As a writer, I look at storytelling through the lens of abundance or lack.
I'll be exploring this idea in more depth here in the coming weeks, but for now, let’s just summarize by saying:
Every principle of antagonism is built on lack.
True heroism turns lack into abundance.
Here is what's going on: Companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google are training artificial intelligence by feeding them the works of all types of artists - writers, photographers, visual artists, designers, etc.
The artists' work is protected intellectual property, and none of the artists assented to its use in this way. The AI programs will not only learn from the art, they will be able to reuse it in any number of ways.
Here is how we look this through the lens of lack:
These tech companies have commodified art and essentially removed the artist from the equation.
They will be using the work of existing artists to allow other people to create new things.
They have found a way to monetize art that doesn’t involve an actual human artist anymore. They are only leaning on previous artist’s creations, and those artists are not being paid or credited.
This is capitalism at its worst. It is a theft and an utter denial of human value, especially humans who don’t work for a corporate entity.
Everyone who encounters this perspective can’t help but hate it. This is because we each know that we are unique, that we are creators who will do something that nobody else can possibly do. That knowledge is built into our very souls.
What is the lack? That we are becoming irrelevant—not just as artists, but as human beings. Something is better than us, and it makes us feel small and irrelevant.
There’s another way to view this, and that is that generative AI makes art available to everyone, abundantly.
It makes creation available to everyone. I know that my own creation as a writer was a long and elaborate process of mimicry and discovery that came from understanding what other writers were doing. Of absorbing their works and taking what I liked and ditching what I didn’t.
Today, it won't take someone 20 years of writing. With generative AI, it can happen faster and for more people.
This is an incredible opportunity, abundant with the promise of inspiration and equality. Anyone can do AI-generated art, and that alone will inspire people to understand what might previously have escaped them: that they are capable of many, many things. It may inspire them to want to learn more, to actually pick up a paintbrush or write their own stories.
With the help of generative AI, people will learn faster, they will understand styles and differences in a shorter period of time. This evolution of art can and will lead to whole new expressions of creativity.
Like most technologies, this new one won’t eliminate the old ones. (There are still people who use plows, and rowboats, and actual pencils and paper, and those things are not going away anytime soon.) In fact, creative artists will find new freedoms in embracing this technology. Even the most “voicy “ literary novelists may be curious to see what adding a little bit of someone else’s voice to their own work will produce.
So now that we've sketched out the abundance and the lack, what to do? Both arguments are compelling.
Maybe you've been reading the news and you've started feeling that generative AI - and the tech firms who are developing it - are creating things that threaten a huge aspect of humanity - the arts, which have defined human civilization for thousands of years.
Maybe you've also learned that the tech firms anticipate making massive amounts of money from this venture. And maybe now you feel totally jaded, and even a little scared.
But here is a postcard from the writer's edge: You are never required to believe in someone else's lack. You are not even required to believe in your own lack. You will not be a villain for understanding lack, but if, when you respond to it, you begin to shape your life around its principles, villainy surrounds you. It is what you become.
Here is a idea for turning all of this lack into abundance.
All of the art that goes into generative AI should be paid for in royalties to all of the artists who contributed to the machine’s work, forever.
Publishers pay royalties for the rights to make money from our words, so should tech firms. And since this new technology is so promisingly abundant, the tech firms should pay more than publishers - far, far more, given the scale of this venture.
And that's just to get us started! What do you think?
Be a hero, be a villain, be exactly what you are right now and speak your truth.
*I have, rather cheekily, generated some AI art for this post, because oh my god it is inspiring and fun and it has turned me into an absolute fanatic who, for the first time in her supposedly creative life has become very interested in who is doing what in different styles of illustration, painting, photography, and graphic design.