The Convivial Society: Vol. 3, No. 20
"So the exchange we are offered is this: in place of occasional experiences of depth that renew and satisfy us, we are simply given an infinite surface upon which to skim indefinitely."
This is such a brilliant encapsulation of the challenge of living in our technological age, and promise offered by technology in so many areas: dependable yet unsatisfying. So much of life-worth-living comes like a surprise during the 'waiting for', the boredom, the mundane.
I had a thought regarding the quality of these tools. We have certainly not seen the peak in their abilities, but I would argue the peak may be not too far away. The reason is fairly simple: in the future, what will the AI's have left to be trained from?
Today, all of these language and image models are trained from existing human art and communication. But as people begin and continue to integrate AI outputs into their work and daily lives, the content on the web will increasingly be reflective of the AIs themselves. Eventually they will be heavily influencing or directly creating nearly all online artifacts. As this process continues, the training data available with which to create and refine AIs will begin to form a feedback loop. The fundamental question is: is this feedback loop one of exponential decay or exponential growth? And, is there a limit?
In a game like chess or Go, where AIs don't need human signal but can instead compete against algorithms or themselves, exponential growth (with limits) is both possible and demonstrated. However, I believe this scenario is the opposite and I therefore fail to see how the quality of the models could do anything but decay. This is because the individuals who depend on the AI will become increasingly unable to be coherent without them, effectively removing themselves as relevant training data for how to improve human understanding.
Of course, the AIs will always be able to be trained from an impressive trove of archived data, but with no feedback loop I wonder how many of the technologist dreams are even possible. Perhaps more realistically, the legal hurdles of appropriating other's works may actually _require_ new sources of corporate owned data for many use-cases -- data which will become increasingly impossible to find once people are dependent on their AI tools.
I just want to thank you for articulating this numb despair I was feeling. I'm a writer and artist, and all this excitement about AI has been a real gut-punch in some ways. I'm not saying it's not interesting and impressive, but it is deeply, deeply discouraging to hear (literally and implicitly) that AI is doing what you do, faster and cheaper and better than you do it. All I can think is, "Is this really how much you all understand and value what I do? Why do I bother?" But I have to bother, and I have to believe it matters.
This prompted me to write on Facebook:
Several years ago friends came to town during the holidays, and we were walking around looking at Christmas windows. In just about EVERY window, largely displacing the sugar plum fairies and toy soldiers (themselves perhaps once disturbing) of tradition, was a cute little square-headed robot.
I was disturbed by this all out of proportion to the occasion. A deep chill went through me. I thought, We've gone down the wrong path.
All the current fascination with AI taking over art and writing does not come as a shock but as a logical progression down that path. ...
Being more interested in our own creations, or the creations of our creations (AI), than in the resistant world and our fresh, often frustrating experience of it risks—no, guarantees progressive degradation. Like making a Xerox of a Xerox of a Xerox (or like eating one's own excrement), more detail and information and nourishment is lost with each recycling. At the root of this phenomenon is our desire to BE the gods, and to remake ourselves as immortal. It's very cowardly.
I would like to assign this to my AI in Fiction course - which primarily serves AI majors at my university. Please let me know if you’d be willing to chat with my students about these ideas. But either way, thank you for writing this - it gets to the heart of the matter: am I interacting with another world-experiencing mind? Is this a good faith interaction free of ulterior motives? How can we even begin with those questions when we address art-by-dataset?
I find perhaps some more Convivial Serendipity; quote from your essay: “… Allen’s own provocative claims in interviews about his win at the State Fair [the image titled Théâtre D’opéra Spatial] … are perhaps best summed up in this line: “Art is dead, dude. It’s over. AI won. Humans lost.”
I returned yesterday for other reasons to friend CS Lewis for his essay The Abolition of Man (1943). His opening lines read: “‘Man’s conquest of Nature’ is often used to describe the progress of applied science. ‘Man has whacked Nature’ said someone to a friend of mine not long ago.”
Always a treat to touch base wirh Arendt, Pieter and the friends, whatever century we are in. A few days ago I wrote a poem, memories of revisits over an adult lifetime to London's National Gallery. Couple of the lines: "... /Memory, the gallery / Gifts, friends sixty years ago/ ..." My often hurried later visits on my way north had become like looking in on friends.
Triivial, just a thought, why is Microsoft's selection of perfect photos they gift to me on my PC so flat, and particularly when the photos are of animals, so posed? I get the difference when they select the occasional real painting. Is it automated convention or a feature of machine selection, responding to 'likes', even though I do not respond?
Poignant to see that corner in the painting away from the work on the hill. Thanks.
Fantastic piece, thank you. The point about the habits that technology instills in us and how these habits shape us over time got me to become a paid subscriber!
Just to check: Is the audio version of your excellent posts being read by a bot?! I had that distinct impression this time round and thought it somewhat ironic if this is the case, given your subject matter...