Do A.I. the Right Way: Remember to Invest in the Arts

Artificial Intelligence is the new crossroads

TL;DR Artists are at the vanguard with artificial intelligence. Protect them, invest in them and properly acknowledge them to create a new creative ecology. Don't just use the tech to line coffers and make great ad campaigns. It's a new world and we need new kinds of leaders. Artificial Intelligence wielded without slow Emotional Intelligence will cause unnecessary harm to the communities affected most by its use. (Cue De La Soul's "Ego Trippin.")

Now, let's go time-traveling. Imagine an alternate reality in the late '90s/early 2000s, where everyone has some clue of how crazy social media is about to get. In this alternate reality, no one creates a profile on any platform without being assured of some return for their time spent building that platform's value. On this other timeline, "connecting with friends" just wouldn't cut it as an even exchange for us giving away our creativity and data. In reality, it didn't turn out that way. Our dopamine addiction got monetized to the point that it drives pop culture, and we don't get our cut. Now we're in too deep to go back. 

Artificial Intelligence is the new crossroads. The stakes are higher, and it will advance way more quickly. All aspects of creativity will be forever altered. Of course, artists are adapting and creating new workflows and interesting usage cases. The entertainment and marketing industries are studying their moves with gold rush energy. But until we are clear on how our work might make the world a better place, we may be doomed to repeat mistakes of the past. Along the way will be some mind-blowing A.I. co-produced ads and campaigns, but how can we make sure the creative community from which the A.I. harvests its data set continues to thrive? How do we build a future that recognizes that generative A.I. can only be refined by a healthy creative ecology?

Artists, out of genuine curiosity and a need to expand, are already showing us the way. Following them, thoughtfully incorporating their discoveries into our work and then widely acknowledging them will ensure that we do generative A.I. in a sustainable way. Here are three approaches to doing so.

Build a creative safe space in your organization.

Let A.I. concept and empower humans to create. The true power is not solely in A.I. itself, but in how we can imagine using it. A.I. should probably never lead any creative pursuit, especially since most generative A.I. is scraping, collecting and regurgitating. We should create spaces where creatives are incentivized to imagine thoughtful use, let them experiment and then we make a new thing from there, with the artist fully acknowledged and supported. I point you to Marla Montgomery. The new VP, creative director at Lizzo's YITTY is a Midjourney wizard in her off hours. 

Underwater transformation series—elephants turning into sea kelp, glowing flowers. (Marla Montgomery as @therestingcloud)

Her A.I.-generated collection lives on Instagram @therestingclouds, where she uses the tech to world-build. In that space, she has created fantasy brand "Amparo," an entire fantasy fashion line inspired by her grandmother and her Mexican heritage. She dreams of one day having a space where her A.I. explorations can meet her professional life. But not at the expense of thoughtfulness.

"I think people and companies should consider their intentions when working with A.I.," Marla says. "You always have to have a point of view."

Fantasy Brand "Amparo" Part 1.

Imagine a future where your organization creates residencies, grants and competitions that publicly reward this type of thinking.

Let creatives (and creatives only) determine the generative A.I. workflow, not the other way around.

This is not a job for engineers and executives in the tech department. Take Nate Donmoyer, early A.I. mover and music producer for the likes of The Weeknd, Passion Pit, Pharrell Williams, Twin Shadow and yours truly. Nate has long incorporated "ML" (machine learning) into his processes as both a professional musician and sound designer for big entertainment brands. Only a creative like Nate can feel how implementing new processes will affect our work.

"The first place I saw [A.I.] show up in the studio was in the form of plug-in preset settings suggestions based on program material," Donmoyer says. "The plug-ins would listen to the audio flowing through their channels and make a guess of what setting might be most likely to benefit the mix. That was a few years ago and I have to admit it isn't in my workflow anymore, but that's probably more to do with my work not lining up with what the training data set is most likely to be."

Generative A.I. not created by creatives, being used to produce creativity, is riddled with blind spots. Same as any tech designed for a community that was not developed by the community itself. Midjourney is a prime example of this. It was created by developers to generate "art," without much regard for the use of original artworks that make Midjourney outputs.

"The data source is often not credited, let alone compensated, and taken without consent," Donmoyer says. "Imagine …you gave permission for your music to be heard around the world on the internet, …but did you give permission for someone to ingest your entire music catalog and train an application to create new works and audio based on your output?" Donmoyer recommends creators look into to learn about opting their IP out of the training set data and other tools. A.I. decisions that will affect creatives should include us on the ground floor.

Normalize giving love.

Over the last decade and a half, artists of all types have been sold the line that they have to give their works away. All in hopes of the chance of more exposure and career vitality. To level up, creators have to always be sharing, promoting, marketing and putting their "value" on display. This model has benefitted platforms, agencies and trendspotters tremendously. We have all become The Mandalorian and accepted that This Is The Way. The creative community at large hasn't cashed in on this model yet. Because of its nature, only a few can win. With the advent of A.I. and the massive creative movement, a new breed of creator is bound to surface. "I think what we're seeing is the decoupling of craft and expertise from usual expressions." states creator, deep learning enthusiast and co-founder of qub, hou.mon.

As these creators show us how to maximize A.I., we have an opportunity to edify their value, as they appear. In action this looks like using your platforms as industry leaders to amplify A.I. creators leading the way. A creative community that knows it is valued will press forward, continue to innovate, and we all win. 

"We're also seeing the promise of democracy within the arts through technology," hou.mon says. "And we're only scratching the surface."

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