Technological change is ecological

From the ever-insightful Convivial Society newsletter, an essay about the new AI image generation tools that are doing the rounds now, including the image posted above, which won an art prize and made everyone very hot and bothered.

Lonely Surfaces: On AI-generated Images – by L. M. Sacasas

It’s interesting not just because it points to a more productive way of thinking about new imaging technologies coming now and in the future, but also because these same debates raged (often unproductively) when photography was born. And just as with AI image generation, there were simplistic claims made on both sides (“painting is dead” / “it’s just another tool”):

The debate about the nature and future of art might have happened anyway, but it was undoubtedly encouraged by Allen’s own provocative claims in interviews about his win at the State Fair. They are perhaps best summed up in this line: “Art is dead, dude. It’s over. AI won. Humans lost.” I’m not sure we need to necessarily defend art from such claims. And if we were so inclined, I don’t think it would be of much use to perform the tired litany of rehearsing similar claims about earlier technologies, such as photography or film. Such litanies tend to imply, whether intentionally or not, that nothing changes. Or, better, that all change is merely additive. In other words, that we have simply added something to the complex assemblage of skills, practices, artifacts, tools, communities, techniques, values, and economic structures that constitute what we tend to call art. They fail to understand, as Neil Postman once put it, that technological change is ecological rather than additive. Powerful new tools can restructure the complex techno-social ecosystem we call art in sometimes striking and often unpredictable ways. Even if we don’t think a new tool “kills” art, we should be curious about how it might transform art, or at least some of the skills and practice we have called art.

Lonely Surfaces: On AI-generated Images – by L. M. Sacasas

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