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An Analog Guy in a Digital World

by Jay Kerner

Read this column while you can. At this point, it’s still an original product of my fevered mind. But the future is rushing towards us at a speed that blurs our perception. Things get past us. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of those. I blame the Geeks. Not the geek next door that builds his own computer from parts. I’m talking about the geeks those geeks pray to in their Silicone Valley Valhalla. The geeks that can solve seemingly any problem with the right combination of 1s and 0s.

The problem, as I see it, is when they point their pointy heads at problems that aren’t really problems in the first place—like art. AI is destroying art as we know it. And right before our eyes! Apps on your phone have been converting photos to a Picasso or Van Gogh for quite a while now. Why paint? Just recently, my social media has been filled with “self-portraits” that are “created” by algorithms. Friends and family flying through space or imbedded in extreme fantasy backgrounds. It’s cool, and everyone’s doing it. But is it art?

I guess it is, but who is the artist? The person that pushed the button gets the credit, but would you call them an artist? Personally, I equate it with the guy loading the roll in the player-piano calling himself a musician. It used to be that an artist used his talents to transfer his vision through his hand to a canvas, a scroll, or a cave wall. Now there’s a computer between the hand and the canvas, and no more talent is required beyond pushing buttons. Any monkey can do it.
But the area where AI really gets my goat is the written word. Here I’ve finally found something semi-productive to do with the stuff in my head. I create something from nothing but an idea, float it out there in the ether and hope it lands. Sometimes it does. Do it enough, and if you’re lucky, it finds an audience. Some love it, and a few hate it. Combined, they make up a somewhat regular readership.

Well, now I find that what I do, my life’s work, is becoming obsolete. There’s enough of my writing in the digital universe that anybody with an AI program can download it and teach the computer to write like me—BUT BETTER! It will use all of my pet phrases and improper word usage. It will spell like me, curse like me, and every example will have just the right measured amount of snark. (Along with multiple unnecessary commas.) Point it in any direction and watch it go. AI Jaybird on whatever subject you want.

In a way, it’s interesting to think about what I might say, having never really said it. It’s like the ghost in the machine is reading my mind. I sort of like the idea of my writing “voice” going on after I’m gone. But then, it occurs to me that I’m putting a lot of faith in machines and the people behind them. Anybody with nefarious intent can post AI-me saying any damn thing they want, in language that sounds even more like me than me! They can already animate still photos. How long will it be before images of me will tap-dance to a tune the real me would never have hummed in a million years? I’m no Luddite. But I admit I may not be the first adopter of every new technology. I’m usually more of a second-wave guy.

I’m sure Artificial Intelligence will prove a boon for mankind. I can’t wait to hear Ben Franklin’s take on the next Supreme Court Ruling. Or the next Beatles album with songs that haven’t been written yet. But all of that comes at a cost yet to be determined. Or maybe it’s nothing to worry about. Maybe it’s just mankind’s natural progress in our time on the planet. But then again, isn’t that exactly what a robot would say?

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