Technology cannot surpass art

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Happy Thoughtful Thursday! ☺️ Technology is awesome but it cannot surpass art and expression.

One of my favorite authors is Cixin Liu, a Chinese science fiction writer who has one of the most creative, brilliant scientific minds I’ve ever encountered. Liu’s “Three-Body Problem” series is one of the best science fiction trilogies I’ve ever read. 

I listen to audiobooks on my way to work and I recently was listening to an anthology of Liu’s short stories called “To Hold Up The Sky”. All of these stories were mind-blowingly brilliant but it was one of his more unusual stories that hit home for me. In the short story “The Gift” an advanced computer intelligence challenges itself to write all of the possible poems, past or future, in an attempt to surpass the greatest poetry created by a human. 

One of the characters countered the AI with the statement, “Technology cannot surpass art.” This really hit home for me. As both a technologist and an artist I feel this statement is so very true. I use technology in my art but it does not define the art itself–I do that. As an artist, I put my heart, my love, my pain, my environment, and my choices into what I create. 

The essence of art

There is an element that a computer can never possess to create true art and that is the total sum of an artists experience and what makes them human. We are made of our component parts. 

Those “parts” of humans, call it what you will–“soul” or “essence” or “personality”–it’s all the same thing to me. All of our life experiences combine into a perfect storm of influence that shapes what we create as a maker. This is not something that can be artificially created or computed. 

A computer’s essence is 1s and 0s–a binary mix of on and off. You can use that mix to make a multitude of combinations of information to produce something. However, it is not the same as the expression of the infinite combinations of the total experience of the maker, their current mood, atmospheric conditions that can affect medium, and chance in the form of choice. All of these things bind together to make something beautiful and unique.

It’s about the process

I’m not saying that a computer can’t create beauty. Fractals are beautiful but they are mathematical computations. Computer-generated music can be beautiful. While I would argue that music is largely mathematical as well, it’s still not art because of the way it was created. Digital art is still art because an artist pulled from their experience and essence in selecting the subject, choosing the colors, and creating the piece as an expression of all they are. It’s the order in which it is composed organically and the way it originates from within that makes it art.

Sonny in iRobot drew a very detailed picture of his dream. It was stunning in execution but like Spooner intimates it’s not exactly art.

It’s just not the same, it’s just a schematic really. It doesn’t contain the soul of the artist because, quite simply, a computer doesn’t have a soul. Technology creates an effect, but an artist creates an affect*.

So that’s the difference really. You can feel something looking at a drawing made by a computer but it cost the computer nothing but a brief time inconvenience to make that drawing. An artist puts part of their soul, a whole lot of time, plus the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears in most instances. Therein lies the difference.

* For you grammar trolls out there I meant that for effect to illustrate how art evokes emotion and not just causality.

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