VIRTUALLY ALL “ARTISTS” WILL BE REPLACED BY AI
11 MIN READ
The machinery of time ticks forward producing newer and more autonomous technology for producing “art”.
What does this mean for artists? What is an artist? Will AI replace artists (spoiler alert, yes but probably not in the way you think)?
What is an Artist?
An artist is someone creating work at the intersection of technique mastery and deep human understanding. An artist must have a superior amount of both of these qualities. There is less subjectivity here than modern culture has errantly asserted over the last century.
A plumber was out to my house to replace the hot water heater a couple of weeks ago. His technique was incredible. He likely learned through an apprenticeship. As a total home-DIY-screwup I could never do what that plumber did. Was his task an expression of deep human understanding? Of course not, thus it was not art.
I enjoy looking at Jackson Pollock’s paintings. He was deeply enmeshed in the human experience and palpably expressed his understanding of life. His technique exists largely outside of any canon and someone who has never touched a paintbrush could easily be taught the “technique” in an afternoon. Jackson Pollock was not an artist (although I still enjoy his paintings).
The blame for the current muddiness around the question of “what is an artist?” can be laid at the feet of academia. The consistent denial of the truth in our institutions over the past century has all but ensured that art has become a directionless free-for-all with no sense of what true beauty is. The essence of this phenomenon can be summed up by one area I’ve failed to see anyone take a stand. I’ve never met an academic musician with the stones to say this outright so I am saying it unambiguously and in plain speak. No mainstream electronic musician today possesses anywhere close to as much talent as Bach did while improvising a fugue, no exceptions. This statement is objectively true and any argument to the contrary reflects a weak understanding of artistry, talent, and possibly even what it means to be a human expressing oneself. I am sick of pretending like this isn’t true to placate utter idiots. Furthermore, I maintain this position despite being an avid fan and enjoyer of much contemporary music. Despite this, I admit the artistic and technical (in the Ellulian sense) inferiority of the contemporary music I enjoy.
Technique, Our New God
Over the past century we have replaced God in the West with technique.
Technique has taken over the whole of civilization. Death, procreation, birth all submit to technical efficiency and systemization. — Jaques Ellul
The dopamine-addled minds of our modern time and place crave efficiency via technique. In perhaps the most disturbing trend in this vein, prescription amphetamines, which cause more dopamine to be released, have become so popular in the US that there are shortages of them.
The same trend of course permeates the artistic landscape.
A modern musical performance now consists of one drugged up supermodel pressing play then dancing around on stage to a prerecorded “fun beat” (without too many notes and certainly not outside of a single scale), perhaps this phenomenon contains a deeper message about the isolation, disdain for intelligence, low self esteem, and pointless hedonism of the culture.
A modern work of visual art is lauded by the culture for one of two reasons — its technique is “cool” or its technique causes the maximal amount of dopamine release. Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirror rooms have the extended benefit of causing secondary dopamine releases because every uncultured a•••••• and their sister posts a photo of themselves in the installation on social media.
A modern work of literature contains one idea and a predictable protagonist, maybe an anti-hero, and maybe one to two features that make the character more “complex”. To achieve a position on the now-largely-irrelevant NYT Best Seller list the work must certainly contain ideas that support modern propagandist causes.
The situation is not hopeless but it is grim. Every once in a while a David Foster Wallace emerges from the milieu and immaculately expresses something true to the human condition with relentlessly precise technique.
In order for someone like David Foster Wallace to write Infinite Jest, two things need to occur, a dance. The culture needs to have a hole in it roughly the shape of David Foster Wallace. Pre-artist Wallace needs to have already learned and been born with the disposition to perform his task. Then the dance happens, the Wallace shaped hole needs to reshape a bit, and Wallace himself needs to reshape a bit, only then can a work of art be birthed out of the universe.
If we hate truth, intelligence, and self esteem while worshipping hedonism via efficient dopamine release, how will we form a culture that births truly great and beautiful art?
Most Artists Deserve to be Replaced, and They Will Be Very Soon
Most people reading this that consider themselves to be an “artist” don’t have what it takes to be one. I certainly didn’t. If you’re in that position, or even have the faintest doubt about it, it would be better for you to pursue anything other than being an artist. That sounds harsh but it is one of the truest things I can say about becoming an artist. The pursuit must dwarf everything — career, family, relationships, emotional health, etc. If it doesn’t consume you, you bring insult to the word. It is that serious.
The people I know that are artists have forsaken everything else in their lives to become artists, fame among the foremost of those things. They don’t earn great incomes. Some of them have personal lives that are in total disarray. Many have drug and alcohol addictions. Most struggle with mental illness. It is fine to have artistic hobbies, but when a weekend hobbyist painter calls themselves an artist it makes me ill.
Maybe your technique is good and you have something true to say — will you forsake everything else in your life to create the art? If the answer from the depths of your soul is an unquestioning “yes” then AI can never replace you. You may not achieve fame. You might not even be able to scrape together a living creating your art. But the human achievement of the art you create can never be replaced by a machine.
Maybe you are a middling graphic designer that relies heavily on templates, a programmer that mostly cranks out repetitive code for static webpages, or a corporate “content” writer for an e-commerce megacorp. Sooner or later, your career prospects in these areas will completely vanish. Legislation to prevent AI from taking these jobs will never pass in time — the average age of an American Senator is almost 65 — imagine explaining AI to your grandmother, you get the idea. Even if it did, it would be impossible to enforce.
An innovative spirit will keep you afloat for a while. If we were to rank jobs in each discipline across this domain, we can assume that the bottom 80% will be wiped out quite soon. If a small gaming startup needs character art for their game’s protagonist, they’re going to pay Midjourney $10 to crank out hundreds of versions of the artwork and choose the best instead of commissioning an artist to create one for $100. The bonus here for the executive creating the art (as every designer knows) is that they get to feel like an “artist” for a brief moment. This isn’t because they’re bad people, it’s because their company only has a month of runway left and they need to release a new beta of their game to keep investors happy long before the money runs out, you’d do the same thing.
What I’ve just described is the very near future. This will happen before the end of 2023 (conservatively). This replacement will begin with 2D art and text then grow into adjacent disciplines in an unpredictable pattern. Most people working on AI seem highly motivated to make it do visual tasks. It makes sense, we’re a visual-first culture. The replacement of jobs will begin with visuals and text judging by the existing research. Music will take slightly longer (less AI developments in this medium as of writing), video will take slightly longer (added complexity, more compute necessary), etc.
AI is coming for the top 20% of digital jobs, I’m just not sure how long that will take. It’s not only a question of how good the algorithms get, but also how much compute power is necessary. AI just needs to be “good enough” to replace the 80%. Each tier that is automated after that will be exponentially smaller and more difficult to replace with AI. Eventually AI will hit a wall where automating more innovative positions will be too abstract to explain to a machine. 1-3% of jobs will be un-automatable. They will be the ones that most involve a human dynamic, cross-domain collaboration and architecting.
If time can be saved by using AI to perform a task, then the human worker in that role will be replaced. In the eyes of corporations this becomes a simple math problem. Take all of the workers it takes to perform a task across all businesses. Figure out the average amount of time it takes for one worker to complete that task from start to finish. Multiply that by the number of workers doing that task. If this number is greater than the amount of time it would take to explain the problem to a machine sufficiently enough that it could perform that kind of task, the worker will be replaced.
Let’s make a (contrived) example. Suppose this blog is run by a company called ACME. ACME owns 10 blog properties. Each blog has an employee that writes one essay a week on how AI will replace human workers. It takes each writer an average of 10 hours to write one essay. Thus, it takes 100 man-hours each week to perform this task across the ACME organization. ACME talks to a company named SKYNET that generates bespoke AI tools for businesses, they estimate it would take them 1000 man-hours to develop a tool that would automatically generate these essays to the same (admittedly middling) standard of quality as the human writers write. From a time standpoint, ACME would make that investment — they can fire resources that spend 100 hours of company time each week, need insurance, need HR people to keep them from doing anything stupid, get sick, quit, etc. and have those articles generated automatically in a trivial amount of time. Even if SKYNET charges an insane amount of money for the service, it is likely to be money well spent from a business perspective.
We Are Reaping What We’ve Sown
We deserve the future we’ve created today. AI is a tool just like a hammer or a gun. It has the ability to create or destroy. We have arrived here because of how we as a culture have dismissed tradition and beauty. The problem originated with the academics who’s progressive-at-any-cost mentality permitted and even championed a free-for-all of aesthetics and a lust for innovation at any expense to established technique.
This phenomenon has now intellectually trickled down to the masses. The average man craves a fast and, above all, efficient release of dopamine in order to keep the organism content. He wants to be happy at the cost of also being fat, dulled by drink, high on “legal” weed, lazy, stupid, and antisocial — just as his onanistic patriarchal archetype is represented in TV commercials and in modern movies. This quest for comfort has made him forget what it means to be human, to struggle, to be a humble repenting sinner.
I don’t have a solution. Any essay on this blog has the gist of what I’m trying to do. In short, here are some of the things I’m doing to rehumanize.
No more watching sportsball. I’ve even largely stopped watching the only sport I’ve ever enjoyed, Formula 1 racing. I will still attend live sporting events occasionally, but I certainly wouldn’t waste valuable (and increasingly scarce) mental power on “following sports”.
No spellcheck/grammar check on my blog. I’ve been doing this for a while. Sometimes I catch typos. I’m sure a lot get by though. I want the freedom to make mistakes when I create.
Being choosier about who I spend time with. The friends I most enjoy spending time with know what their mission is and they are doing honest, brutally hard work towards achieving their objectives. “Mission” really runs the gamut, some real life examples: marathon running, ultramarathon running, home renovation, real estate sales, faith and religious pursuits, etc. The content of the pursuit is entirely unimportant. Pursuing anything impossible forges a personality that is the antithesis of the achievable pursuit of more comfort. This is a uniquely human characteristic.
A corollary: minimizing my time with those that stare endlessly into their smartphone in social situations instead of trying to be present.
Going more deeply into the faith, eschewing churches engaging in apostasy.
More reading books, especially religious texts and fiction classics. This provides entertainment but is also far more rewarding than watching TV.
Technological control. I’m planning long-term to delete all social media (again) and consolidate everything into my website. I don’t want “warning labels” plastered on my ideas if they are discussing something controversial. I am free to discuss anything I want and you are free to not come to my website.
Intuitive creativity. I enjoy taking photos and writing for the sake of themselves. As a natural consequence of spiritual growth I’m less concerned about “making money off of my work” or even “getting it out there”. Naturally I still want these things but they’ve taken a backseat and that has freed me up to take more chances, like writing this essay, the format and complexity of which will cause most readers to skim it or give up on reading it far before this point.
I believe these things are a step in the right direction. We cannot control the culture. We can control how much we choose to engage in the culture.
Rereading these things, part of me finds them “dull” or “extreme”. When I ask myself what part of me finds these things to be so, I discover it’s the part of me that is addicted to dopamine, addicted to comfort.
The psychological trials of dwellers in the last times will be equal to the physical trials of the martyrs. In order to face these trials, we must be living in a different world. — Fr. Seraphim Rose