The Guardian view on AI in art: a challenge that must be met – The Guardian

Faced with an attempt by a new chatbot to imitate his own lyrics, the musician Nick Cave delivered a withering verdict: it was “replication as travesty”. He understood that AI was in its infancy, but could only conclude that the true horror might be that “it will forever be in its infancy”. While a robot might one day be able to create a plausible song, he wrote, it would never grow beyond “a kind of burlesque”, because robots – being composed of data – are unable to suffer, while songs arise out of suffering.

Fans of Cave and his band the Bad Seeds will agree that his music is inimitable, but that doesn’t mean they would necessarily be able to tell the difference. A few days before his remarks, experts were asked to distinguish between four genuine artworks and generically paired AI imitations. Their verdicts were wrong five times out of 12, and they were only unanimously right in one of the four picture comparisons.

These are party games, but they point to an unfolding challenge that must be managed as a matter of urgency because, like it or not, AI art is upon us. The arrival of the human-impersonating ChatGTP last month might have ramped up general awareness, but artists across a wide range of disciplines are already exploring its potential, with the dancer Wayne McGregor and London’s Young Vic Theatre among those who have created AI-based works.

A strongly-worded report from the House of Lords’ communications and digital committee (CDC) this week issued a wake-up call to the government, urging it to raise its game in educating future generations of tech-savvy practitioners, and tackling key regulatory challenges. These included reviewing reforms to intellectual property law, strengthening the rights of performers and artists, and taking action to support the creative sector in adapting to the disruptions caused by swift and convulsive technological change.

While developing AI is important, it should not be pursued at all costs, the CDC stressed. It deplored the failure of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to offer a defence against proposed changes to intellectual property law that would grant copyright exemption for any work, anywhere in the world, involving AI text and data mining.

The sorry catalogue of negligence has continued with the government’s failure, since leaving the EU, to ratify a treaty it signed up to in 2013 on the control of audio-visual performances, leaving artists vulnerable to the exploitation of their voice and image. This is not only a problem for the starry few, but for the 80-90% of performers who, according to the actors’ union Equity, already earn less than £20,000 a year, and whose opportunities are being further eroded by the introduction of computer-generated film extras and audiobook narrators.

The challenges of AI are both philosophical, as Cave suggested, and practical. They will unfold over the short and long term. State-of-the-art creative industries have a key role to play in framing and exploring the philosophical ones, but they must have the practical help they require to survive and thrive. They need it now.

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