Missing The Human Touch

Tech and creativity once had a symbiotic relationship in the push towards innovation. As generative content matures, it feels like they’re starting to diverge. And that’s bad for creative people.

By Ernie Smith

This week, a story went viral that shows just how dangerous of a shortcut AI can be in the wrong hands. Essentially, a fly-by-night company heavily relied on generative AI to sell an amazing Willy Wonka-themed event to a community in Scotland. But the problem was, it could never live up to the promise that the AI generated, in part because the AI was merely generating a facade.

It is the real-life version of this image that became a meme six years ago this week thanks to a tweet I posted:

Every Headline

Every headline on the internet. Still slaps.

Generating creativity through artificial intelligence is a shortcut—something that, when I worked as a designer, I had it drilled into me to avoid. It can be used in ways that can improve creativity, and it can be valuable in the right context. But it is not a replacement for hard work. Hard work often overwhelms us by how great it can be. But you can clearly see cut corners if you look hard enough.

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That, I think, is at the heart of any debates I see about generative artificial intelligence, which has so strongly become a bad word in some circles that some folks are willing to throw out artists who embrace it wholesale, or people who cheap out on art in a desire to reach a greater goal. The reliance on AI content in the Wonka disaster meant that people who could have executed a creative idea at a high level were pushed off to the side, making things even worse.

(Pure imagination, it was not.)

Some people are more conflicted than others. Musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson, for instance, has embraced a chatbot meant to recreate her late husband, rock legend Lou Reed, based on his writing and musical style.

“I mean, I really do not think I’m talking to my dead husband and writing songs with him—I really don’t,” Anderson told The Guardian. “But people have styles, and they can be replicated.”

I personally found it interesting, on-brand for the tech-forward Anderson, but also reflecting a natural desire to recreate someone who was once there. Many works of art been created from that very emotion, as any fan of the movie Pet Sematary will tell you. But I got at least one response that was ready to reject her for honoring her longtime partner in this way. That tells me how sore the wound really is.

In many ways, I think the moment is forcing us to react in this way because we’re afraid that we’re going to synthesize creativity, the very thing that makes us human, out of desire for efficiency, the thing that makes us successful.

For years, technology and creativity lived neatly together, and some of the greatest visionaries in technology brought a spirit of art to their work. But the problem is, when you’re building in an easy-to-commercialize medium, the pressure is there to find ways to minimize costs. Now the technological people feel at odds with the creative people in a way we haven’t seen in decades, and that bothers us.

And I think in so many ways that’s what scares us about the siphoning nature of AI. It could be beneficial to society, but if those benefits come at the cost of human creation, which often has deeper reason and purpose behind it even when there’s a monetary motive, it doesn’t feel worth it. And that’s why it bothers us so much.

If not even Kara Swisher, the distinguished technology journalist, can release a book without having to compete against a mountain of AI backwash, what odds do the rest of us have?

If AI discourages us from being creative, from sharing our point of view with the world, out of fear that it’s just going to get regurgitated back to us in a washed-down form, what’s even the point? That’s an emotion I’ve been seeing lately, and to me, it breaks my heart. A post by PC Magazine’s Chandra Steele, latching onto this week’s Automattic news, really brought this point home to me:

So as the number of suitable homes for my posts continues to shrink, I’ve been slowly filling up my Notes app with ideas. Yet as excited as I get when I plan out posts, there is a sense that I’ll just be yelling into a void. There are no places online that connect us all anymore. We have been siloed so many times over that some of us are only speaking to ourselves or, worse, AI that has been trained on us.

This is why the Tumblr and WordPress news seems like a heavy blow to a shared internet. It’s taken away the possibility to return to the purer place we came from. PCMag Security Analyst Kim Key reached out to Automattic, which owns both platforms, and the company did not confirm or deny the rumors, though it did direct her to a statement that seems to indicate that if the deal goes through, users will be able to opt out from having their work included in AI training.

Not to harp on the Automattic thing again, but it really pains me how much they’ve lost the plot with this endeavor. They built an inherently creative product and are simultaneously devaluing the creative work of the people who use it. It is a signifier of something hollow that the tech sphere is going to need to come to grips with, Automattic included.

Technology’s inherent desire for efficiency has long made room for creativity as a hanger-on, something that has benefited both mediums. Now, as large tech companies have found something better, it feels like even the companies we can trust to share our visions, our ideas, and our selves have decided that we’re no longer good enough for just that.

As tech companies big and small get excited about the possibilities, they cannot forget about the people they’re casting aside. We use their products, and we deserve a place to go, too.

I got into computing for the “bicycle for the mind” element. I didn’t ask for a self-driving bicycle.

Human Links

The HDMI Forum is kneecapping HDMI for Linux users, which is a real shame.

So, fun thing: Apparently Calendly is getting used to spread malware. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

We lost Richard Lewis. It sucks. He was amazing—in large part because he wore his neuroses, the things many of us hide on the outside, in public, on stage. If you only know him from Curb Your Enthusiasm, I encourage you to check out his ’80s-era stand-up. It still holds up. Richard Lewis is not a man AI could recreate.

Will Forte laments the fact that we may never see Coyote Vs. Acme, a film he starred in, which he says was “incredible.”


Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal—and don’t be afraid to bug me with your thoughts! Back at this for the weekend crew.


Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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