It seems like there is nowhere you can go to escape from AI. By that, I mean less the pernicious little algorithms themselves (which on a personal level I find hardly more objectionable than all the other overeager digital helpmates which have insinuated themselves so shrewdly into our lives) and more the conversation surrounding it. There appears to be some unwritten rule nowadays that any gathering of three or more people must broach the subject with a heavy sigh and raised eyebrow, ushering in the same sense of foreboding that accompanies the approach of an invading army. And so it was at last month’s ANTIGRAVITY contributor meetup at Stein’s, when the topic cast its inevitable pall over our stalwart crew of renegades.
This is not to be dismissive of the changes coming to creative industries, or to say I see no reason to fear for myself and the brilliant individuals I am lucky enough to work with at AG. Pursuing any kind of artistic career in this economy is an act of faith at best. More often than not it feels completely delusional—it certainly seems that way to me right now as I weigh my own particularly dismal prospects against the ever-mounting costs of living. Since our ability to survive on our hard-earned and undervalued skills is already so tenuous, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that you could knock us over into the abyss with a feather, let alone with legions of robots designed to render us permanently obsolete.
But when I looked at the people gathered around the deli tables that night, I felt more optimism than dread. I have every reason to believe that the value system which has helped ANTIGRAVITY thrive—as mainstream media standards plummet towards rock bottom—will cushion the blows of the robot hordes. We labor over every detail, cultivate the unique vision of our contributors, and obsess over the implications of everything we publish. AI was never going to be a threat to artists with our level of care and commitment. Creating truthful art is an alchemical process that makes inert material like a blank page or an empty canvas come alive; an algorithm only reshuffles pre-existing materials to give the illusion of creation. The real work takes blood, sweat, and inordinate effort, and there is no facsimile which can touch the triumphant result of the artistic process in all its imperfect glory. As my friend who works for an AI software company said to me, “AI only works in a world where nobody pays attention.”
Replications of various art forms may be what’s most often featured in the AI news, but if art can survive Jeff Koons, then surely a mathematical equation with roughly the same creative capacity is a storm we can weather. What fewer people seem to be talking about is that the labor force most threatened by AI is likely middle class technocrats. If AI replaces the mindless office jobs which allow people to drive up real estate prices, jump on the latest restaurant trends, buy various frivolities with wanton abandon, and everything else that economists tell you makes the world go round, what then will become of our increasingly fragile world order?
My point is not to give AI any more hold than it already has over our imaginations, but rather to see this moment for the opportunity it is. Labor can only be replaced by an algorithm when it is devoid of meaning. We can choose to work deliberately and with consideration, carefully observe signs of process in a final product, and find purpose in everything we do. When we see our work as a gift we want to keep giving, we’ll have nothing to fear from the robot overlords—no matter how many of them crowd the horizon. —Holly Devon
illustration by Laura Frizzell
July cover illustration by Anneliese DePano