The era of “zombie” entertainment

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Hey everyone, the Beatles are back! No, the music labels haven’t yet discovered how to use necromancy to bring back Lennon and Harrison, they’re instead here in the form of Artificial Intelligence. AI is the big bad antagonist of many sci-fi films and the exam marking process, and within the last year has become the ‘next big thing’. Applications like ChatGPT and Midjourney have made tasks we previously considered herculean possible for anyone with a computer and a basic understanding of prompts. Do you want to see a frighteningly realistic image of the Prime Minister fighting Frodo Baggins? Here are five different versions. What about a 3,000-word essay on a topic suspiciously similar to your summative assignment? Make sure you change it slightly. How about getting the dead to sing you one last song…?

The value we attribute to art primarily comes from an acknowledgment of an individual’s talent

I will clarify that I haven’t heard the Beatles’ latest single ‘Now and Then’, nor do I honestly plan to (I’ll leave it to the music students to review). But from the outside perspective of a non-Beatles ‘stan’ it does seem quite morbid to use the voice of two singers who have been dead for the last two decades. Of course, I imagine permission was granted, but regardless I can’t seem to think of a reason for this song to be created. The value we attribute to art primarily comes from an acknowledgment of an individual’s talent. We idolise artists, and to an extent anyone with the masterful talent to “create”, for their ability to do what others cannot. The best painters can conjure pieces few can replicate. The best athletes can reach heights their generations cannot imagine attaining. The best musicians can weave together noise unlike that ever heard before. And yet despite this, so can AI. If anyone can do such things, then what value does one otherwise talented individual have? 

Such lines of thinking are why I personally see AI as a threat, specifically a threat to the arts. It is undeniable the potential these applications have in the field of science. Taking previously arduous and incalculable tasks and solving them in seconds, a new tool for humanity that will drive us into an era of science fiction (be that utopia or dystopia). But like with any tool the human hands can grasp, it is the one wielding it that decides its nature. Good or evil, to help or to harm. Will you use AI to expand potential in the humanities or will you use it to squeeze the life out of the arts, the commodification of the stick that beat the horse to death?

Will you use AI to expand potential in the humanities or will you use it to squeeze the life out of the arts?

While we’re on the topic, let’s talk capitalism! It wouldn’t be one of my articles if I didn’t find some way to make it political. Are you aware of the concept of a bubble? They’re happening all the time. The housing bubble, the dot-com bubble, the crypto bubble. Humans have the tendency to get over-excited about “the next big thing”, which combined with our tendency to be greedy, often results in a feeding frenzy of go-getters shilling you said “next big thing” until we inevitably hear the “POP!” This is not to say that this classification is a sarcastic jest. Obviously, owning a housing is important and the internet really was an invention as revolutionary as the discovery of fire. Hell, even blockchain and cryptocurrencies may eventually prove to be incredibly valuable! My point being, as long winded as this is, is that AI is bubbling. Entrepreneurs and corporations have seen its potential and they have cast the curse of commodification upon it. Art is now automated; music is passionless and your favourite artist is back from the dead.

Image: United Press International via Wikimedia Commons

One thought on “The era of “zombie” entertainment

  • We have been using demos and recordings of deceased artists to create new songs for a while – see Kygo “featuring Whitney Houston” – a Higher Love. It’s just remixing old vocals. in the case of the new Beatles track, the AI was used to clean up the background of the vocals and to enhance them slightly, so it’s still John singing it. I think in the grand scheme of things it’s a fairly harmless use of AI

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