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.

Computer rendered plastic dollies have gotten so much better than just a few years ago. And still, they are noticeably not human. (source: Pixabay)

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.

“A Lady Writing” by Johannes Vermeer

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)


  1. That ‘computer rendered plastic dollie’ was probably done in Daz or Poser,. It isn’t a high end illustration done by some of the best CG artists,,, ones where you’d be hard pressed to tell its CG.

    1. There’s a difference between computer graphics and 3D renders. I use CG a lot. I’m currently teaching myself Procreate, and bought into an online class for it. I have seen artists working with it who can produce paintings you would swear were oils. But they are humans painting with electrons, still. Not the computer itself creating. 3D render can come closer as time goes by, but the models are stiff and unnatural still.

      1. I’m referring to 3d renders. I could partially break down what is making the mermaid in the image above not quite realistic, but I have friends whose specific expertise is lighting and shading of characters who could give you a more exact listing of what the character in the image needs. It isn’t quite ‘noise’- as any 3D renderer with procedural textures can effectively create noise on several levels- the problems with that image are in shading and small level detail. At least the images don’t lack subsurface scattering like they used to, but people think they can just slap SSS on and then it magically looks real. For one, the SSS doesn’t match the skin tone very well. Two, she’s apparently supposed to be wet yet her arms and face have the sheen of being dry. Three, she’s missing a lot of small-scale detail- her skin has no imperfections even where she would have them, i.e. wrinkles pores folds where we actually expect to see them, whether modeled in or in the textures. Lots of this is flaws in the textures, not problems in the renderer itself, whereas ten or so years ago the renderer in something like Daz wouldn’t even be able to do things like SSS, and a little longer than that and only the high-end custom renderers at major studios did, and a little further than that it was all talked about in SIGGRAPH papers. Another five years on that scale and you’d be talking about global illumination.

        Anyhow, point is that image isn’t a particularly great example of the state of the art for 3d rendered people. it would be… for 12 or so years ago.


        I understand the point of that you’re saying, and understand the discussion’s relevance to writing. IT just threw me out of the discussion because of the uhm… ok, i dont know if the effect has a name. Let me just write something about how trying to find a plot thread can be like looking for a stray hair in the carpet of a suspect’s car.. well, it needs to sound slightly outdated and i haven’t watched NCIS ion awhile…

        1. Hah! Sorry, you are far more the expert than I in this matter, and I’ll bow to that. And the stray hair in the carpet of the car. Well, let’s just say that NCIS and the like are fiction. Very very fictional and not in the ‘ooh, that resonates’ kind of way.

          1. That was exactly my point… i bet if i pointed out something from one of those shows you’d feel the need to point out where if was wrong, if you get my drift.

                1. I’m not saying it could NEVER happen,but it’s be unusual to see a Marine with that much facial hair, field conditions be damned. A disposable razor takes a negligible space in a guys kit.

        1. Four times! And now with this handy app, I can do it daily with no muss and no fuss.

          Tomorrow I will no longer be the mother of four teenagers. My eldest will turn 20. I have no idea how this happened.

          1. MomRed informed Sib and I a few years back that we are 21 and 25. Forever. Because she cannot be old enough to have a [redacted] year old or a [censored] year old. It’s become a family joke.

  2. I think this is relevant…. I was in a striking contest for English change ringing in DC last October. There were eight teams and the judge had quite a lot to say about the evenness of the sound of the bells in the losing teams (in a very helpful way). Imagine a musical instrument that is played by ~8 people working together. The sound maker is out of site and controlled by a thirty foot rope and you have tenths of a second to adjust but your adjustment will take a second to be heard by you. Also what you are playing is permutations of notes rather than melodies.* This is obviously a situation where a computer simulation can do “better” than a human…..
    ….. But people hate listening to the computers.

    And what the judge said about the winning team was that he could hear from the first moment, both perfection and individuality. Really good ringing is mesmerizing.

    *The instrument can also cause severe injuries if played improperly!

    TMI. I was on two teams, including the team that lost by a full twenty points, composed of total beginners plus me, and we were awarded a prize for being the bravest. The judge also said that if we tried breathing once in a while it would probably help. You may translate that at your leisure.

      1. You should actually be able to find videos of news about the contest itself…. ?WTOP? October 2018? …And hear the judge talking about bells. I will also remark he has to sit mostly alone elsewhere while he listens.

        1. For good or bad, I am surrounded by a number of pretty serious pianists, and they’ve been talking about “breathing” recently, especially in regard to playing Bach. I haven’t asked for details, but what I think they mean isn’t about actual breathing, but giving space and phrasing to the notes, like breathing makes you do when playing a wind instrument (my background) or singing.

          This link seems along my line of thinking, quotable quote “Music must breathe–notes cannot be crowded even in rapid succession.”

  3. Some years back I had the real, honest to gosh flu. I spent 48 hours on my back wishing some deity would end my misery. Then the fever broke. I lost 10 pounds. I second the don’t-recommend-this-weight-loss-plan.

    Last year I got a mild version, probably softened by the vaccination. Alas, both my folks got the full-blown edition, so I was racing to and from Day Job taking care of them as well as working. Don’t recommend that, either.

    1. The weekend after I had my wisdom teeth out, everyone else in the household came down with the flu. I was the healthiest person there.

    2. One late evening, when I got home from work (back in the Philippines) I asked the maid to warm up some sausages in the microwave.

      Takes a minute, right?

      She put them in there for longer than that. How long for, I don’t know; I was so exhausted that I don’t remember the passage of time or noticed it. She gave me the plate of sausages and rice and I dug in, and the first bite released super hot meat juices.

      I had burns and sores in my mouth for 3 months and I couldn’t talk. All I could eat? Was plain vanilla ice cream and cold drinks.

      I think I lost 15 kg or so. Do not recommend that diet either.

  4. Dis-ease(s) are called such for Very Sound Reason.
    That I am now well into an audiobook about various plagues might not help, but it’s infinitely better than that “A Generation of Sociopaths” thing was. First Audible ‘book’ I ever returned.

  5. Reader’s Digest Condensed Books aren’t edited by computers, I know, but somehow they all seem too much the same for me to enjoy reading them.

    And having a lupus flare is a really bad way to lose weight, too. Cedar’s baby sister (who is 38) lost at least fifty pounds, maybe over sixty — she doesn’t like to stand on the scales, so I’m not sure exactly where she started from — getting down to 110 lbs. as of a few weeks ago. It’s probably not a bad weight for her fine-boned 5’2″, but still….(She IS feeling MUCH better now, thankfully!)

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