My social media news feeds have been overrun with artwork lately.

And not just the products of local artists and friends I grew up with whose work I do my best to share and support — though thankfully their passions remain ablaze.

They now have a new creative competitor — a new breed of imagery generated by artificial intelligence using keywords. And the stuff can be mind-blowing, with qualities so convincing, my “not so artistic” acquaintances can demonstrate they have enough imagination that they really should be artists. That probably wouldn’t have happened had they not been given access to these tools.

These programs are an interesting display of technology, but using A.I. displaces our artists, musicians and others who typically sacrifice the pursuit of the mighty dollar, for pride in their craft, motivated by a genuine desire to make our world a more enjoyable place.

A.I. could support real artists too. Concept pieces could help one decide what a final product should look like. These could also assist an artist in negotiating a commission from a patron.

But so far that doesn’t seem to be happening. Now, instead of helping an artist buy groceries by paying them to do a piece of work, you can pay $5 to a software company to pump out as much art as you want. Instead of paying for a painter’s supplies and rent, your money helps finance a CEO’s new yacht.

Then there’s the way A.I. learns. Sort of like an actual human, the program analyzes previously created works and then emulates the style after it’s gathered enough information. The problem is some of these programs are scouring the web for images to copy, potentially diverting income flow from a real, live artist who dares to show a completed piece outside a paywall, or shares a thumbnail or even a sample on the internet.

Here in the North, entire livelihoods are built on art. The potential danger of A.I. art isn’t just about displacing someone’s hobby — it threatens a family’s bread and butter.

Labour keeps being displaced by machinery. Fine wood carving has given way to Computerized Numerical Control machines which can pump out comparable work in a fraction of the time. Machines never get sick, need breaks or have to go home — and you don’t even have to pay them. Most industries are undergoing similar transformations with automation.

Businesses always try to cut costs to increase returns, but try telling that to the creative humans who can’t pay their rent because a robot took their job.

And for people here in the Beaufort Delta, what happens the day someone can type “Inuvialuit Art” or “Gwich’in Art” into a prompt and creates a mural, the design for a pair of earrings, the file for a 3D printing of a carving, the pattern for a Delta braid — and no one in the Beaufort Delta gets the credit or the compensation?

Computer generated art is a fun toy, but it’s no substitute for the real thing. An algorithm may someday reproduce Michelangelo’s style better than Michelangelo, but a human artist still has the monopoly on creating something new.

Eric Bowling

Breaking News Reporter and Digital Editor for NNSL, Eric operates out of Inuvik in the Beaufort Delta. He's four years into his Northern adventure and is eager to learn more about life in the Arctic Circle....

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