s potential to help shortcut-seeking students. Seattle Public Schools banned it from learning units, and the University of Washington issued guidance for professors unsure how to navigate the plagiarism minefield. Not even three months later, after a rumored $10 billion investment in OpenAI, Microsoft unveiled the “new Bing” — part search engine, part AI butler — at a press event in Redmond.
Creatives reacted with equal parts horror and indignation. AI models like ChatGPT are trained on every published piece of written, musical and artistic work in human existence, absorbing our work as input data and reproducing it in brilliant, twisted forms. “If you train something based on my data or my art, my creative work, and then it’s used to take away my ability to monetize it, that’s really problematic,” says Oren Etzioni, founder of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Wallingford. A problem, he notes, that is incredibly important, yet complex to solve.
Now the rubric: It’s already happening. In September 2022, Colorado resident Jason Allen was outraged when his AI-generated digital art “Théâtre D’opéra Spatial” took first prize at the state fair’s art competition. “Art is dead, dude,” Allen told me New York Times. “It’s over. AI won. Humans lost.”
If it were so obvious, a human wouldn’t bother writing this article. Yes, the democratization of creativity (some might call this theft, but you know, semantics) is at hand, for better or for worse. But without new input data, all that human creativity imagined reality, I have to believe that AI will eventually reach its artistic limit – or at least get stuck in an ouroboros-like loop. The death of art is the rebirth of art is the death of art, so to speak.
Etzioni’s response to all this—to be clear, he’s very much Team AI—is unsurprisingly pragmatic. “[AI is] a tool, not a being, he says. “Essentially think of AI as the next step in the evolution of software.” And like many other technologies, its ultimate purpose is activation. “With all due respect to the creative, now I can take ideas that are in my head, that I have to commission someone to make this visual art, and I can make it in seconds,” says Etzioni. “It’s a real cost to these people, but it’s genuine empowerment to billions of people.”
Fifty years from now, the job of a writer, or someone who relies on their right brain, will be completely different. Maybe I’ll be directed to type in AI commands and see what new regurgitation the Bing ChatGPT-tron 3000 will spit out. Or maybe I simply have another tool, like an AI-powered transcription service or this word processing software I use, that makes doing my job incredibly easier.
But for now, I’d give the AI a seven out of 10. And I’m happy to keep it that way.