Anti-Capitalism Is The Only Way To Save Creativity From AI

Wednesday, 21 December 2022 — Passage

Photo via dacian dorca-street photographie on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Art costs money. Creativity takes time. The combination of time and money is in short supply within capitalist democracy.

Nora Loreto

I have never thought about what I would look like as a superhero or a spaceman or, I dunno, a lion. As such, I’ve never had the desire to submit photos of myself to an AI generator to spit out stunning images of my likeness in technicolour. And I don’t begrudge the folks who have done this — they all look really, really good.

But I can’t see these programs as anything other than buttering us up to accept AI-generated content. At best, it shows us just how amazing computer-generated art can be. At worst, though, we’re giving up our likenesses so that the machine can learn to design a more perfect human face.

The implications of AI on arts and culture can’t be understated. As the machine steals existing works of art and literature, it then spits out even more incredible reproductions. AI is even adding fake signatures to works of art as it simulates the artist that it’s intending to destroy.

AI poses an existential threat to the artist. If AI can learn how to paint, write, create or design from our works, it will always be steps ahead of the artists. And if society continues to consume art that is easily made by AI, a business case under capitalism for being an artist becomes impossible.

Already, AI is taking over human tasks, and sometimes, even better than the human had done it. Take a walk through a store like Homesense to see what kind of art is considered to be commercially viable, and you’ll find a collection of things that AI has either already created or could easily replicate. Bosses within the journalism industry are already looking to replace journalists with AI, like this project at the Toronto Star that uses technology to turn data points, such as police press releases, into articles.

What’s worse: AI is already influencing people’s tastes. In an Wired feature on the future of AI, Kevin Kelly argues: “So unexpected are these new AI-generated images, in fact, that—in the silent awe immediately following the wow—another thought occurs to just about everyone who has encountered them: Human-made art must now be over. Who can compete with the speed, cheapness, scale, and, yes, wild creativity of these machines? Is art yet another human pursuit we must yield to robots? And the next obvious question: If computers can be creative, what else can they do that we were told they could not?”

Kelly doesn’t think that AI is something artists should fear. He argues that AI helps to fill in artistic gaps, teaches us deeper things about ourselves (through incredible illustrations that lay people can now create) and gives average people the tools to create lower forms of art — workshop presentations, report covers, fanfic movie posters, etc. Higher forms of art need the human touch, he says, and therefore there will always be a need for an artist in society.

He’s partly correct. Who really cares if the best art isn’t what’s sold in box stores, or if the most basic journalism can be done with the help of AI, as long as the artist or the writer has other places to work? But there’s a broader context that needs to be considered: AI-generated art can’t be considered in a vacuum. On its own, it’s both theft (stealing images to create new images) but also more or less harmless fun, bringing art to the masses who have previously not had access to these tools. But when considered in the context of capitalism, we can see the future of the artist is in deep trouble.

Art costs money. Creativity takes time. The combination of time and money is in short supply within capitalist democracy. If the artist needs to depend on sales to survive, then AI certainly poses an existential threat: Why would anyone pay an artist when they can pay for a computer program to make something that they might even prefer at a fraction of the cost? Why would anyone buy a romance novel when millions of pages of romance novels can create bizarre and intriguing new AI fiction? It crowds out an already desperate market and will certainly make life even harder than it is for artists.

According to a 2019 study, artists comprise a tiny percentage of Canada’s population: just more than 158,000 people, or less than 1 per cent of the workforce in the country. A typical artist’s income is a paltry $24,300, 44 per cent lower than the median in Canada. As someone who has written three books and only made $11,000 from them, I know this struggle well — I work other jobs to be able to write. AI will bulldoze the work lives of Canadian artists. The only way to resist it is anti-capitalism.

Capitalism is very bad for art. It rewards the most basic and boring kinds of art while making daring, creative and cutting-edge art very difficult to produce (let alone monetize).

If an artist can’t eat, they can’t create. If Canada wants to protect its artists, policymakers need to pour money into art. The most basic option is to provide artists with a salary and free insurance benefits. There could also be rent relief for apartments and studios and free access to travel. But then, the art also needs to go somewhere. New funding for galleries, public art displays, programs that connect artists with communities in every corner of Canada, programs that help artists diffuse their art, whether online or in real life — the possibilities of how to properly support the arts are endless.

The problem is that politicians don’t actually care about art. English Canada’s hand-me-down American culture is all that’s needed to satisfy us, and so there’s no political or economic imperative to foster Canadian art. Publishers routinely respond to new projects with ‘this is amazing and necessary, but sadly it will not sell’ — an argument that any creative in any field has bumped up against at some point in their artistic career.

But AI is going to make things far worse. And either politicians develop a plan that insulates artists from capitalism’s ravages, or they don’t. And if they don’t, my god, buckle up because all of us who create professionally are extremely fucked.

Nora Loreto is a writer and activist based in Quebec City. She’s the editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media.

One thought on “Anti-Capitalism Is The Only Way To Save Creativity From AI

  1. WillD says:

    This is the story of yet another casualty of the relentless destruction capitalism is causing us and our planet. This destruction is more than just the obvious one – of resources, rainforests, oceans, pollution and the subsequent climate change, it is about the destruction of individual creativity in everything from the arts & crafts to manufacturing.

    The creativity that used to go into everything from a stone mason cutting stone for a building, a cabinet maker making a piece of furniture, the tailor making custom fitted clothes, the artisans designing, making and glazing fine pottery, and so on. All of these ‘arts’ are being lost because capitalism is ruthlessly targeting every single industry by stripping away the creative ‘extras’ leaving only the basic bare minimum of the lowest acceptable quality, and then mass producing to the lowest possible cost and highest profit. Nobody can compete economically with that and still make a living.

    As an example, how many people can afford to buy tailor made clothes that fit well and last long? Very few. Yet, one hundred years ago, they were relatively affordable. It was not uncommon for a pair of shoes to be worn by several generations. Now clothes are made in sweat shops around the world, using cheap materials, cheap labour, and last a fraction of the time of their hand-made equivalents.

    So, it’s not just the creative part it’s the qualitative part, too. Walk into a good antique shop in Europe and see the extraordinary designs and quality. We have absolutely nothing as good as that today – nothing with the same creativity and quality.

    Capitalism is, and has, destroyed creativity in many forms, and seems to be driving what’s left into a narrow band of technology-related fields.

    Technology can do lots of things but it can’t put the genuine creativity into art, it can only borrow or simulate it – artificially. This is why AI, clever as it is, will never achieve the real levels of creativity that humans apply to many fields of endeavour. The best it will be able to do is to replicate and simulate – not create original material.

    Liked by 1 person

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