Hello all. Thanks for your feedback on the newsletter and the articles so far – please keep it coming (just email me or reply to this email). As this issue, number three, hits your inboxes I’d love to know whether you’re reading them, whether they’re interesting, and what could make them better. And, if you think there’s anyone else who might be interested in what I’m writing, please forward them with reckless abandon – the more the better.
This week, I’ve been thinking about artificial intelligence. It’s a divisive subject. Some people are incurable sceptics, convinced that artificial intelligences will never rise above the level of a toddler; others expect the development of “superintelligences” that far exceed human thinking (and usually find that idea either completely terrifying or the solution to all the world’s problems).
The implications of AI for creativity have also been much discussed. Most people tend to focus on the point – perhaps the inevitable point – when AIs become capable of true creativity themselves. In other words, the point where we read a book written by an AI or watch a film directed by one and either don’t mind or don’t notice the difference. Clearly, reaching that point will be profoundly disruptive to human industry and culture in all sorts of terrifying ways. But (thankfully?) we’re miles away from it.
So, this week’s article focuses on a much more proximate point: what happens when AIs can help with human creativity, without being completely responsible for it? Will this AI-augmented creativity be a boon for creatives, or a bust?
We’re not at the stage where artificial intelligence can come up with and implement novel, interesting ideas independently. The first computer-generated novel or screenplay that humans actually want to read or watch is still some time away. But what seems to be around the corner is equally interesting: AI-augmented creativity.
The transcription of a talk by Maciej Cegłowski that I’ve dug out and re-read over and over again since he gave it in 2016. He addresses the question of whether an artificial intelligence will be developed that far surpasses our own intelligence and, if it will, whether that will mean the destruction of humanity. It’s a question that has absorbed and terrified some notable names in the world of technology:
“The computer that takes over the world is a staple scifi trope. But enough people take this scenario seriously that we have to take them seriously. Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and a whole raft of Silicon Valley investors and billionaires find this argument persuasive.”
Cegłowski then proceeds to set fire to the arguments in favour of superintelligence in a straightforward and provocative way. (I particularly like “the argument from Slavic pessimism”.) #
Why are charlatans listened to, even when they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about? How do bogus ideas spread? Chris Dillow looks at some recent psychological studies and draws a damning conclusion:
“One implication of all this is that a public service broadcaster as the BBC purports to be cannot be impartial. If you offer people two sides of a story or two talking heads, many will choose the charlatan or false story over the true one. And we’ll get increased polarization – which might make for good TV but not necessarily for good politics or a good society.
“But I think the implication is more devastating. All this undermines the conventional liberal faith in the marketplace of ideas. John Stuart Mill thought that ‘wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument.’ Experiments, however, confirm our real world experience that in fact the opposite can happen. And this isn’t simply because of our biased and dysfunctional media.”
In a story that seems designed to make my eyes twitch, Del Monte have developed a genetically engineered pink pineapple with the intention of creating a buzz on Instagram:
“But what exactly was it about an Instagram-oriented novelty fruit that had spelled ‘jackpot’ to Del Monte? Even at $49 a pop, won’t it take decades for the company to recoup years of rigorous R&D? How many people are actually in the market for a fruit that costs more than a Spirit Airlines plane ticket? And what could the customer lifetime value possibly be, given how unlikely it seems that anyone would make a regular habit of ordering pineapples online?
“The answer lies, as it so often does, in the marketing. The Pinkglow™ is not a fungible fruit. It is not even entirely a food. Instead, it is a luxury experience akin to splurging on a destination Airbnb.”