As a species, we are in the midst of an existential dilemma. The 21st, predicted by many in the golden age of science-fiction, to be a utopia is, evidently, far from it. Of course, utopia by its very definition is unachievable - yet, we still yearn for it. With more people going hungry than ever before, global warming at unprecedented levels and ongoing wars across the world, the challenges we are facing are bigger than ever. Paling in comparison to the aforementioned, yet equally of importance to the indomitable spirit of creation that lives within humanity, is the threat we are facing from the rise of AI. Not since the announcement in February 1997 by Ian Wilmut and his research team at the Roslin Institute of the birth of Dolly the sheep - the first mammal to enter the world following a process of reproductive cloning - have such political and ethical debates erupted.
Public discussion of cloning gradually receded in prominence as new issues arose to dominate the airwaves and the headlines, but issues relating to cloning technology remain pertinent to this day.
The announcement – with a description of the method used to bring Dolly into existence – triggered a feverish worldwide response because of the possible implications for human cloning. It was immediately obvious that SCNT could, in principle, be used to create human babies. Across the world, many countries banned human cloning - often with significant punishments, such as lengthy jail terms, even for attempting such a thing.
The rise in Artificial Intelligence (AI), in particular, ChatGPT has, equally, triggered such strong responses. Indeed, in April this year Italy became the first nation on Earth to ban the use of the software and governments across the world rapidly convened to discuss the use of such technology and its regulation. Fears abound over its use, and misuse, with the software being able to answer complex questions and provide human-esque responses. For decades, people have worried about technology replacing jobs. The term “technological unemployment” was first used by the famous economist John Maynard Kaynes as early as the 1930s. And in the mid 1800s, tailors were worried about the use of sewing machines and workers who shovelled materials when ships came into ports were concerned about grain elevators. In the early 1900s, lamplighters went on strike because they would be losing their jobs to the newest tech: electricity. Over the course of our industrialised, modern time, technology has always been a threat. However, the threat that it has previously represented has always, or mainly, been to more manual activities. ChatGPT represents, truly the first threat on one of the fundamental concepts of what it means to be human: creativity.
It isn’t only in the written world that AI technology is causing a stir, or a spin even. Damien Hirst’s ongoing relationship with publishers HENI Editions has seen the artist release a new series of spin works. What makes these different from his original spins of the 1990’s and 2000’s? According to the publisher the series, "blurs the boundaries between digital and physical art creation using generative and machine learning algorithms." On a philosophical level, this latest venture, much like ChatGPT, raises interesting questions surrounding authorship and what it means to be an artist or creator. Ironically, we wanted to put the question, “Can AI be creative?” to ChatGPT but the website was at full capacity and thus unable to respond,
However, according to the World Economic Forum, “The leading opinion is that AI cannot generate fundamentally new ideas on its own but that it can support humans to do so by catalysing human creativity. What's easy to overlook, however, is that AI can also inhibit human creativity because as AI gets more intelligent, it becomes more helpful and distracting.”
Hirst’s latest adventure using machine learning algorithms does make one wonder just how involved an artist needs to be in the creative process of an artwork to be able to claim authorship. Are these spin works by Damien? Yes, they are hand signed and the exciting opportunity for collectors to be part of the creation process is laudable. However, there is something ever so slightly dystopian about selling art created by an algorithm - is it not our artistic expression a unique part of what makes us human? If this is painting by numbers, it most certainly is the use of binary 1s and 0s.
To what extent ChatGPT and the latest use of AI technology will influence our future and the impact it will have is yet unknown. The fears and deeper questions that AI tools generate are valid, just how adept they will become or be allowed to become is still up for debate and to the detriment of our creativity - who can say. Where we fit in, we do not know, but for now, let us rejoice in the spirit of creativity that still flourishes even as the threat of the extinguishing wind of AI gathers strength.
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