OXFORD MEDIA SOCIETY
A dystopian nightmare, a new frontier for mankind, a billion-dollar profit – the advent of AI is many things, but it is rarely seen as value-neutral. Artificial intelligence has proven itself capable of developing so quickly that its own developers can barely keep track; amid recent calls from industry giants such as Elon Musk to halt development, discussion concerning generative AI and its capabilities has run rampant. For good reason, some might say. Its versatility alongside the vastness of its capabilities — of which we have, it seems, only seen the very beginnings — promises to render a number of professions redundant. A recent Goldman Sachs study found that AI systems could impact 300 million full-time jobs worldwide. Our recent Reuters panellist Mpho Raborife, in turn, conveyed a general sense of anxiety in newsrooms around the world concerning the effects of AI automation on disinformation and, more fundamentally, on the craft of journalism. Business Insider contends that media jobs — ‘any role that involves content creation’ — are among those that will most likely be heavily affected by AI automation.
In April, discussions around AI involvement in creative media came to a head when German artist Boris Eldagsen refused the prestigious Sony World Photography Award, admitting that his entry was the work of a generative artificial intelligence. He stated that his participation in the competition was intended to spark wider debate surrounding AI art. This has certainly been successful: beyond basic ideas concerning the authenticity of art, the incident has also forced us to consider why, exactly, we are so scared of AI in the first place.
In this regard, it is important to note that relations between the artist and the award body have reportedly soured. This is no big surprise, but it is interesting to consider the reason behind the tension: a committee’s inability to distinguish between artificially generated and human artworks might be compared to a museum curator exhibiting a printout of Monet’s water lilies instead of the original. The incident calls into question not only the authority of the award body, but the entire act of judging art’s ‘authentic’ value. Many people might regard an AI-generated photograph as artistically worthless, while the Sony awards incident has revealed that there cannot be objective judgement on creative media in a vacuum. The term ‘worthless’ is key. The idea of a work’s worth evidently has little to do with the artwork itself, and everything to do with our contextual knowledge of its genesis. Artificial intelligence does not threaten the integrity of creative media in and of itself. Instead, it threatens the structures which commodify it. Because the idea of an art competition is born of the capitalist tendency to attach quantitative value to pieces of creative media, it is rendered increasingly useless if we are no longer able to measure art in terms of its conceptual or monetary value. The capitalist idea of selling art relies on scarcity — the idea that good art is hard to come by, genuine, and in some way ‘unique’. AI renders this form of rationalisation impossible.
Many of our anxieties concerning the impact of AI on creative media, then, are rooted in capitalist thinking, that art will no longer be able to generate profit, and will therefore become worthless. Underlying the idea of capitalist value, however, is a less quantifiable, more inherently human idea of authenticity. The most fundamental aim of art is arguably human expression. Art without humanity defeats its own purpose. It may be superficially pleasant to consume, but void of any genuine engagement with the human condition. I would argue, then, that even within capitalist structures, creative media is possibly the only industry which AI automation will never be able to threaten, because it generally relies by definition on human involvement. No matter how good AI becomes at simulating human art, it is rendered ideologically (if not quantitatively) worthless by the mere fact that it is a facsimile. There is a reason, after all, that an original Monet will go for 110 Million USD while a print will be sold for a few pounds in a corner shop. AI can replace the labour, but not the work. It can take away capitalist value, but art has existed before capitalism and will exist afterwards. The impulse that first led us to paint wild pigs on cave walls 45.500 years ago is threatened neither by a failing, profit-oriented political system, nor by the technology currently undermining its stability.
Our poll this week was on the question of: “Does AI threaten the integrity of art?”
The results are:
YES – 63%
NO – 37%