AI and the Performing Bits

Is it real or is it Memorex? Remember those days? We’ve been treated to questions like those for some time now when it comes to music, film, and other means of arts and entertainment. And the pace of things seem to be quickening as the powers that be in these industries are jumping with both feet into the big tech Artificial Intelligence rush. 

New technology is great when it can advance creativity. New technology is also bit scary when we don’t know exactly what it’s going to yield. But the one thing we do know is that if the bean counters think they can save a buck and make two by using a new innovation they’ll take that leap, regardless of the risks it might pose to the creative spirit.

I’ve been talking about Artificial Intelligence a bit here and obviously will continue to do so. It’s the thing of the moment. Which means some hope it’s the thing of the future. And it just might well be. But how that is going to impact the arts is going to be a tricky future to navigate. Perhaps after Google, Mircosoft and any other tech giants get their AI search engines up and running we can ask and find out. (Google calls theirs Bard. Seriously?)

We’ve already seen technology create magic in audio and film/TV. De-aging is a popular recent trend in film. Of course that follows the trends of CGI characters and CGI backgrounds and CGI just about everything else. 

We’ve got computer generated narrations for eBooks competing with live readers. We’ve been enhancing audio tracks for decades, and in the most recent decade or two we’ve been enhancing live performers. 

Yesterday there was a story in Vice about voice actors being asked to sign over the rights to their voices so their clients can use artificial intelligence to generate synthetic versions for future work, perhaps replacing the need for the artist for future work. 

Each technology advance gets met with both praise and criticism. Some deserved. Some not so. I’m no luddite or traditonalist who eschews these advancements. But I think we’re heading into tricky ground in this next chapter of entertainment and creativity that parallels what we’re experiencing in real life.

There’s that old and recently accelerating propaganda truism (ha!) that teaches us it’s not about separating fact and fiction. In the Peacock network’s series The Undeclared War there’s a great sequence when a news editor sums it up while explaining the way it is to a younger new recruit:  

“The point is to get people used to the idea that everything’s a lie. There is no truth. Once they accept that. Biggest liar wins.”

Who cares if a search result yields a false result? Who cares if Carrie Fisher is dead when she’s still appearing in Star Wars? Who cares if deep fake videos or audio can sabotage a politician or a company? Who cares if the audiobook you’re listening to is read by a human or a computer? 

Set aside the labor issues and putting folks out of work. Those are real discussions that need to happen. But what if Tom Hanks, who is pretty darn excited by the de-aging process in film, or rather a digitally created Tom Hanks keeps starring in movies long after he’s gone. Hell, we could have Forrest Gump appearing with world leaders that haven’t been born yet twenty years after they’re dead. 

We all had a good laugh at the manipulative creation of boy bands awhile back. Don’t think we won’t see and hear new bands created out of the whole cloth of digital bits and bytes. There’s no question in my mind that we’ll see an entire film created out of an AI prompt some day down the road. 

There will be innovation. There will be excitement and celebration and there will be reactions. Some of which might actually be human. 

We live in interesting times. 

Author: Warner Crocker

I stumble through life as a theatre director and playwright as well as a gadget geek...commenting along the way. Every day I learn something new is a good day, so I share what I find exciting, new, stupid and often worthwhile.

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