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Brainstorm: Generative AI - The end of human creativity?


By Johan Steyn, April 2023


OpenAI’s ChatGPT and DALLE have taken the world by storm. Other such platforms have also entered the race for AI dominance: NVIDIA's GauGAN, Google's DeepDream and Cristóbal Valenzuela's RunwayML are some of the prominent contenders.


In contrast to other forms of AI that rely on pre-existing datasets, generative AI models use algorithms to produce new data based on patterns and rules learnt from large data collections. Because they rely on deep learning methods like neural networks, such models can generate synthetic data that closely resembles the underlying patterns and structures of the actual data.


The lightning-fast progress made in AI has sparked a discussion about the growing concern that technology could one day put an end to human creativity. Will it be able to eradicate the need for human involvement in the arts, music, and writing?


AI is capable of generating art that appears to have been crafted by a human artist. It’s able to make music that is virtually indistinguishable from that produced by musicians. This indicates that there is a possibility that the requirement for human ingenuity in certain domains could one day be rendered unnecessary.


And technology will get better at imitating human creativity in increasingly sophisticated ways. AI has the capacity to think of novel thoughts and concepts that have not been considered by humans in the past. This could result in people – rather than coming up with their own original concepts – only implementing the ideas that are generated by AI.


Of concern is that generative AI could produce only standardised artistic expression. It may eventually confine human innovation to the realm of what it thinks to be acceptable or popular. It’s possible that this will result in a world in which all writing, art, and music is identical in appearance and sound.


The history of humans as tool creators spans millions of years, beginning with the earliest human ancestors who used simple stone tools for basic tasks like cutting, scraping, and hammering. The Neolithic Revolution, which began around 10 000 BCE, saw the emergence of new types of tools and technologies, such as the plough, irrigation systems, and the wheel, which greatly improved the efficiency of agriculture and transportation.


In recent years, we’ve witnessed the Industrial Revolutions, which catapulted the use of human-created tools and machinery to new heights. The history of human tool creation is a testament to our ingenuity and adaptability as a species, and a reminder of the power of technology to transform the world around us.


Technologist Nicholas Carr famously asked the question, ʻIs Google making us stupid?’ in his 2008 article in The Atlantic. As so many things that humans used to do are now automated, especially our cognitive skills in maths and language, we need to wonder if our brains are becoming weak just like the muscles of an athlete who is no longer in training.


In his seminal book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, historian Yuval Noah Harari writes that: “Humans are similar to other domesticated animals…We are now creating tame humans that produce enormous amounts of data and function as very efficient chips in a huge data-processing mechanism, but these data-cows hardly maximise the human potential.”


I wonder how the new era of generative technologies will impact our ability to use our brains, to remain creative and stay at the top of the dominant hierarchy of Earthdwelling species.


Rated as one of the top 50 global voices on AI by Swiss Cognitive, Prof. Johan Steyn is a member of the faculty of Woxsen University, a research fellow with Stellenbosch University and the founder of AIforBusiness.net.

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