The Demise of the Digital Artist – Part4. The Future is Inevitable
I began this series with a quote from George Orwell, showing that ImageAI is only the latest iteration in a process spanning many decades. In the second article I argued that the only way to mount a principled opposition to the blind processes of automation is by adopting a classical understanding of art. In the third one I attempted to show that the destructive consequences of tools like the internet, social media, AI etc. reflect the modern redefinition of freedom as radical autonomy; thus the negative consequences of using these tools – increased social isolation, anxiety, depression, loss of focus, loss of memory and language use – are not accidents or externalities; they derive from a deep commitment to a set of subversive norms that lead us, in a profound irony, to the belief that technology develops independent of any norms and intentions, but rather shapes our norms, our polity, and even humanity (Deneen).
I will now conclude the series with an acknowledgement: the anti-AI protest will fail. Decision makers are broadcasting the new reality in unison. If you want a glimpse of the automation projects that will likely happen beginning with 2023, have a look at this article by ‘Artificial Intelligence Weekly’. Here are 4 media outlets (the article includes many more) blurring the line between news reporting and overt promotion:
- Washington Post: We asked an AI bot hundreds of questions. Here’s what we learned.
- NYT: The Tech That Will Invade Our Lives in 2023: Say hello to new-and-improved A.I. assistants, and move over to brands like Twitter and Tesla.
- Reuters: In Hong Kong, designers try out new AI assistant: The system can produce a dozen fashion templates within 10 seconds, saving designers precious time.
- Time: From AI to Energy, 4 New Year’s Resolutions for the World
The author of the article describes himself as a ‘Casual Academic’, as well as Head of Data Science and AI, Thought Leader, Global AI Ambassador, Advisor and Chief Evangelist. You instantly notice the strange blend of non profit and for profit, of neutral academic research and tech evangelism, broadcasted by media institutions in unison as a complete inevitability… You will use Image AI and you will be happy!
Shortly after the recent protest started, AI developer and Sillicon Valley insider Evan Conrad agreed to have an open discussion with artist and teacher Stan Prokopenko in order to assure the artist community that ImageAI is harmless and should be welcomed by everyone. Needless to say, the interview had the opposite effect. Evan compared ImageAI to a boulder that will smash anyone trying to stop it, and thus the only possible alternative is to roll alongside it and push it in the right direction. When asked why he considers it inevitable, he retorted to zero sum logic: ‘China will roll ahead with the new tech, so we cannot afford to do otherwise’. Who would have thought that making concept art for games and films was such serious business?!
LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
Technology is not morally or aesthetically neutral. It shapes our behavioural patterns, our being-in-the-world and the ways in which we understand each other. Regardless of what you think of a platform like Twitter, you no doubt see it with different eyes in 2022 than in 2006, having experienced its structure and inner logic.
When asked about the logic of ImageAI, its developers and evangelists will not only give contradictory answers, they will tell you only what you want to hear. If you are a director in a creative business, they will mention the huge potential for cutting expenses, speeding up production times and reducing team size. If you are an artist, they will tell you about the opportunity to stay afloat in the industry by learning the invaluable skill of AI prompting. If you are the social activist type, they will exalt ImageAI’s potential for making art more inclusive and accessible, both by lowering production fees and by eliminating the glass ceiling of elitist skilled artists. If you are the right-wing bodybuilding type, they will exalt ImageAI’s beauty and visual excellence as opposed to the sickening flat style and abstract art made by contemporary artists.
Just like social media platforms 20 years ago, ImageAI is sold as a chameleon that takes the colour of your innermost desires, a technological panacea which cannot do any harm as long as it is used for good. In doing so, its promoters are masking the technology’s structure and inner logic, which is completely opaque to its users.
When the sales pitch is over, those still unconvinced of the necessity of ImageAI are bombarded with insults and intimidation. I have seen many tech evangelists repeatedly calling sceptical artists luddites, cavemen or morons. Those who refuse to participate in the sacrament of automation are immediately associated with the reactionary forces of the past, opposing every new manifestation of goodness and clinging to the dirty old ways; fearful of the invention of the camera, dismissive of the absolute beauty of expressionism, cubism and dada, ungrateful to the genius of Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol and Tracey Emin.
‘The luddites’ are also reminded of the absolute futility of their resistance. ‘How ignorant, arrogant and egotistic can you be, thinking that you can influence the chaotic development of technology!? Don’t you know Gilles Deleuze proved tech has a life of its own, akin to a decentralised rhizome governed by laws as chaotic and unpredictable as weather itself!?’
If, on the other hand, you agree to join the right side of history™, you will soon discover that there are countless tools that can help you nudge technology in the safe direction of a fully automated, rules-based, information-driven, purposeful, potential-liberating Gaian future.
HOW NOT TO OPPOSE IMAGE AI
In the 2nd article of this series I suggested that the only way to oppose the destructive effects of automation can be achieved by adopting a classical understanding of art. When one immerses himself in classical art made in any period from late antiquity to late 19th century, from vernacular to high art – he discovers an infinity of reasons to oppose mindless automation, especially in its current iteration of data-scraping image AIs.
By doing so, however, you have given up any chance of successfully opposing the new disruptive tech. Thought leaders, tech ambassadors, academics and journalists might disagree on a number of topics (fewer and fewer, it appears), but the cult of unleashed technology and the repudiation of classicism are non-negotiable.
Does this mean that the Concept Art Association’s fundraiser will fail to achieve its goals? Of course not. As I am writing this, it has already reached 3 quarters of its funding target. The artists’ voices will be heard in D.C., where government officials and policy makers will be educated on issues facing the creative industries if this tech is left unchecked. Reparations will be paid, injustices will be punished. We might even see a film like ‘The Social Dilemma’ on the big platforms. This does not change the inevitable outcome. In the protesters’ words, ‘we know this technology is here to stay one way or another’. It can either stay in its current form, ruled by techno-optimists, business magnates and investors, or it can develop generous HR teams that will force the developers to pay compensation, share ownership, offer sinecures and agree to be kept under constant scrutiny.
Did you enjoy the old Twitter, or would you rather have Elon’s version? Those are also the only possible options with ImageAI. If you’re like me, you think Twitter is a net loss for civilisation; it inflated egos, destroyed IRL relationships, wrecked people’s attention span and put them in a hellish loop of dopamine-cortisol, an addictive alternation between the desire to find agreement and rage at those who disagree. It promised a world in which every voice will matter and be heard, yet polarisation, loneliness and the loss of moral capital were the only things it delivered. Yet banning it still seems unthinkable to virtually everyone.
There is no life outside these platforms. We are treating them as if they are persons with the right to exist and fulfil their potential. We must continue to helplessly roll along the boulder, like Sisyphus, “absorbed and rapt in eager self, driving, pushing, carried on in a stress of feverish force, dynamic force apart from reason or will, like the force that lifts the tides and sends the clouds onwards. […] They cannot stay, they must go, their necks are in the slave’s ring” – Richard Jefferies, The Story of my Heart.
A WAY OUT? ‘OMAE WA, MOU SHINDEIRU!’
Change starts with storytelling; when enough artists will be able to paint a compelling picture of an alternate reality preserving art in its classical understanding, there might be a chance to find a way out. When enough scholars, ‘casual academics’ and thought leaders will snap out of their hypnotic trance, we might witness something less boring and conformist.
The technical solution involves the creation of alternative platforms for artists; platforms that reward hard earned skills, geographical proximity, real life interactions and skin in the game. Platforms that discourage automation, deterritorialization and mediated interactions.