Everyone's excited about DALL-E and its variants, and now we have some boob at google claiming some chatbot is sentient, possibly because he likes to see his name in the press.
I was asked what I thought about art and AI in this context.
Start from here: our ignorance of what sentience or consciousness actually is, is
complete. We have literally no idea, not the smallest fragment of an idea, not
a sketch of an idea, of how these things work. Everything I've seen, and I do pay
attention to the area, is either a) deeply stupid b) deeply trivial or c) observations
made from the point of view of a possessor of a consciousness. The third one can be
mildly interesting (starting from cogito ergo sum and proceeding, well, essentially
to moderate elaborations of cogito ergo sum.)
Given that we don't actually know anything about consciousness, it's theoretically possible
that a can of paint is conscious. How would we know it's not? Well, we can make some guesses.
The important elaboration on cogito ergo sum is the idea that a consciousness introspects.
We contain within our mind a model of our own mind, which itself contains, etc, with (one
assumes) simplifications are every level of re-modeling. My mind is complex, and contains a simplified
model of itself, which in turn contains an even more simplified model, and so on until after 2 or 3 steps
we have a blob labelled "mind" and that's about it. This implies certain things we can guess about what
a sentient AI might look like.
In particular, it has to be able to "think about" AIs, specifically, itself.
DALL-E doesn't "think" about AIs, it "thinks" about visual 2D representations of things. GPT-3 doesn't
"think" about neural networks which, like itself, model language. Insofar as GPT-3 cogitates about anything
it cogitates about language. I cannot see anywhere in a can of paint where it might reasonably contain
a model, simplified or not, of a can of paint. I conclude, therefore, that none of these things are
likely to be sentient in any sensible definition of the word.
What AI research has taught us over the years is that you can get really really far without a shred of
The way you and I understand language is pretty specific. We map the symbols (whether sounds or letters or whatever)
into some sort of conceptual thingies, which apply to a model of the world we contain in our minds. That world,
importantly, contains a model of ourself, as well as models of other people who resemble us both physically
and mentally. We make sense of language like "Susan is happy" by imagining a Susan and imagining her mental state
and we imagine reacting to that mental state, and so on.
See also photography.
Given this complexity and nuance, you'd think that maybe you cannot meaningfully understand language without sentience,
and therefore you cannot translate English to German without sentience.
This turns out to be, to a degree, false. You can indeed produce a fair translation (not a good one, but ok) without
anything that remotely looks like sentience. Indeed, modern methods make no attempt to map the input language
to some sort of internal world-model, although in times past that was very much the approach. Modern approaches just
mimic known-correct translations as word-masses mapped to other word-masses, with fanatical depth.
DALL-E demonstrates that you can actually get a really long way toward making Art without a shred of sentience, without
that introspective modeling part.
So are GPT-3 and DALL-E and all the result just second-rate simulations of some things humans do in a completely
different way? Well, that's debatable. It's possible that most of our life is carried out with similar kinds of
dunderheaded "computation" that's just fancy pattern matching paired with insect-like responses. The AIs might be
completely different, but maybe they're actually working pretty much like the internal autopilots that operate
so much of our day-to-day living.
What they're not doing is introspecting. They do not have a "self" to bring to the table.
So the burning question for Art is, does this even matter?
Of course we'd like to pretend that it is our very soul that infuses our work. Our own self, our essence, shines
through, our creativity is rooted in that introspection. No Self, No Art!!
I dunno, I kind of think that's right. What's definitely true is that we're on the cusp of finding out.