Monday, October 12, 2020

19th Century painting and Artificial Intelligence

There was a time when painters were necessary for documenting things. Every portrait, diagram, visual record of any place in time had to be an artist's rendering. Then camera's put 90% of them out of work in the mid 1800's. I'm sure that was frustrating after thousands of years of job security. 

But since they were no longer tied up with wedding pics and news illustrations, some of them started painting things that can't be photographed. Illustrating the emotion of a Bourgeoisie ballroom servant, or a family gathering around the potato. Eventually an over-photographed city scape leaps into a map-like grid of colors. Faces become inverted funhouse mirrors. Eventually they stopped painting forms all together and cut strait to the vibe/essence/whatever of a concept, like a hack into the viewer's brain. We could see thoughts, not just images.

Painters started to do the job of poets and philosophers.  Philosophy, for thousands of years, used words and now can use eyeballs, an organ with much more robust processing integration within a hunter/gatherer platform. Even prior to the camera, there were very occasional painters and sculptors who could hack brain code. Michelangelo could bring a repenting pope to his knees by showing what judgement day looks like. But this ability is no longer a rare boutique program. Now it's the common language spoken by ex wedding artists. Even the photographers started speaking the wacky language. 

Humanity split open its verbal cocoon and installed a whole new software suite. All because we no longer had to do what we now had a machine for. 

Today we hilariously try to prevent machines from taking the jobs of farmers, drivers, soldiers, builders. The end of their million year contract will be even harder than it was for the painters. After all, painters were 5% of the 1 billion people on Earth. Today, just professional drivers alone are over 1 billion. Machines will chase those drivers to whatever job interview they Uber to next, and then the next, and then the next. Just like machines had once chased them off the factory floor and into the driver seats. I'm not even going to bother googling how many farm workers, brick layers, and soldiers there are. My point is, more than there were painters in the 1830's.

Eventually, like 19th century painters, they'll say, "welp, I guess you got this then". Billions of ex-laborers will start ________ing.  And ________ is so uniquely human, the machines never thought to attempt it. The robots will look past and through it, the way insects ignore jokes. And as we improve our _______, we'll once again look down at machines and fantasize about them someday being able to  _________ the way we do. We'll write scifi about it.

Most painters would rather express with their paint than copy a model. Just as most future _________ers would rather ________ than drive or build or pull weeds. 

We can't imagine what _________ is because we're only this old. Michelangelo never imagined cubism. He never thought to control the drips on the floor. He wasn't going to sign a mason's name to a urine troff. He was too busy trying to hide the brush stroke, literally perfecting techniques that a camera can do by accident. He never asked us if it's a cross or a painting of a cross the way Jasper Johns asked us about a painting of a flag, and therefor didn't question what that implied about Catholicism the way Johns asked what it implied about our current empire. If Michelangelo predicted the camera, he wouldn't have welcomed it. He would have worried for us. Just like we worry about drone delivery and laser weeding. 

Global job loss is scary. Different is scary. Unseen solutions look IDENTICAL to non-existing solutions. We confuse "current" for "correct". Things like parking lots and currency don't yet seem insanely archaic. The word "space" still means "empty" until anti-matter someday turns that into a linguistic trivia question. "Virtual" still means "fake" to us. Not knowing how our brains work makes us think we're not machines. Are genetics not machined by nature? That's not rhetorical (asking for a ______). We're so sure we can't think inside machines. We're so sure machines can't feel. We still don't even know what the hell gravity is, or atoms, and yet we use words like "can't". 

We're about to go through hell. There are too many of us for the world not to be both on fire and flooding at the same time. Hunger makes us dangerous and AI seems to be the tipping point. Our fear is justified. But I have a strong feeling that future humans will look back fondly at our fear. Machines are once again going to allow humanity to graduate to a new OS. I think we will recall, with gratitude, the day we started to ________. 

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