A.I. Can Expand the Borders of Art. So What?
What does this tell us about our future relationship with technology?
In May, someone prompted Adobe’s generative AI Firefly system to ‘imagine’ what would lie beyond the boundaries of some the world’s most famous works of art, including the Mona Lisa, Starry Night (above), Nighthawks, and A Saturday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (below). The results, posted in a thread on Twitter, were okay insofar as the program was sometimes (but certainly not always) able to mimic an artistic style. But the exercise was pretty vapid, overall. One of the examples was Michelangelo’s The Creation of Man (below), which the Firefly system expanded logically, but — as one popular reply noted — what’s actually beyond the boundaries of The Creation of Man is infinitely more beautiful and interesting: It’s the rest of the ceiling of Sistine Chapel.
At The Atlantic last week, Charlie Warzel referenced this thread in passing, on his way to describing a phenomenon he calls “Scale Brain,” a frame of mind that reveres the idea of big data and of never-ending… everything. This mindset has been both driven and exacerbated by AI, which can now, with little human input, create infinite content. Scale Brain is “a worldview that the looks upon restraint with confusion and sees self-imposed limitations as weakness,” Warzel wrote, predicting that the worship of AI’s generative abilities risks reducing human creative output to more of an inconvenience than worthwhile inspiration.
Scale Brain makes me think of Sam Altman — and not just because, as the CEO of OpenAI, he is leading both the development of, and warnings about, generative AI. It reminded me that Altman is trying to figure out a way to live forever. Retro Biosciences, a startup fully funded by Altman to the tune of $180 million, aims (for now) to extend the average human lifespan by 10 years by focusing on cellular reprogramming, autophagy, and plasma-inspired therapeutics. It’s another way Altman aims to optimize human life, the most well-known of course being via AI, which he imagines will operate at such a scale throughout society — producing “most of the world’s basic goods and services” — that people will “be freed up to spend more time with people they care about, care for people, appreciate art and nature…