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The strike is over, but AI remains a concern

After six months, the strike by the SAG-AFTRA (actors guild) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) came to a halt on November 9. One of the key reasons for their protest was the future use of artificial intelligence (AI) in filmmaking. The studios have accepted their demands. However, the use of artificial intelligence still remains a concern.

There is serious concern in the new millennia about ethics and logic in all walks of life, particularly in the socio-political and cultural institutions of organised societies. This is not to be confused with the moral fabric of any society which is always a dynamic relativist parameter. This concern has turned into catastrophic despair as social media challenges traditional notions about public morality, literature, visual media and fine arts.

Added to this is the piling up of information in enormous proportions and easy access to it through the Internet, the speed and quantum of which used to be the stuff of science fiction not too long ago. The profound impact of AI on various aspects of human existence has become not only a topic of interest in technological, political, societal and economic forums, but also a serious intellectual concern in the domains of arts and culture.

Walter Benjamin, the media theorist and German philosopher and culture critic, had examined the relationship of the role of the arts in the changing technological scenario. In the essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (1935), he contemplated the impact of technology on the authenticity and aura of art. In his words: “In the age of mechanical reproduction, art loses its aura, its unique presence in time and space.”

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‘The Frost’, generated entirely from AI-imagery by Waymark and Latent Cinema.

In this age of AI-generated content, we witness a striking parallel to Benjamin’s concerns. AI, with its ability to mimic human creativity, raises questions about the uniqueness and originality of artistic expression.

While AI can generate impressive works that resemble the artistic styles of renowned creators, it challenges the traditional notion of authorship and the role of the artist as a unique source of creative inspiration in a particular human context. It can only “produce”, compromising on the relationship of time and space within a specific cultural context, and not “create” as it lacks the experiential value of the human context.

Benjamin’s contemporary German philosopher Martin Heidegger had also emphasised on the need for understanding technology’s role in shaping human existence. In his essay ‘The Question Concerning Technology’ (1954),  Heidegger argued that technology is not merely a means to an end but something that fundamentally alters our perception of reality. It has a profound impact on our perception of reality and our way of being in the world. He made the subtle distinction between “being” and "existing” in a period where existentialist thought was a dominant philosophical discourse. 

Within the context of AI-generated content, Heidegger’s concerns gain new dimensions. AI’s ability to create literature, cinema, and new media blurs the line between human and machine, thus transforming our perception of creativity, originality, and the human experience itself. The challenge lies in recognising and critically evaluating the impact of AI on our culture and values.

Contemporary public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Yuval Noah Harari have also expressed deep anguish over the potential consequences of advanced AI systems. AI-generated content prompts us to reflect not just on ethics and the creative urge but also on everyday life in an AI-driven future. Will AI become a tool for enhancing human creativity or a replacement for human ingenuity and existence? They are deeply concerned about power structures and media manipulation. Chomsky is not concerned about what AI can do but is more worried about who controls it.

The most decisive and pronounced impact will be on technology-driven media like cinema and other audio visual forms. Cinema, as a powerful visual medium, has always been closely tied to ethical considerations. Mahatma Gandhi was apprehensive about its moral groundings and said in an interview with the Indian Cinematograph Committee: “I have never been to a cinema. But even to an outsider, the evil that it has done and is doing is patent. The good, if it has done any at all, remains to be proved.”

It is interesting to note that while all the political formations from American capitalism, Russian communism, Italian fascism and German Nazism were using technologically driven cinema for their political ends, Gandhi was raising ethical questions about it. In the present, the AI-generated content in cinema introduces new ethical complexities. As AI becomes capable of generating lifelike characters and narratives, we must grapple with questions about consent, representation, and the potential for AI-generated content to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and manipulate audiences. There is a need to establish ethical frameworks to guide the responsible use of AI in cinema, ensuring the preservation of human dignity, diversity, and cultural representation.

As AI continues to advance, it is crucial to engage in discussions and establish ethical guidelines that ensure that it serves as a tool for human progress and respects the authenticity, diversity, and ethical considerations embedded in literature, cinema, and visual media.

By actively navigating this intersection, we can shape a future where AI and human creativity can coexist harmoniously. 

(Published 10 November 2023, 18:20 IST)

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