As a musician, writer and journalist, I find myself in a very unpopular place these days when it comes to talking about AI and creativity: the middle. Although, before I did my own research into it, my initial reaction was similar to most artists—I felt stolen from, threatened, violated. 

Now that statement may seem like a stretch to a non-artist. But imagine for a second, that you’re a writer. You’ve been devouring books since your were four years old and writing short stories since you were five. You’ve spent a lifetime dedicated to your craft, lovingly tending to it as it blossomed from a tiny seed into a forest of words, ideas, and heartfelt prose. The foundation of your life, your very identity on this planet is rooted in your gift and commitment to writing. 

Flash forward to November of 2022 and you’re having dinner with some tech friends who bring up ChatGPT. You ask what it is and your one friend responds: “It can write better than most writers. You better find another job!”

He means it as a joke but this is your vocation he’s talking about. It’s more than a way to pay bills, it’s who you are. And now, just like that, you feel irrelevant. You feel your world crashing down all around you, as if all the years spent finessing your craft was for nothing. Why? Because now, with the right prompt, anyone can write, right? 

This same friend soon begins posting lengthy articles on LinkedIn, when you know very well he’s never written a day in his life. With the click of a button, however, he’s able to “write” articles using ChatGPT and pass them off as his own, getting the result that’s taken you a lifetime of dedication to your craft to achieve.

Maybe it is time to figure out another career path. 

But before we cue the violins signaling the sad demise of writers and creatives everywhere, let’s ask ourselves some important questions about AI and creativity.

Is AI actually creative?

Creativity is an airy subject, so much so that I’ve dedicated a whole podcast to exploring it from different perspectives. In business, we often box creativity into problem solving and strategy, but it’s so much more than that. For most artists, it’s downright spiritual. It’s something bigger than ourselves, and so much of it is unexplainable—although we try to explain it anyway.

For me, creativity comes down to choice: the choice to say yes or no to an idea, a direction, a possibility, a brushstroke. And that choice comes from within us, our conscious selves.

So on the subject of AI and creativity, and deciding whether or not AI is actually creative, we need to examine if AI is conscious and able to make choices of its own. There are many brilliant researchers hard at work  figuring out if artificial consciousness is possible, but at the time of me writing this, AI large language models like ChatGPT are simply predicting the next best possible word. Some have described it as predictive text on steroids. (You know when you’re texting someone or sending an email, and you get suggestions on what to write? That’s predictive text.)

Is AI choosing of its own volition? No. It’s simply doing what it’s been programmed to do. ChatGPT has been trained on the entirety of the internet, so it has a lot of data to pull from—for now. 

It’s also important to note that since AI is simply predicting the next thing to write, it’s not actually coming up with ideas of its own. The work is not original. It’s simply rehashing what’s already been produced by real humans before, although perhaps in a different style or from a different point of view depending on the prompt you use. 

And this is where it’s important to bring up the concept of “AI model collapse.” Basically, experts are warning that as more and more artificially generated content clogs up the internet (and what AI is feeding on), it could eventually produce outputs that begin degrading in quality over time. 

So human creativity is still needed—unless we become so used to low quality creative output that future generations won’t be able to tell the difference. I hope we don’t go that route. 

Are you an artist if you made it with AI?

That depends. Did you play any role in the production of the work apart from writing the prompt? Something that I’ve learned about creativity over the years, is that it’s not about the result. The process is the most important part.

If you remove yourself from the process completely, I’m sorry: AI is the “artist” not you. AI is the “writer,” not you. But when it comes to AI and creativity, this gets more complicated if we haven’t decided if AI is conscious or not.

Art is the result of conscious choices made by the person creating the work. These conscious choices are complex, because they’re influenced by so many things that go beyond artistic influences. How a person was raised, the city they grew up in, where they live now—every second of their life has the potential to create an imprint on the creative choices they make. 

Calling yourself a writer after using ChatGPT to write a book? Calling yourself a visual artist now that you’ve used DALL-E to generate a few images?

That’s not art to me and it doesn’t make you an artist.

However, on the flip side, let’s say you’re writing a screenplay (without ChatGPT) and you want to generate images to show your producer what different scenes look like in your head. AI can be a great tool in an artist’s palette when used as part of the creative process. But it cannot circumvent the entire creative process itself. Eventually, we’ll run out of juice. (Remember, AI model collapse.)

Can AI potentially harm our ability to create?

I’ll begin this section with a question: How many people reading this remember phone numbers?

When I was growing up, I had all of my best friends’ phone numbers memorized. Why? Because growing up with a rotary phone, I had to. 

Today, the smartphone stores our contacts for us, so apart from our own number, there really isn’t a need to memorize phone numbers. And if you try to memorize a few, it seems a lot harder than it used to.

Here’s another one: Can you do basic math in your head without a calculator? You’d be surprised at the number of people today who can’t, especially if they went to a school that didn’t require memorizing things like multiplication tables.

These are a few daily functions that we’ve handed over to technology to do for us, and as a result, whatever cognitive muscles we were using to do them before inevitably become weaker.

You wouldn’t have ChatGPT go to the gym for you, right? You can’t circumvent the process when it comes to 6-pack abs or training for that half marathon. It just doesn’t work like that.

Creativity is also a muscle and like any muscle, if you don’t use it you lose it. 

With AI and creativity, my fear is that we become so dependent on artificial intelligence to do the heavy lifting creatively that we harm our ability to not only create but to think critically.

What kind of world could we be living in if creativity becomes reduced to writing a five-word prompt for a machine? A machine that’s been specifically programmed to operate within certain parameters.

These are issues we need to start talking about now. 

AI is becoming more advanced by the second and we don’t want the creative process to become as irrelevant as doing basic math. 

This technology has the power to do so much good in the right hands, but we also have to safeguard our precious human ability to think for ourselves and create. That begins with protecting artists and recognizing the sanctity of the creative process.