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Is Artificial Intelligence the Great Equalizer?

 

It was 1978 and Boston had just released “Don’t Look Back”; the second vinyl I had ever purchased. I was nine years old, spoke only Spanish, did not understand most of the lyrics; but I knew some of the songs were going to be “classics”.

 

Album cover for Boston's DLB
Boston's "Don't Look Back" album cover

I was voraciously reading the album information, cover to cover, lyric inserts and all. On the bottom left corner of the album’s inside art, I noted two sentences underneath the band’s roster. It was almost as if it was purposely placed there to “be there” but draw no attention. Years later, the newer versions of the album removed these words.

 



“No Synthesizers Used

No Computers Used”

 

The words were meant to differentiate Boston from other bands that needed “digital assistance” in order to create great music, like Rush.

 

Everyone relax, those are not fighting words. Looking back, I don’t recall a single person debating whether Boston was better than Rush for not using computers or synthesizers. For that matter, I don’t recall ever debating whether Rush was better than Boston because of their stylistic synthesizer sounds in “Tom Sawyer”.

 

If you have listened to any music medium since the 1970s you know that regardless of instruments and technology used, both Boston and Rush are music royalty. When you listen to their songs, I doubt that you have an internal debate that goes like:

 

“Self, I so wish that they had (hadn’t) used that sound; I wish that they would’ve chosen…”

 The only debate in most minds is deciding if “eleven” is the correct volume setting.

 

Up until now, technology has not been able to create the song, it’s arrangement or the vocal harmonies. In other art disciplines it has not been able to create the image, sculpture, recipe, mix, composition or photo. Until now technology has played the role of a tool used by a human to empower the Creative self within.

 

Enter Artificial Intelligence.

 

An old adage says that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Another frequently accompanying adage are variations of the usually truncated phrase “the customer is always right, in matters of fashion and taste”. Pay attention to the latter part of the phrase, I’m going to come back to it.

 

If an artistic expression dunks your brain into a bowl of dopamine and serotonin, the last thought running through your synapses is likely to be “I sure hope this was not created with A.I.”. You’d just enjoy the experience and likely crave another dunking by going through a similar experience again.

 

Artificial Intelligence has sparked fierce debates in as many disciplines as it can be used. In the world of art one camp paints Artificial Intelligence as soulless, evil and crass; as if a product of the technology could neither have nor convey the same nuance, detail, and emotion that a human can imbue to art they create “from scratch”.

 

Another camp compares Artificial Intelligence to “black magic” that inspires rookies to conjure shapes, colors, mixes, lyrics, sounds and tones that only a prodigy could create. Apparently, this camp believes inspiration is “internal” and we should do something about those pesky glimmering lights in the heavens. If you have ever transited the southern Pacific Ocean on a clear-sky moonless night, you’d be furious about the Southern Cross’ audacity for influencing the lyrics of a song.

 

Humans find inspiration in the world external to “them”, and from our point of reference, that is an infinite set. Unless you are hallucinating, anything that you perceive comes from the outside world. And even then, there is a reason they often describe hallucinating as having an “out of body experience”.

 

Humans have developed tools and machines to help improve their work for thousands of years. I’m talking here three to four thousand years since the first credited use of them; so certainly nothing new. If you have ever debated whether the Pyramids, the Parthenon, Machu Picchu or Petra is more beautiful because of the tools and techniques that were used, you are missing the point.

 

Artificial Intelligence is just the latest tool, and it just so happens to facilitate inspiration in a way we have never seen before.

 

A Great Equalizer

 

Artificial Intelligence levels the playing field in many disciplines, and the world of art is not spared from this experience.

 

The Sistine Chapel ceiling is magnificent. The Nike of Samothrace is sublime. Handel’s Messiah is rapturing. The Burj Khalifa is beautifully imposing. Metalmorphosis is mind-blowing. Tom Sawyer and Don’t Look Back are empowering.

 

Even though the creation of the above took place hundreds of years apart, most can appreciate how impressive works of art they are. How these works of art “dunk” our brain is irrelevant. They just do, and in so many different ways.

 

Could Michael Angelo have pulled off the Chapel without scaffolding, or Adrian Smith the Khalifa without Computer Aided Design (CAD)? Could Demetrius have commissioned the Nike without fine bronze chisels, or Riprand the Metalmorphosis without stainless steel?

 

Artists build their portfolio using the inspiration and tools that are then available to them.

 

The more powerful and simple the tools are to use, the greater probability there is that a less skilled, less trained, and less talented Creative may pull off a noteworthy piece of art; especially since beauty is in the eye of the beholder; and the customer is [we are] always right in matters of [our] taste. As humans, we just know what we like. Artificial Intelligence is one of those tools that when used ethically, responsibly and with guardrails can level the playing field with just one click of the mouse.

 

That is a scary proposition to those who have a gift, and have spent great portion of their life training to be the best at what they do; create. I am in awe by some of them, and find myself riveted to their body of work, thirsting for the emotions they stir within me. Others are just not my cup of tea, and trained and talented as they may be; sometimes “it’s a no for me”. (Yeah, you heard that in British accent). The inspirational and production processes matter; but it’s the end product that we revere.

 

Artificial Intelligence is here, and not going away. Fear and jealousy aren’t going away either. If you think these emotions are new to the world of art, look carefully into some chapters of history that are conveniently left off of academic curriculum but manage to become a special in the History Channel.

 

The truth is that humans and Artificial Intelligence coexist today, and generations from now the then artists, fans, and critics will look at the “A.I. period” as yet another chapter in the historical Art continuum. A period where a new tool for inspiration shook [all of] the world.

 

There will always be people who will prefer art from “old school” and “OG” Creatives.

There will always be people who will prefer “new” and “in vogue”.

There will be the “purist” and the “experimental”.

 

ALL creators have an audience, and will remain on the same leveled playing field because the one thing that Artificial Intelligence will never be able to do, and that is to “correct” humans on matters pertaining their taste.

 

Boston needed neither computer nor synthesizer to make great music. Rush jammed with synths, and who can forget Frampton. I love their music and art covers then and today, and hope that we find the way to use Artificial Intelligence in the Art world ethically, responsibly and in well-regulated form such that we don’t miss the forest for the trees.

 

PS - Look at the cover art of their records, and you tell me if there was not another great inspirational chemical equalizer tool involved. I’m just asking a questions here… 😊

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