11/40 Who Cares If You’re Human?

Also titled “Does human intelligence matter?”

I watched 2 interesting documentaries recently, and on further reflection I realized there was a factor connecting them which was very important to me.

The first documentary was about the search for Artificial Intelligence. This is an area in which I’ve been interested for a long time, and I’ve referred to it in different terminology in a previous post. I’m personally quite certain that AI will become a fact and that in many ways AI will rival and surpass what is commonly supposed to be “human intelligence”. I find the process to be both thrilling and terrifying. After a lot of personal research, I tend to agree with the notion that intelligence is something that we do not “possess” but rather that “it possesses us” (see JG Bennett on Energies or Ken Wilber for much more lucid explanations on this). Another way to say it is, we are within Intelligence, rather than intelligence being within us.

The second documentary was about Richard Wagner, the infamous Teutonic composer who is often touted as being an opener of the way to many forms of modern music. In liking this documentary to Facebook, the inevitable controversy about Wagner’s anti-Semitism arose. It’s an area I feel profoundly uncomfortable with, and yet it spotlights an extremely important question – I will post a quote from my response to a friend’s comment:

“…regarding Wagner: I think that’s what gives value to this program. It’s the incongruity between the personal flaws and the music on the other side of it. That is, I don’t think it can be suggested that Wagner created this music *because* of his rank beliefs. This is where the last 30 seconds of Stephen Fry’s presentation becomes so important. It’s a huge question, because it really asks something critical about human endeavour, not just art: what do we own? what is us? is there a part of it isn’t us? and, if so, what is it? is it nameable (I tried to touch on this in a blog post: http://lascaux21.com/40/art-and-language/. That last 30 seconds of the video made it worth watching for me, and I don’t feel it’s an easy question. But it is a good one…”

So, the question: what part of creative endeavour, i.e. art, “belongs” to us? When we create art, or are in any way creative, is it the human being bringing into existence something totally new? Is it just bringing to light something that has always existed? Is art creating us? Or is it some kind of combination of these things?

To approach the question from a different angle: could an AI create art that had “value”? If that question seems strange, I offer a thought experiment: let’s say an artist had created a visual work, and you saw it being stepped on in the street as people mistook it for a piece of waste paper. Would this cause discomfort to you? Could there be a point where an AI could produce something creative that would cause a similar sense of discomfort in a human being observing the work being stepped on?

Another thought experiment: what if you were to listen to a piece of music that was powerfully moving, so much so that it brought tears to your eyes. And, afterwards, you were to find out that this piece of music had been created by an AI? What about the experience would change? As a quick interjection, there is a fascinating moment in the AI documentary that is worth a look – watch for the blonde woman’s reaction. That moment notwithstanding, what if the creativity, profundity, effectiveness, and even perceived value of such a thing was more than a human being’s efforts?

I stated earlier that I believe AI’s would eventually rival and surpass human intelligence. It may be “creative” in a very real and important sense. If there is other intelligent life in the universe, I believe it too will be creative and have “art” and all the forms of creativity we do.

So what? Will the AI make a human redundant? From some points of view, the answer may very well be yes. But there is an aspect of the question that I find is incredibly important, which is that in creating music, art, or anything creative, it is the individual experience that still counts for the individual. That is, there is a joy or thrill in creativity that can be experienced and owned, and for the human being, that is the value. In many ways, the art itself is quite disposable (we aren’t all going to have the longevity of a van Gogh, or of Wagner, nor even a Lady Gaga), but we can own the experience of the creativity both in the so-called moment of creation and for the length of our lives. To paraphrase Keith Ikeda-Barry, “the painting is the receipt of the creative experience”.

One thought on “11/40 Who Cares If You’re Human?

  1. Pingback: 12/40 Thinking in Binary | Tim Gerwing: A Personal Blog

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