This Cat is Not a Cat, and this Man is Not Falling Off A Cliff: Across And Over The Uncanny Valley With AI
This year, like last year, will see an explosion of artificial intelligence applications and tools, and generative AI penetrates ever further into the mainstream. The implications of these tools are hardly clear, as they rarely are when new and transformative technologies spring up, seemingly out of nowhere, to change how humans live and work.
One thing I have always tried to do as an educator, is to be very open about how the world is changing; lately this means talking a lot about artificial intelligence, and what it might mean for the world. I am 46, and grew up without the Internet. My students, 11 years old, will have to reckon with artificial intelligence, and perhaps particularly generative AI, as it transforms living, learning, and working.
It was less than 100 years ago when Walter Benjamin, in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production”, talked about what might be lost as art came to be experienced primarily through reproductions, as mass reproductions became possible. Even then, in 1935, Benjamin was concerned that something had already been lost.
Going back 500 years, perhaps monks put out of their work copying out manuscripts had occasion to, very unmonastically, curse the printing press, as technology rapidly changed, seemingly overnight, as it often does.
I grew up without the Internet. I walked on to Queen’s University campus in 1995 and got my first email address. We stood and stood and waited at computer terminals with green letters and numbers on a black screen, to “check our email”. As technology transforms the world, it’s impossible to go back. Some things are gained, while others are lost.
Benjamin had this to say:
Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.
Technicians and art historians who restore old canvasses know well the textural quality of brushstrokes, and the layers that may be underneath, of paint and preparation, as the artist built her work of art.
Benjamin’s concerned was likely partially a Marxist one- works of art shouldn’t be removed from the…