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Op-ed: What advice might Gamaliel give about AI art?

Anyone who has spent any amount of time on Twitter has seen the products of the AI image engines, such as Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, or OpenAI’s DALL·E. It is uncanny how precise these AI art generators can be; they are routinely capable of creating images that can suggest the whole range of human emotions—from peace and tranquility to terror and despair—and have therefore shown that they are, indeed, capable of expressive communication. Of course, the AI engines have room to improve—they simply cannot draw human hands. But in all other ways, they have managed to achieve a truly impressive level of technical competence.

The text generators are almost as good; they are rather predictable, but that might be an asset for nonfiction or genre writing. ChatGPT3 can give you basically whatever you want, but it won’t surprise you. Whether this is an asset or liability depends on what you want to create; if you want unpredictability and surreality, Inferkit is what to use—but ChatGPT3 is just fine for producing things like technical writing (although its inability to understand context can be hilarious).

I’m told that video generators are coming along as well. Soon you will be able to create whole movies to your exact plot specifications using AI. Can AI make music? Not as well as it can make text and images, but it’s getting there; with AI-fueled music programs like Boomy leading the way, I don’t doubt that AI music will soon achieve the level of stunning competence that the image generators have achieved. I’ve heard talk of video game generators. There are AI quilt pattern generators . There are AI fashion assistants that you can use if it’s too hard to pick out what clothes you want to wear. Basically, whatever artistic or creative expression you want to do, you can get a machine to do it for you.

Should we take a position on AI art?

Is this a bad thing? Many people have loudly exclaimed that these products of AI art do not count as art in one way or another and sound an alarm against their further use. Yet people continue using them and posting their creations on Twitter and Reddit, so what’s the deal? By now we have enough alarmist takes on AI art to make anyone who doesn’t like the stuff totally certain that it is pure evil; we also have enough benign examples of AI art to confirm any fan’s belief that these things are perfectly harmless. There really isn’t anything more to say about AI art, except to repeat the advice of Gamaliel.
In Acts chapter 5, the disciples of Jesus are creating quite a stir in Jerusalem by preaching that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Christ, sent to redeem the children of Israel and defeat the enemies of God. The high court of religious leaders meets to discuss the Jesus problem after taking Peter and John into custody. Gamaliel says what may be some of the most prescient advice ever given about human relations, change, and acceptance:

“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

What does Gamaliel’s advice offer us?

It could be that Gamaliel was simply being a casuist here and propounding an intellectually palatable way for the Pharisees to disengage from the debate and abdicate their responsibility. But there are some situations where Gamaliel’s advice is exactly what’s needed. In the case of AI art, it seems notable that there are several big thinkers in the Twitter / Substack cohort who dislike it and wish it to be exposed as a fraud. But I haven’t heard many artists talking about it. I assume this is because the artists are either too busy actually using it, or have decided for themselves that it isn’t worth their trouble.
If these new tools are of actual use, artists will find a way to use them. They will be incorporated into the working methods of actual, real, human artists, who will explore the capabilities and utilize the new tools’ strengths—and weaknesses—to create valuable, good, important art which will communicate with depth and richness, and global human culture will thereby be enriched.

And if the tools have no value at all? Artists will soon discover that for themselves; the AI tools will be discarded; and life will move on.
We don’t have to engage in public campaigns to stop the spread of “evil AI art” or get mad when it is shown at state fairs or sold at auction houses. If it is indeed worthless, it will go away on its own. If, however, it has value, there will be no stopping it.

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