Whoever controls the means of AI art controls the outcomes

As a tool, AI programs could help artists, but that is not the case right now

Art by @RESLUS

Art by @RESLUS

Mediums of artistic expression have never been solely confined to paintbrush and canvas nor pencil and paper. Film can carry the same emotional weight and depth as pointillism portraits – as avant-garde, provocative, and scandalous as a salacious sculpture. Video games can also evoke emotional responses from players with design and storytelling. 

Digital software has become an industry standard while allowing room for traditional modes of production. Art is fluid and subjective. Trying to draw rigid lines and impose an ironclad definition is an unrealistic goal and will end in disappointment. Inspiration comes from countless sources in an artist’s life, studies, and appreciation of other works that there can be an unconscious influence when crafting one’s own creations. 

Artists, regardless of popularity, always have a muse they draw from. New artists build using what was provided by the old, whether they realize it or not.

Artificial Intelligence-generated (AI) art blurs the line between inspiration and plagiarism. Many are rightfully concerned about how AI programs negatively impact smaller-scale artists who are liable to losing commissions and having their watermarked works plagiarized. But there is a bigger picture to all of this. Puppets need human hands, lest they remain immobile and useless. AI art generators did not code themselves, they were brought to existence by people.

Those people in question are a natural extension of how we currently view AI, driven automation opposed to workers. It was once the dream that automation would increase workers’ free time and allow them to pursue passions as they please. Economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in his 1930 essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren that, after a short-term spike in unemployment, technological innovations would lead to “the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day.”

At worst the dream is dead, at best, it’s indefinitely unconscious. Modern tools do make performing tasks easier, but it is not being primarily used to improve the lives of working people. Capital owners reap the rewards of our current understanding of automation by using it in conjunction with a smaller, generally low-waged, human workforces that trudge through longer weekly hours to keep up with an increasing cost of living.

How does this tie in with AI art? The underlying principle is much the same: An improvement to the production process does not belong to the people who should be most aided by it. 

Artists should be able to use AI programs to enhance their talents instead of fearing theft, much like how the factory worker or cashier should not have to be worried over whether or not they will be left out to dry by robots. The nature of the debate is undoubtedly messy and complicated due to ideas of what is art, how it is made, and homage versus stealing. The value extracted from AI art programs certainly do exist, accessing it is the issue. 

If we cannot take control of AI and automation away from profiteers, then we will be made to suffer under the weight of technology rather than have it ease our burdens. It is not too late to change course, but doing so will require modifications with how we understand work and our relations with technology.

Such a fundamental transformation will entail redefinitions of what we currently know, yet place us closer to what Keynes envisioned.