An Approximation of Art

I read something written by ChatGPT this week. It was interesting to me.

Not the content itself. That wasn’t interesting to me, because I don’t actually know what it said. I lied up there, in that last paragraph. I didn’t read it at all.

January 2023: An Approximation of Art

  • “Robot Rock” — Daft Punk
  • “midnight sun” — Nilüfer Yanya
  • “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone” — Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
  • “Fazers” — King Geedorah
  • “Hold Me Down” — She-Rōze
  • “Angeles” — Elliott Smith
  • “Problem With It” — Plains
  • “up the walls” — Soccer Mommy
  • “Sweet Dreams” — Yes)
  • ”Control” — Mannequin Pussy
  • “Ninjarous” — Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse (w/ MF DOOM)
  • “Robot Writes a Love Song” — PUP
  • “Everybody Knows this is Nowhere” — Jeff Rosenstock & Laura Stevenson
  • “See No Evil” — Television
  • “I Live on a Battlefield” — Los Straitjackets
  • “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 2” — The Flaming Lips
  • “Dollywood” — Hail Mary Mallon
  • “That’s All” — Genesis

Listen on Spotify. Listen on Apple Music.

The post — a wonderful article on the future of user experience content — is a collection of thoughts from a bunch of wonderful people. (Full disclosure: I am one of those wonderful people.) It is beautifully designed and well organized. And then, at the end, as a joke (or as a statement, or as a nod to the number of people who talked about AI-assisted content) there is a section written by ChatGPT.

And so I skipped it. Because it is not real.

This is not a knock on that article — created by actual friends, by people I respect and think highly of. It worked perfectly for the article and the topic and as an exercise in what even could happen in the world of AI. But, it was interesting to me, because my mind just took it as … nothing.

I can see the benefit of AI services to help engage in brainstorming, or to help populate the more templated parts of a proposal. But I am not interested in AI art, or AI writing, or anything created by AI as an end result. Because those are not actual real things. To my hippie liberal brain — my “old man yells at AI-generated image of a cloud shaped like Joe Biden” brain — that is not writing or art, in as much as it’s the writing and art equivalent of a Google search results page. It is robotic algorithms approximating the patterns of writing and art, but writing and art are made powerful and interesting by their humanness.

Words on their own are elements; tools to help facilitate meaning. They rely on grammar and structure to be readable. They rely on the words around them to provide context. But writing isn’t just about readability and context — human-created writing is both communication and interpretation. Interpretation as in stylistic understanding; interpretation as in a connection based on human emotion and experience.

Without these two things, writing is just, as Jeff Eaton puts it, “a bag of words.” There’s no longer a reason to care about it beyond the novelty or science of AI itself. The writing, the art — they’re secondary to the process. They no longer really mean anything beyond an experiment in algorithm.

Which leads us to a weird place, because there’s two things you can do if you post AI-created content.

  1. You can admit that it’s created by AI, without human emotion and experience. (Or, at least, with the approximation of what the technology assumes is human emotion and experience.) This path allows us to recognize it’s unimportant.
  2. You DON’T admit it’s created by AI, effectively fooling the reader into believing your content is genuine and considered. This path tricks us into thinking something is important.

Neither one is great! Both make me kind of sad!

I spent a decent part of the past few weekends attending high school show choir performances. Sierra’s playing electric bass in the show choir band, and each school’s program is an interesting (and, admittedly, sometimes heavy-handed) mashup of themes. Songs and dances are paired together around a word or concept — Sierra’s school has two, one centered around dreams, one centered around amusement parks and rollercoasters — and they sometimes have very loose interpretations of the concepts themselves. A song might be chosen because it’s a perfect encapsulation of a theme — a dark and spooky version of “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” makes perfect sense — while others are chosen because they simply include the word once or twice.

They can be an interesting fever dream of competing ideas, but they always seem to come together in a way that’s really well done. They can feel random, but there’s humanness to them. And, beyond that, the show choir competitions themselves are a mass of real people with real emotions — excitement and passion and performance and triumph, all packed into a gym ready to burst at the seams. They’re as real as you can get. The ideas might not fit perfectly together, but that’s why they’re perfect to begin with. Because they’re pure human passion for art and performance.

When I see AI art, I scroll past it. When I hear about something written by AI, I just ignore it. I cannot bring myself to care, because it’s missing some unspoken core element. I don’t need passion in my technical documentation, and I don’t need performance in my blog posts about front-end development, and I don’t need triumph in my graphic design. But I do want actual humanness. I do want to feel as though it is connecting with me on an emotional level. On a real level.

We’re all very excited about AI, and that’s great, and I’m happy for all of us. I look forward to the benefits it will have in so many different and unique circumstances, and I am surely (without my knowing) very much benefitting from AI in every aspect of my life.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, that was the bee in my bonnet this week. There’s so much more to be upset about in the world, none of which includes arguing about AI, or (god forbid) debating my feelings. I’m good to stay out of this conversation altogether, to be completely and desperately honest.

I just thought it was interesting.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 31st, 2023