Simone stared at the empty canvas on her ancient iPad.

It's been weeks since she finished her last commission, weeks since Tito passed away. Tito was a great guy. His cafeteria was not the most popular, but there were always customers hanging around.

Simone was a regular as well.

Not only because Tito was the last person to order some illustrations from her, but also because of the cheap, but decent, coffee and fresh pastries.

Something remarkable happened in the world roughly a decade ago. Simone did not remember exactly when, but suddenly her Instagram feed was full of images hashtagged with #aigenerativearts, #stablediffusion, #midjourney, etc. It was all the rave.

Then, all of a sudden, this craze died out.

Art was suddenly everywhere and no one cared enough to make it a topic.

What is art if not a visual stimulation for the masses and a desire for attention, her friend shot at her during one of the many heated debates they had about the future of art.

This, however, was not art for Simone. For her, art had vanished.


Once there was a time when the only way to hear a song was to go to a live performance. You either listened to someone else play it or played it yourself. Only a few people were able to produce a decent sound with the instruments. Even fewer could perform in a combined orchestra. That was the pinnacle of musical artistry.

And then came the year 1877, when the evil genius called Thomas Edison introduced his phonograph - The destroyer of the musical arts.

Why would anyone choose a career as a musician if the simple metallic cylinder could fill the room with the sounds of any musical mastermind, the pundits cried. And it certainly looked that way back in the days.

Men with business acumen immediately recognized the value of this invention, and "coin-in-slot" machines were installed on city streets, where passersby could listen to popular songs, funny jokes, and even theatrical pieces. The money went into the black box instead of the pockets of the pianist or the actor. Educated people in the late 1880s reasoned that this would almost certainly result in a world devoid of music and performance art one day.

What did not happen, though, in the decades following, was the death of music. Instead, music has become an integral part of daily life for consumers. It is difficult to find someone who does not have at least one music subscription. Since the invention of the phonograph, new talented musicians have emerged from generation to generation, not only in pop music as well as in classical music.



The hype around generative AI has left only a few indifferent. Heated debates are brewing in the Twitterverse between generative AI pessimists and optimists.


The new Dark Age has arrived

The perspectives of AI pessimists depict the world of the future as empty of human creativity. In this future, our desires for emotions are filled by soulless machines and self-optimising algorithms to produce visual stimulation. They express legitimate concerns about models being trained using real artists' work without proper attribution, which violates ethical standards.

The most vocal opposition is directed at the LAION dataset, which contains over 5 billion images and descriptive text that point to and describe images all over the internet. While the creator of the data set is a German non-profit, it ends up being commercialized anyway.


One of the most impactful summaries of this pessimistic perspective was delivered by Steven Zapata in his 47 minute video.


If you don't have time to watch, you can also read his thesis in text format here


These concerns are motivated by the very human fear of not knowing how to survive in the future. But not only that. It certainly raises the issue of higher humanistic goals.

What is the point of putting yourself through years of agonizing training to achieve the artistic heights required to express the grander vision, break the current glass ceilings, and advance human achievement levels when with the help of the AI "anyone can cook"?


Or perhaps a new Renaissance?

The AI optimists, on the other hand, point back to history and claim that the invention of Edison's phonograph did not manage to kill music. If anything, it produced more musicians than ever witnessed in the history of human kind.

It is really difficult to find a historical precedent of a technological breakthrough that has crushed the development of human creativity. Other factors may have contributed to the occurrence of "dark ages," but not the invention of new technology.

Instead, we can observe many epochal events when technology has made a leap with a significant impact on the creative arts' development. Some point back to the first prehistoric cave paintings, the invention of papyrus, and Guttenberg's press, among others. It has also been said that Kepler's discoveries of the theory of ellipse led to the oval structure in the Baroque, and Newton's experiments with prisms, the idea of light quantum, inspired Seurat's to create Pointillism. We can probably find more examples of how advances in science and technology have moved art forward.

As the interview with the artist and researcher Jane Adams pointed out, the emergence of generative AI technologies has led artists to learn a whole lot more about the cutting edge technology to "generate art". The best AI generated art nowadays is not done by simple prompt entries, but already curated, tailor-made models of image creation AIs, involving a lot of technical work to build and train them with specific style cues and data sets. In this, we may draw parallels with Leonardo Da Vinci and his obsession with science and extensive studies of anatomy, botany, geology, mechanics, etc.



The concerns of AI pessimists are valid and current AI practices are ethically questionable, to put it mildly. It's safe to say that both optimists and pessimists agree that AI "image-laundering" is not the same as visiting the MoMa to search for inspiration, and therefore, we need some more sustainable solution in the long run.

At the same time, it is hard to find evidence that image creation AI will kill creativity and human curiosity, which drive innovation. We need to learn new skills, and some of our old ones are dwindling. But isn't that what brought us here? 

Also, as history has demonstrated, humans get bored pretty easily, and there will always be a room for "something new and exciting."

* Images used to illustrate this post were created using Stable Diffusion AI.