Does AI Kill Human Creativity or Enhance It? [Editorial]

Artificial intelligence: a concept that used to belong in science fiction, now a daily reality, pervading almost every facet of our lives.

But as it inches closer to the realm of creativity, it raises an intriguing question – does AI genuinely possess creativity, or does it threaten to dilute the essence of human creative spirit?

This is a debate I’ve heard tossed around by intelligent people on both sides of the debate. People say that AI is trained on past data, so it’ can’t possibly be creative, and people who use it are cheating at best, and frauds at worst.

On the other hand, I’ve seem some compelling arguments to the contrary, and in this article, I’d like to challenge the idea that AI generation is not creative, or more specifically, that humans using AI are not creative.

Because I believe they are.

We’ll ask: can AI be an authentic creator, or is it merely a sophisticated mimic? And, importantly, does the rise of AI herald a renaissance of human creativity or signal its impending downfall?

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Build for Tomorrow

There’s a book I recommend everyone read called, Build for Tomorrow: An Action Plan for Embracing Change, Adapting Fast, and Future-Proofing Your Career. And if there’s one powerful message that resounds through the book, it’s this: People are often skeptical of innovative technology when it first arrives, even when it has the potential to be greatly beneficial.

A brief look back through history offers some compelling examples:

  • Bicycles were seen as a menace to society upon their introduction. Seemingly harmless today, the ‘two-wheeled terror’ sparked fears about public safety and moral decay.
  • Books, believe it or not, were once regarded as harmful, particularly for women. It was argued they would incite dangerous thoughts and ideas.
  • Novels, specifically, were vehemently criticised. American Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, labeled them “poison [that] infects the mind.”
  • The advent of cars was met with outright hostility. Referred to as ‘devil wagons,’ drivers were frequently pelted with rocks from resentful pedestrians yelling, “Get a horse!”

You’re probably wondering, why does this matter today? The key lies in the broader perspective: Understanding historical resistance to innovation can help us adapt to the rapid technological changes we face in the present and future.

Instead of throwing proverbial rocks at the ‘devil wagons’ of our time, “Build for Tomorrow” implores us to embrace these changes. It’s an essential part of future-proofing your career and staying ahead in a world constantly in flux.

And you might think that AI is different this time. But everyone has thought that, because most of these innovations were as groundbreaking for their time as AI is to us today.

We are no different.

The Rise of Photography Is the Closest Parallel

In the realm of artistic expression, a striking analogy emerges: The advent of AI mirrors the rise of photography.

While some see these innovations as threats to tradition, history suggests that we might just be witnessing the birth of an entirely new art form.

The Portrait Shift: From Canvas to Camera

Before the invention of photography, portraits were the bread and butter for many artists. But with the camera’s emergence, a significant shift occurred. Suddenly, accurate depictions of people, places, and events were within reach without needing an artist’s touch.

This left a large number of artists unemployed.

Early 20th-century artist Henrietta Clopath captured this fear in a 1901 issue of Brush and Pencil: “The fear has sometimes been expressed that photography would in time entirely supersede the art of painting. Some people seem to think that when the process of taking photographs in colors has been perfected and made common enough, the painter will have nothing more to do.”

The Persistence of Artistry

Despite these concerns, the art of painting did not become obsolete. In fact, artists found they still had much to do.

As photographic technology evolved, the need for hyper-realistic art diminished, leading to the birth of new art movements like Expressionism, Cubism, and Futurism. These movements dared to stray from the confines of realism, and, in a sense, art was liberated.

Similarly, no one would argue today that photography isn’t an art form in itself.

While not all photography is considered ‘art’, there is a vast body of work that has undeniably earned this status.

The AI Revolution: Is It Really That Different?

The transformation that photography brought to the art world might sound eerily familiar to the fears surrounding AI today. Just as artists once feared the obsolescence of their craft due to photography, some worry that AI’s rise in creativity and innovation might render human input unnecessary.

Yet, arguing that photography was ‘cheating’ or ‘unfair’ to traditional artists seems absurd now. Might the same be true for AI in the future?

That leads us to the pressing question: Can AI be creative?

Let’s Define Creativity

When we ask the question, “What is creativity anyway?“, the answers can be as diverse as the creative acts themselves. It’s a topic that is fluid and constantly evolving, and yet, understanding this concept could redefine how we perceive the world and our actions within it.

Understanding the Basics

At its core, creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. But different sources dive deeper into its definition.

Robert E. Franken, in his book Human Motivation, suggests: “Creativity is defined as the tendency to generate or recognize ideas, alternatives, or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating with others, and entertaining ourselves and others.”

Meanwhile, describes creativity as “The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”

Rethinking the Concept of Creativity

You may associate creativity with a personal endeavor, like writing a poem or sketching a portrait. And yes, these actions involve creativity. However, is creativity confined to the tangible results of these activities?

We often conflate creativity with the mechanics of art – the act of putting pen to paper, paint to canvas, or words onto a screen. But having used AI for both art and writing, it’s time to revisit this assumption.

Creativity isn’t confined to the mechanics of creating art; it’s the spark that precedes the process. This spark can ignite before we begin to write, or in the fleeting pause between each sentence.

This distinction between creativity and mechanics is crucial. It’s not about the end product – a painting, a sculpture, a piece of writing. It’s about the birth of an idea, the moment of inspiration, and the exciting journey of turning that idea into something tangible.

I used to think that my writing was the creative part, but after playing around with AI long enough, I realize that it’s really my vision that is creative. Because whether I use AI to write a book or write it manually myself, the end result will be quite similar to the vision I had in my head.

In short, AI is simply a different mechanical means of producing the creativity that I have already had in my head.

But Is AI Truly Creative?

From the definitions we’ve explored so far, it appears that AI, on its own, is NOT creative. It might only mimic creativity, not truly possess it.

Wait, what? you ask. “Aren’t you trying to argue that AI is creative?”

But let’s delve deeper.

AI Mimicry vs. Human Creativity

AI alone, while impressive, might not tick all the boxes for what constitutes creativity. After all, its abilities are contingent on programmed algorithms and learned patterns, not on personal experiences or emotional inspiration.

In this regard, you could say AI mimics creativity, but doesn’t truly own it.

However, the picture changes when AI becomes a tool in the hands of a creative mind. When used by a person, AI can indeed be part of a creative process, because it aids in materializing the ideas already formed in the individual’s mind.

In this sense, AI replaces the mechanical part of art, becoming an advanced tool for creation.

The Evolution of Artistic Tools

AI, just like photography before it, can save us time on the mechanics of creating visual art or writing. It doesn’t replace the creativity behind the work; instead, it expedites the process of bringing creative visions to life.

In fact, AI is merely the next step in a long line of artistic innovations:

  • The invention of writing enabled us to record oral stories.
  • The printing press reduced the cost of producing written content and increased its distribution.
  • The typewriter streamlined the process of writing further.
  • The personal computer and dictation software made writing even more accessible and efficient.

Each of these innovations, in their own era, reduced the time and effort required to translate our thoughts and ideas onto the page. AI is simply the newest addition to this lineage of tools.

Remember, while AI can offer impressive capabilities, its function is to assist the creative process, not replace the human creativity at its core.

Future Predictions for AI and Creativity

Predicting the future is always a delicate task, particularly when it comes to the convergence of creativity and artificial intelligence. But let’s ponder the possibilities.

Perspective from the Past

One might be tempted to view AI as a seismic shift in our technological landscape, unparalleled in its impact. Yet, there’s no concrete reason to believe AI is anything more than the latest in a long line of technological advancements.

Consider the Industrial Revolution or the inception of the Internet. Both were ground-breaking in their own eras, bringing about transformations that were unimaginable before their advent.

Returning to our photography analogy may shed more light on this perspective. The emergence of photography undoubtedly displaced many traditional artists. However, its rise also led to some of the greatest art movements that dramatically veered away from realism, such as Impressionism and Cubism.

Moreover, photography itself blossomed into a brand new art form, and, in its wake, gave birth to film, television, animation, and many other innovative mediums of artistic expression.

The Future of Creativity

So, what does the future hold for AI and creativity? Given historical trends, it’s likely that traditional art and writing are on the cusp of transformative change in response to AI’s rise.

In fact, AI art and writing might enable us to experiment in entirely new ways. It could unlock doors to creative expressions we might not have ventured into before, either because they were too time-consuming or simply too risky.

In the grand scheme of things, creativity is not dying. Far from it, creativity is simply beginning a new chapter, ready to flourish in ways we have yet to imagine. Whether in reaction to AI or fueled by it (probably both), I believe we are about to witness an explosion of creativity in all forms of art.

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