from the regulating-art dept
As the US government stumbles around to try to come up with an AI regulatory policy, it seems like they’re focused on trying every bad idea on for size. You may have heard how Senator Schumer just had the first of his AI Summits, including a bunch of big name folks, who probably are not the right people to be in that room. I mean, you had Elon Musk, who has been bitching and complaining about the administrative regulatory state for years… asking for an administrative regulatory agency to regulate all AI. It’s almost like he knows (from experience) that when he’s in a regulated industry, it wipes out much of the competition and opens up billions in contract dollars for himself.
The full list of attendees seemed almost perfectly designed for a Senate event designed to make it look like you were doing something important while actually doing nothing useful. It was full of big names — Elon! Bill Gates! Eric Schmidt! Zuck! Satya! Sundar! Sam Altman! — who are likely to spout mostly PR-driven nonsense, pushing for their own corporate interests (see, Musk above), a very small number of thoughtful AI thinkers (Rumman Chowdhury, Deborah Raji) so they can pretend this is a serious discussion, and a bunch of randos they need for political reasons (MPA CEO Charles Rivkin, AFL-CIO President Meredith Stiehm).
There… are a lot of useful people missing from that list. There are tons of academics and civil society folks who have been studying this, and they’re mostly missing. And then there are the folks actually using AI daily (not just the CEOs of the companies trying to get rich off of it).
So it was great to see Creative Commons recently release a letter to Schumer from a bunch of artists who are actually using AI in their work, asking Schumer not to mess things up. Rob Sheridan, who came on our podcast last year to talk about AI and art, and how artists can learn to embrace and use the technology, is on the list, among many other artists as well.
We write this letter today as professional artists using generative AI tools to help us put soul in our work. Our creative processes with AI tools stretch back for years, or in the case of simpler AI tools such as in music production software, for decades. Many of us are artists who have dedicated our lives to studying in traditional mediums while dreaming of generative AI’s capabilities.
For others, generative AI is making art more accessible or allowing them to pioneer entirely new artistic mediums. Just like previous innovations, these tools lower barriers in creating art — a career that has been traditionally limited to those with considerable financial means, abled bodies, and the right social connections.
Unfortunately, this diverse, pioneering work of individual human artists is being misrepresented. Some say it is about merely typing in prompts or regurgitating existing works. Others deride our methods and our art as based on ‘stealing’ and ‘data theft.’ While generative AI can be used to exploitatively replicate existing works, such uses do not interest us. Our art is grounded in ingenuity and creating new art. It is well known that all artists build not only on the previous ideas, genres, and concepts that came before, but also on the culture in which they create. Unfortunately, many individual artists are afraid of backlash if they so much as touch these important new tools.
We are speaking out today to advocate for a future of richer and more accessible creative innovation for generations of artists to come. Artists breathe life into AI, directing its innovation towards positive cultural evolution while expanding the essential human dimensions it inherently lacks.
It seems like some of the people from that list should have been at the forum, rather than people like Tristan Harris, who seems to be making a career out of pushing whatever tech moral panic he can find, no matter how misleading.
It seems that Schumer hearing from someone like Sheridan would be a lot more valuable on this particular subject than yet another screed about how AI is going to destroy careers. In a statement with the letter, Sheridan laid things out in a very useful framing:
“As a 25 year professional artist and art director, I’ve adapted to many shifts in the creative industry, and see no reason to panic with regards to AI art technology itself….I fully understand and appreciate the concerns that artists have about AI art tools. With ANY new technology that automates human labor, we unfortunately live under a predatory capitalism where corporations are incentivized to ruthlessly cut human costs any way they can, and they’ve made no effort to hide their intentions with AI (how many of those intentions are realistic and how many are products of an AI hype bubble is a different conversation). But this is a systemic problem that goes well beyond artists; a problem that didn’t begin with AI, and won’t end with AI. Every type of workforce in America is facing this problem, and the solutions lie in labor organizing and in uniting across industries for major systemic changes like universal healthcare and universal guaranteed income. Banning or over-regulating AI art tools might plug one small hole in the leaky dam of corporate exploitation, but it closes a huge potential doorway for small creators and businesses.”
There are, clearly, challenges in how artists make their livings. Art has always been challenging for all but the most successful creators. But the idea that “AI” represents some sort of new and existential threat on that front is really trying to distract from other, larger, systemic issues, that creating an “FAA for AI” are not going to solve at all.