AI: no longer replacing our strength, but our minds

This image was made with a program similar to Midjourney, Stable Diffusion. A demo is available, along with a gallery of images to explore how the technology works.

Isaiah Steele

This image was made with a program similar to Midjourney, Stable Diffusion. A demo is available, along with a gallery of images to explore how the technology works.

Isaiah Steele, Site Manager

Throughout history, technology has turned life on its head. The printing press made monks irrelevant for producing written media, the Model-T took horses from an asset to a liability and the internet replaced impossible distances with a portal for instant communication. All these advancements have replaced the need for humans’ physical capabilities. They took the menial jobs of humans, allowing humans to focus on using their intelligence and creativity instead. But today, technology is not only replacing our strength, but our minds.

In 1997, the world watched as IBM’s Big Blue, a chess-playing computer, faced off against the then-best chess player in the world, Gary Kasparov. Before this, humans’ ability to think on their own had always beaten computers’ dependence on only what they had been taught. But in that series of games, a computer won out against the best in the world for the first time. Big Blue beat Gary Kasparov, and chess computers have only been better ever since.

After Big Blue became the best human or computer to play chess, there has been an explosion of research into the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence, as well as a continual comparison of computers’ progress to humans’ stagnant abilities. Boston Dynamics’ human-like Atlas robot, DeepMind’s video game-playing AlphaStar and CommaAI’s plug-and-play, Tesla-like driver assistance system, openpilot, have run with the kind of innovation that shocked the world in 1997, and made it normal.

This summer, during the Colorado State Fair art competition, a piece of art was submitted unlike any other piece before it, and it won the competition. Jason Allen, the video game designer who submitted the piece, had used a computer program called Midjourney, which turns text-based prompts into new, never-before-seen art. The controversy was not over whether the rules were brokenthey weren’t. The attention that developed was a concern about the future of art and whether there will still be a place for humans in art as computers gain more and more advanced capabilities. 

Aimee Peters, an art teacher at Pleasant Valley High School, commented on the new development, “If they [someone who needs art] can throw something into a computer and have something spit out that’s really good, then, yeah, why would you do that [hire an artist]? Because it’s more expensive to hire the artist.” Peters also expressed concern over the possibility that, because art is a major outlet of creativity, humans’ creativity will decline if computers start to dominate the art industry. “The other thing that concerns me is that this will cause human creativity to just plummet, because there is no reason to think new ideas because a computer is going to do it for you,” Peters concluded

Jackson Tagtmeier, an avid coder and someone interested in developing AI tech, in response to concern that AI would take over art, said, “I don’t think that’s necessarily true because a lot of the stuff that they [AI art programs] come up with is based off images that were already made by other artists, so a lot of the stuff that makes up the models that generate the images are purely based on information that it has previously been fed by images online. It can’t just make that up out of nothing.”

Tagtmeier is referring to how these art-producing programs are made. Instead of coders explaining exactly how to make art, coders give the program millions and millions of images of both art and everyday objects, tell the computer what it is looking at, and let the computer learn how to make art on its own. The reason that the AI used to win the Colorado State art competition requires a text-based prompt is that the program cannot come up with an idea on its own. It requires input, and then draws from its learning of previously-generated images. 

As AI continues to develop and change the way we do things, not just in art, but in all areas of our life, only time will tell if machines will replace human creativity and ingenuity. Some believe that computers will eventually do everything. Others disagree and guess that tech will only act as a tool to allow us to reach new heights. As with most guesses about the future, it will probably be a mixture of the two.