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Can AI be an an artist?

Can machines be creative? Can AI be an artist? Do we want to reserve the domain of being an artist and being creative for humans alone? (Here, I am putting aside the other debates about non-human creativity).

As a 2024 begins,  I expect to see more of articles such as this recent one in the New York Times that complicates easy categorizations and divisions. Certainly, artificial intelligence in the creative realms, from literature to filmmaking to music and to visual art, are creating numerous debates about creativity and creative livelihoods, including the very real economic debates about intellectual property.

As the article explains,

“Some regard artificial intelligence as a powerful and innovative tool that can steer them in weird and wonderful directions. Others express outrage that A.I. is scraping their work from the internet to train systems without permission, compensation or credit.”

Yet, beyond this binary, we are witnessing the accelerated transformations of how we, as humans, imagine creativity and other domains that we might assume are strictly human, such as for example, curiosity, and critical thinking, and thus relatedly, how we are and we will think, learn, represent and imagine.

Human artists, such as the artist, Alexander Reben, hired to be an Artist-in-Residence at Open AI, as the article details, are reinventing their metier through and with the use of various artificial intelligence technologies, such as DALL-E. Moreover, such tools, with the ever-increasing sophistication of prompts, can generate complex and customized visual imageries. While this threatens the always-threatened domain of being compensated fairly for creative work, a cultural and social challenge that was featured in the recent Hollywood strike over, in part, the increasing use of AI tools to write film scripts, it also emphasizes to me that our unfolding world will increasingly involve tense and nuanced relationships of collaborations, of labouring with, non-human, machine technologies that also have the potential, to augment our human abilities, including creativity and artistic skill.

This was argued in a rather prescient 2018 HBR article on “Collaborative Intelligence,” That article focused more on the benefits of business, such as efficiencies of scale, customization and personalization and flexibility. Yet, as AI such as ChatGPT and DALL-E further encroach on the creative and cognitive dimensions of human endeavours, we need to also ask ourselves, how can we, as humans, use technologies to not only save time (and money), but to explore and expand our own creative potential?  What would the impact be in our personal and professional lives?

That possibility may not only generate new artistry and invention, but also, potentially, new senses of what may be possibly be able to do that may not have seem possible before.

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