Roundtable: Will Books and Art Survive AI and Short Attention Spans?
Or are they already dying in our "good enough" culture?
This post is an experiment. I’m going to ask a question, then open things up so we can discuss it as a community. That means I need your thoughts! This issue has been bugging me lately. If you have something to say about it, weigh in by leaving a comment below.
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I don’t usually freak out about the future, but I’ve had a few discussions recently about AI’s use in creative fields (mostly writing, visual art, and music) that bugged the hell out of me.
If you’re not familiar, here’s the short version: AI can now mimic human writing so well that in some cases, you can barely tell the difference. Similarly, AI — prompted by a user’s description and request — can make visual art and music as well as human creators.
The people I talk to who are hyped about AI — some of them creatives — say that it is and will only ever be a tool for artists, including writers. It’ll be like Photoshop or a grammar checker: there to help us do our jobs better, not to replace us.
But I’m not sure it’s that cut and dry. It’s true that AI is just pattern recognition, meaning there’s very little creation going on: really just rehashing the same old stuff. I worry, though, whether the companies that create and distribute entertainment will see the ENORMOUS cost savings of AI-generated content and decide that the rehashed, nothing-new-here art that AI makes is “good enough.” After all, most of TV and film is just the same rehashed stuff already. What if it could be rehashed almost for free?
I can’t help wondering if profit and apathy might just win out. If Netflix can ask AI for “an intense action series” and get something unoriginal but decent for pennies on the dollar (and if Joe and Jane Consumer are happy enough with it), can true art — meaning something with soul and thought behind it, not just commercial algorithms — survive?
The answer affects my livelihood, but this isn’t about me and the other artists out there. This is about whether or not we’re okay becoming a society driven by mediocre, unpredictable stimuli rather than the introspection and reflection that art makes possible. Or — if “the new art” turns out to be really, really good, do we even care that no humans were involved?
Hell. I don’t know. The answer could be no, we don’t care. I care a lot, personally, but maybe I’m the crazy one.
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There’s a deeper issue, and this feeds right into it.
… and it’s that even setting AI aside, fewer and fewer people have the patience for art these days, be it books or well-crafted movies or music or paintings or anything like them. Art strikes the public more and more as a frivolous and unnecessary luxury than the single most powerful force for improving the world, as I believe it to be.
Instagram and Twitter are more interesting and instantly rewarding than art — which in this case means any sincere creative expression. So is watching no-longer-than-two-minute-long videos and trying to be like internet influencers. I keep hearing that nobody reads books anymore. Not because we don’t want to (though there’s that), but also because we can’t. As a culture, we just don’t have the attention span for anything longer than TikTok videos.
We embrace what’s fast, easy, comfortable, and cheap. Art takes its time, is often challenging, sometimes makes you uncomfortable, and costs money.
So who needs it … right?
Do you think art can survive our quick-hit, Wal-Mart culture?
Are you still reading books, and if so, do you think there’s still a place for them?
Taking it a step further, will or do you pay for books and other art? Art for art’s sake is great and all, but artists still have to pay rent and see that people actually value what they do.
Is there still a place for the craftsmanship that goes into the “better, more creative” art that still requires talented, passionate humans to create … or will the “good enough; it’s FINE” stories and art made by machines (and business-minded humans who aren’t all that interested in ART) take over because it’s cheaper and easier and faster to make?
Do people still care about the usual purpose of art, which is to comment on society and hold it accountable to its choices? (AI art is unlikely to be political or socially relevant. Or, perhaps more likely, it’ll just sing the praises of whoever’s running it.)
Art in all its forms is supposed to convey emotion and teach lessons … but does modern culture care about those things?
Comment below, and let’s all have a chat!
I read every day, mostly on an Ipad. Much easier to use an Ipad than a hard copy book. I purchase ebooks and also get them from the public library system. There are so many options that I have to discriminate as to genre and author. I took a chance on some of your works and have become a fan.
I think you are correct, though, that AI will not be able to be "creative" enough for any decerning reader. There already is a lot of "crap" out there from genuine writers so I don't think AI will be putting good, creative writers out of business. It's not just the writing field that will have to compete with these new technologies, but I think the cream will rise to the top in spite of a possible tidal wave of AI crap descending on us.
Just keep up the good work and keep the faith that the great unwashed will be able to discern the wheat from the chaff because I believe we are smarter than the AI programmers think we are. Thanks for your efforts.
AI can write a book? Ok, fine. Can AI BE an author? Will they write their author bios or get AI to write it for them? Can we meet them at book signings? To me, AI books will just be copy I wouldn’t read because it wouldn’t mean anything to me. I support authors, especially self-published authors. How could I support an AI? People are interesting and write books that interest me. Glad I won’t find a “Johnny B. Truant- written by AI” novel on my TBR.