The human factor in art is noise. When you are taking a photograph, the noise is the graininess, the imperfection that when you blow the photo up large enough to see the details, the details erode into static. When a scientist runs a baseline on a chromatograph, the baseline isn’t smooth. If you zoom in far enough, you see jagged peaks and valleys that mean nothing when compared with the actual signal of a substance being analyzed. That’s noise.
Yesterday, Peter Grant mentioned the factor of publishing going to the robots being AI. It got me thinking along these lines again, as I’ve been toying with writing about what a human brings to art for some time, as I dabble in making art through digital media, traditional tools, and computer rendering. In the comments, it was brought up that computer-generated music is homogenized. As it must be – it’s based on the human signals the computer is offered to analyze. Having ‘learned’ from all of those signals, it then creates it’s own signal. It can only mimic creativity, based on input. True creation is all in the noise. It’s random. It’s unpredictable. It might fall into predictable values, because humans are creatures of habit. But the thing with computer art is… it’s too smooth. You can – and I do, regularly – generate art with a computer. You can generate art in ways that completely mimic traditional art, and as such, have that human creative element – the noise – inherent in them. The computer is a tool. But then, when you try to create art relying more on the artificial intelligence, you get the uncanny valley.
So close to human. And yet so plastic, because it’s lacking in noise. That’s why when I’m working with 3D renders, I work hard at introducing ‘grunge’ or other random textures to my work. It makes it look more real the more imperfect it is. It’s the same when it comes to writing. Every writer introduces their own noise, and their noise spins off randomly in word choices, the way they structure their plots, the way their build their characters through the tales they choose to tell. A computer can’t use noise in the same way. The random element will occasionally produce something novel. Have you seen the InspiroBot? It’s hilarious, sometimes profound, but most of the results are meaningless. That’s the result of feeding randomness into computer programs. The thousand monkeys on the thousand typewriters cannot possibly produce a creative novel that is anything other than a weirdly unique work, remarkable through the means of it’s production rather than the results of that work.
Every artist, every writer working to create art through weaving words into a tale, has their own voice. They might produce something flawless, like looking at a Vermeer painting. But a Vermeer and a computer-rendered face look nothing alike. One glows, the other glistens like plastic. The computer cannot understand humanity as deeply as another human can.
As writers, our jobs are not in jeopardy due to AI production of manuscripts. Not really. Sure, there will be manuscripts produced en masse, as Peter describes by writing to ‘ideal plots’ but that’s not the kind of reader I want, the one who consumes the same thing over and over. I know readers have comfort zones, and want similar things. But what they don’t want is plastic, smooth, voiceless stories. They want a little freshness, a surprise, a bit of a twist. The human element is a universal in all our stories. Until AIs are people, they can’t possibly compete. And if they reach that point, well, that will be interesting to, won’t it?
As a side note, if any of you were considering getting the flu this season, just to, you know, pass the time on long boring winter days, don’t. I can’t recommend the experience at all. Spending the day(s) in bed too hot to be covered but too cold to uncover, coughing sniffling sneezing for exercise is really not the good time you might think it is. In addition, you won’t have the energy to so much as sit up, much less write, and you’ll have to ask a responsible adult to monitor when you feel like a shower is an urgent necessity. You might lose a couple of pounds doing it, but there are easier and more pleasant ways to accomplish that. Wash your hands often and avoid suspiciously glassy-eyed co-workers like they have the plague. Because they might.
(header Image: HPLC results under Creative Commons license)