Some Human Words about AI Arts

Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

Every new mass-production technology, from earliest agrarianism to computerized milling machines, has caused a tectonic shift in labor. That’s just a fact, however tragic the results have been to human laborers. (I’ll get back to that in a moment.)

But never before has a mass-production technology been used to replace human creativity. The arts are a creative expression uniquely human. Machine art simply scans those creative works and remixes them, passing them off as something new.

Mass production is all fine and good when it relieves humans of tedious labor and creates uniform products easily repaired or replaced. Neither of those ethically applies to art. Art is neither tedious nor easily replaced.

Businesses who treat it as such take a historical disdain for human suffering and lack of responsibility for the newly poor to a new level. They rob the race not only of its livelihoods (which they could ease by retraining their “Human Resources”), but now of its very soul.

The thievery is especially obvious in AI writing, which includes scans of pirated works posted here and there on the Net. The AI learns from works it never paid for.

In my experience, publishers have always been chintzy in terms of writing and illustration, with the excuse that “There are plenty of other creatives out there who would kill for this work.” With unpaid AI art, they and the AI companies who take their money carry this unethical philistinism to a new low.

AI art as a human tool, fine. Not every artist uses paintbrush or writing pen. But the sources drawn from deserve to be paid in turn. We don’t steal paint and ink, for god’s sake!

As beneficial as the Industrial Age has been to humankind in general, it has also made us callous toward suffering that isn’t right under our noses. The wealthier the nose, the further the distance and greater the callousness.

I suppose it shouldn’t be any surprise that the soullessness of that distance has bred a soullessness toward the arts as anything more than a commodity.

It does, however, make us a little less human with each passing moment. A little more like unfeeling machines.

A Dad’s Thanksgiving

Photo by Diliara Garifullina on Unsplash

My dad once said that when I was in grade school through high school, he was kinda jealous about the education I was getting that he’d never had a chance for.

And in that moment, something clicked that I’d never before realized: I had that opportunity exactly because never once in my childhood did it cross my mind that food, clothing, and shelter weren’t a guarantee. Dad never complained about the backbreaking labor that supplied those things, so to me they felt as natural as the air I breathed.

It wasn’t until I became a husband and father myself, through some heartbreakingly difficult years, working so that my own children were sheltered, clothed, and fed, that I realized what he’d done, and the example he set.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the US, and most of us take so much for granted. Things that aren’t actually guaranteed, but that feel as givens, like the air we breathe.

I think there’s a pretty obvious moral here. But it’s one I didn’t really get until that conversation with Dad, so I’m going to state it anyway: Most of us, no matter how modest our means, are wealthy compared to so many of our fellow citizens, to say nothing of the rest of the world. The best way to give thanks for our abundance is to share. And to honor all of the fathers, mothers, veterans, laborers, emergency workers, and educators who allow us that abundance.

Here’s to my dad, today on Thanksgiving. You set an example that led me to unthinkingly assume that hard work to provide for others is only natural. I give you thanks for that.

And to Jennifer, for giving me unthinking confidence in a marriage. And to Christine, Kate, Candace, and Karalyn for all the time we’ve spent together. You gals have taught me many, many things.

Now to celebrate the abundance that allows me to spare a turkey. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving, folks!

 

Today & Maslow’s Yardstick

Chances are you’ve seen this graphic before. I believe it’s a pretty clear picture of why poverty hurts the entirety of human civilization, stunting potential contributions to our advancement as a species.

But that’s beside the point for this post. For me, today, it’s a personal yardstick. And this post is a journaling. Because (a) there’s no way I can manage an actual journal on paper, I’m apparently incapable of such privacy, and (b) my blog and Facebook history have proved to be effective tools for long-term self evaluation.

If you want to come along for the ride, that’s cool, I can use the companionship. But if not, that’s cool too, you should probably get out of the car here.

So, Maslow’s Hierarchy, starting from the bottom:

  • My physiological needs are fine, always have been, one of the perks of having been born a Middle Class white guy in 21st Century USA. Same with safety needs; same reasons.
  • Belongingness and love needs, I’m happy to say, are better than I feel I deserve. I use the word “feel” intentionally, because I’m intellectually aware that relationships are give-and-take, and I “think” I’m doing okay with the give part. But emotionally I feel like a drain on those relationships.
  • Esteem needs and self-actualization have been in a decline for a couple of decades, with a pretty steep nosedive over the past dozen years.

Those last few years of employment in educational publishing were brutal, taking me from heading up creation of an e-publishing department to bottom of the editing totem pole. From glowing praise from upper management (I recently found an old annual review letter in my records), to suspecting the only reason I still had a job was unwillingness to fire a long-term employee. All I can say is that I didn’t change; something else did. Call me unadaptable; I don’t think a history of success from factory to medic to LPN to teaching to game design back to teaching would agree.

Having left gaming as an occupation, by family necessity, a few years before taking that job, was its own hammer blow, with one attempt after another to revive that career thwarted. Maybe some other time I’ll explore the topic more in-depth, but for now, I can only say that whatever the creative field, it seems apparent that people follow properties more than they do the creators, something I’ve heard often from even some very big names. It’s worse with work-for-hire.

Even retired and self-publishing, as much as I’ve accomplished, in retrospect I see the nosedive increasingly apparent. I used to power through deadlines; now the very thought of a deadline is crippling. I believed it was the result of a focal seizure disorder; now I’m starting to think the disorder itself may be a manifestation of long-quashed anxiety.

Drawing this post to a close, I remind myself that its original intention was simply to record several weeks of ongoing, devastating “What does anything matter?” depression, and gratitude for a couple of hours when it lifted: Once with surprised smiles while viewing a video link Abraham Limpo Martinez shared, 30 minutes of calculating dice odds, the math involved, and how physically modeling them with dice glued together in shells goes from 2D to 3D to increasing dimensions of hypercubes; and once a Thursday night role-playing session with Steve Sullivan, Kifflie Scott, David Annandale, and my oldest friend, Jim Cotton. (I hope you lot don’t mind my mentioning you by name.) That session was mainly combat demonstrations, starting with Dracula’s three brides, then 20 of his gypsy minions, and then Dracula himself! The last with a perfectly Hammer film style conclusion, Sully apportating a stake for Dracula’s heart, on the same turn the Count summoned a cauldron of bats to drive the heroes away, allowing both sides to escape to fight another day. I better understood my own game design from that session, and learned a great recording trick from Sully!

That last paragraph is the m0st important for this record. The others are just prelude. If you’ve read through it all, here’s the point where I say “Thanks.” You’re one of the folks who help give my life meaning.

Funnel Focus

In a previous post, I mentioned trying to shift away from a purely Facebook presence, to concentrate more on this blog/site. For my final pre-retirement employer, one hat I was handed, back when the Web was first launching, was “Internet guy.” And what with the company being a business, “Search Engine Optimization” (SEO) became a significant part of that job. How to snag a highly visible spot on the first page of a search engine.

Some of SEO was simply a matter of early entry into a field: Look up the phrase “Write Source” on Google and on the first page you’ll find only a single entry that isn’t my old employer. The Edge browser is only slightly less dominated, as is the case with Yahoo! (the most popular search engine back then) and Ask Jeeves (another old one).

Short of that early dominance, there’s “long tail” (I like to call it “chasing the long tail,” because sarcasm), a practice of focusing the META description in a page’s <head></head> code on such specific phrasing that you dominate searches for that combination of words.

And tied to SEO is the idea of funneling searches and other Web presences—social media, posts on other blogs, whatever other diverse locations you can occupy—back to a single location, where you can focus your own time and attention, rather than having to keep up with and provide content to a zillion other places.

That funnel concept is as true for personal blogs as for businesses. A desire to be visible in a sea of other content. And for a “retired” game designer like myself, seeking to remain relevant in a hobby more and more dominated by Hasbro and Eurogame companies, my posting to disparate places is time I better spent on writing and self-publishing.

Which focus is why the occasional publication announcement or game related content here.

Not just about my own stuff. On Facebook I often promote somebody else’s, whether in my own feed or on a Group page. Because I’m a gamer first and foremost. Self-publishing is just one outlet of that hobby. Playing other people’s games is just as much a part, though unlike for many players my mind may be doing more than simply play: evaluating the design itself, musing on some aspect of it, learning something, envying some feature I wish I’d have thought of. Just as I do with fiction, non-fiction, movies, poetry, etc. The storytelling, the use of language, the philosophy and history.

True fact, the only reason I know much of anything about historical things like the Napoleonic Wars is from reading War and Peace and The Count of Monte Cristo. (Historical details I was supposed to learn in school just wouldn’t stick, until I took a Humanities course in college, which dealt with history and philosophy from the viewpoint of famous artists and writers.) And once the Napoleonic Wars were introduced in those two novels, suddenly the interconnectedness of the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, and suchlike came into focus.

So, forgive me if I’ve said it before, but this website is me. And though you’ll find quite a bit of stuff about my own works, that’s only a significant fraction of who I am and what I’d like to accomplish here. Most likely I’ll be changing the site’s banner sometime soon to reflect that fact for anyone who lands here by mistake. So they don’t immediately think I’m trying to sell something.

Because people do land here by mistake. I accidentally snagged the front page of search engines way back when, by getting the “lestersmith.com” URL and keeping it. So, though the dead Texas millionaire has been crowding me out of late, I’m still there. And one not unwelcome side effect of my paying more attention to this blog is likely to be crowding him out again simply by outliving the newsworthiness of his passing. I may be old, but I can still make news.