AI-generated scenes from the story I’m writing.

Clear skies in the Middle West. The sun goes down at 8:25pm, and the moon is in its last quarter. This morning I fed a robot a few sentences from the novel I’m writing, and it generated some startlingly accurate pictures. It also generated a complex headrush of emotions.

On a visceral level, it was unsettling to suddenly glimpse a fictional world I’d spent years imagining—and struggling to build with words. This uneasiness mingled with an undeniable wow factor, and I briefly imagined using this technology to create stunning mood boards and bleeding-edge pitch decks. But most of all, I felt a little dirty, as if sneaking a peek at someone else’s private dream.

There are knotty ethical issues to untangle, such as Charlie Warzel‘s observation that these systems are “trained on the creative work of countless artists, and so there’s a legitimate argument to be made that it is essentially laundering human creativity in some way for a commercial product.” And while this doesn’t sound much different from the advertising industry since the beginning of time, it’s another reminder that we’ll only have a worthwhile internet once we’re paid for our data.

But I’m more interested in how quickly I grew bored with this technology. I spent ten minutes conjuring fanciful scenes that my mind’s eye thought it would never see. Then I drifted back to editing my manuscript and organizing my mp3 collection. If you had told me twenty years ago that I could instantly illustrate anything that popped into my head, I would have burst with excitement at such a far-out future. Now that it’s here, I meet it with a shrug. I don’t know if this speaks more to my age, my character, or the world we’ve created.

Meanwhile, China is firing rods into the sky to make it rain.

Arpanet – Wireframe Images

Wireless Internet | Record Makers, 2002 | Bandcamp
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Alan Ralph
5 months ago

I had a similar experience playing with the Wombo app on my phone recently: the amusement of caricatures of politicians and generated space scenes eventually gave way to boredom, as well as a niggling feeling that I was effectively an unpaid AI trainer.

I looked at the website of the Data Union — I get the appeal of being paid for your harvested data, but the problem for me is that this is normalising the push to extract more and more from us, with all the problems that come from lack of accountability, security and transparency. Ultimately, I feel we need to slay this hydra once and for all, either by cutting off its heads or poisoning it and starving it to death.

Like you, I get more pleasure from writing and curating my music collection, all of which are on my computer.

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