Essay #4: AI is faster than you (or can we be more like the turtle).

Here’s the thing: we agree. It is unwieldy, very stressful and feels dangerous. How can it not be? We agree!  And yet… multiple studies tell us the exact opposite. There is a 72-80% reduction in crashes that cause harm and 35-47% decrease to ALL crashes after the change is made. Who wouldn’t want this? Apparently most North Americans.

We are talking about roundabouts. We are talking about the inevitability of change. And yes, we are actually talking about the profound discomfort of AI. Amid hardships facing arts workers, the unhoused, the uncared for, the planet, another revolutionising change is upon us. We love humanity. So let’s figure out how to love our humaness in the age of AI.

In a recent study carried out at UBC a very powerful finding was made. When subjects were told that one piece of art was created by a human and the other by AI, the majority of respondents favoured the work created by a human. The study then showed that even if the work was created by AI, but the respondents were told it was created by a human, that the AI piece was chosen. What this study indicates is that when it comes down to it, humans will choose humans. We, us humans, are attached, we believe in our preeminence. We believe that our creativity is sacrosanct and that it separates humans from everything else. But what happens when we can’t tell the difference?

We are afraid. It’s okay to be frightened. It’s scary. In a recent Harvard Business Review podcast we learned that a leading digital artist has moved away from defining himself as an artist. He makes all his money helping others navigate the change and showing how AI has completely changed his workflow. According to this “former artist”, charging by time to create is no longer a viable way to express value. AI can do what took him two weeks in one hour. He can still create work, but the work, unless provenance is more important to the buyer than the result, cannot support him as it once did. We can market attempts to chronicle our process to prove we created something and not AI, but this is only interesting to an investor cleaving to notions of authenticity. Strange how Walter Benjamin predicted this moment over 100 years ago. The printing press, digital printer, the 3D printer, these were the proverbial canaries. And we have come – as artists  – to love those canaries. A lot. We adapted to all of those canaries. We worked with them. We grew. (“we” in this instance refers to artists)

Based on other non-human centred work, the notion that humans are the owners of creativity  has also been shown to be incorrect. In this article the anthropocentric view of art is challenged by the findings of animals creating art that coheres to a human definition of what art is, of what art does. Somehow this doesn’t feel as threatening. It doesn’t overwhelm. There have been aeons-worth of opportunities for animal art to surpass ours. It has never happened. Speed, it seems, is a value worth noting in our discomfort regarding AI. From fire to AI, the journey of technology is about humans wanting to do things faster. We can’t slow it down. The “it” of AI is too tentacled, too imprecise. It has been working in the background for much longer than ChatGPT. Our cars have been driving us  – or at least reporting on us – for a number of years now.  So if slowing “it” down is not an option, then what is? Perhaps it is to acknowledge our slowness. Remember that amazing book about running – Born to Run? Of the many mystic and wonderful things relayed in this story, first among them is how humans can outrun all manner of fast cats and predators, not because we are fast, but more because we are persistent. We have endurance.  What values can humans –  as slow machines –  bring to the decidedly NOT human speed of AI? What might a new dance look like? Perhaps there are some beautiful things to be found, moves to discover? Hard, for example, not to be in awe of a stroke victim re-gaining the ability to communicate with the world after 10 plus years of incarceration inside a functioning, feeling, living human. Let’s dance! We love humanity. How can we keep this in view as we explore the prevalence, the speed, the unforeseeable potentials and dangers of AI?

Is humanity a heritage culture to preserve? Or are we innovators, here to infiltrate and collaborate with the technology as it evolves? And in so doing continue to evolve ourselves? Technology will require direction. “Slow” generally correlates with wisdom. Slow means slow. Fast means fast. Tortoise and Hare. They both get there but they need each other to do it. Fast enables a number of things like feeding the world. But the wisdom of slow offers us ways to understand what it means to be hungry. Are we able to develop empathy for AI? If we as humans are so solipsistic as to only relate to things scaled to us, then it makes sense that the climate is in the crisis that it is. Can AI offer us a much needed crisis point/inflection point to lean harder into the question of empathy? Now that we fear for our existence perhaps we are finally better situated to care more broadly about the ecosystem of our planet. AI might be able to help!

We have learned through emergent histories, taught to us by first peoples, that land was never intended to be owned. Property, and by extension ownership,  was an invention. Perhaps, it was believed that ownership would be civilizing, that it would take the violence of the battlefield away. A daily scan of any news suggests this was not successful. So, what about intellectual property? No one person “owns” origin myths. The courts struggle to settle on whose idea is the first/real idea. Canadian composer, Hagood Hardy was credited with composing “The Homecoming” in 1975, but there are many people who swear they heard a pianist, Ivan Gondos,  in the Muskokas play it first, and believe the pianist was the REAL composer! Once we leave the borders of Canada, there are several “original compositions” of a similar tune. So, really, who the heck composed it? And why, in all approaches to fairness should only one man be able to claim ownership of it? Is there a dance that offers the possibility of everyone having access to a profit share in AI generative technologies? What might it look like to pay human dividends for the knowledges that have already been scraped? What might it feel like for humanity to be working together towards great unknowns? Could this pursuit help define a new culture? What does a regenerative and active playground where the high-speed machine learners, the mid-speed humans and the slooooow speed earth engage? There is no way for AI to latch onto the sentimentality, the feel, of the paintbrush. The song of the coalmines is relegated to a time we aim to leave behind, but we still love the songs. And isn’t that something that humans can find joy in? We know what a paintbrush feels like. We can share this. We remember why the coal miners were as foundational to Canada as any other trade.  We  – as humans  – because of this connection, because of our capacity for nuance, romance and ambivalence, can reflect on this,  we can sing of this, can share this.  And yes AI can learn this from us, and it still remains possible that because of this we will go deeper, love better. It is possible.

76% of Canada’s national wealth is held in real estate. If “land back” actually happened everything would change. Many would argue that this is a good thing. Particularly those without property. So why not the same with intellectual property? In Canada, as of 2008, innovative (i.e. intellectual) property amounted to over 31% of all intangible wealth in Canada (Baldwin, Gu and MacDonald, 2012). Woah. What if all the IP was redistributed? Everything really would change. Many would argue that this is a terrible thing. But what if it’s not? A thought experiment, only. But… in general terms would first peoples, the world over, who felt their knowledges were co-opted by settlers think it so? What might it mean for knowledge+creation to be truly open source?  What inventions might come then? What stories? What beauty? And what might happen if this open source knowledge+creation formula transformed into the biggest joint ownership proposition that (and this is for economists to figure out) could pay unprecedented dividends for all who partake? Maybe the dream of guaranteed income, housing for all, and food for every mouth might actually be realized. If we take seriously the unlikely but possible risks that have been identified around AI, shouldn’t we also take seriously the unlikely but possible gains? 

Fire can’t be undiscovered.

No matter how much – after a summer like this past one – we wish it could.

Artificial Intelligence, for the arts. It’s a bit like fire. You can’t leave it untended, and the more you look away, the more it does stuff that you might prefer it didn’t.

Like replace us. 

So, why not look? 

We live on Turtle Island. Maybe AI will offer us ways to be more like the turtle.


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One response to “Essay #4: AI is faster than you (or can we be more like the turtle).”

  1. Bianca Guimarães Avatar

    The relationship between emotional responses, time (as in speed/slowness)and ownership as you highlighted here invites tangible and subjective movement, thanks!!

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