Just because we can doesn’t mean we should

In our ds106 noontime coffee chat yesterday we talked a little about the potential impact of AI on art. This made me think of the Folk RNN project from a few years ago. They trained a neural network on a database of fiddle tunes and had it generate new tunes and titles. I remember finding one, “The Drunken Pint.” The title caught my attention as it indicates that the app recognized a relationship between words but not the meaning. I tried to play the tune, but it didn’t sound right with my limited skill, so I asked an actual musician to try it. Something about it still didn’t sound right. In all likelihood it’s just me, but most of the computer generated tunes sounded off. I think it’s the quick beats, the triplets and sixteenth notes, and their placement that does it. They sometimes feel like a Max Headroom style hiccup or stutter.

I stumbled upon a video on the Folk RNN backstory:

This piece below the video caught my eye. It’s the new magic number:screenshot of text saying: folk-rnn - the backstory The Bottomless Tune Box 106 subscribersI liked the part about ethics, and how it only occurred to them afterwards. I suspect that this is not unusual. People decide to do things because they can, without thinking about whether or not they should. I remember hearing someone say about Zuckerberg that many people could have built what he did, but they all had the good sense not to. Writers and storytellers have a role here in contemplating and illustrating the possibilities. What could go wrong? So much of AI in fiction tends to be dystopian, which suggests that a lot could go wrong. And most of those tales were written before  people started thinking about the ecological/environmental impacts.

And in a bit of serendipity, I also saw this yesterday:

image of Mastoddon post saying “Love words, agonize over sentences. And pay attention to the world.” Susan Sontag, who would have been 91 today, on storytelling, what it means to be a decent human being, and her advice to writers https://t.co/seF8mVdgp4Maria Popova is a good one to follow on Mastodon, if you’re interested in ongoing enlightenment. The article, Susan Sontag on Storytelling, What It Means to Be a Good Human Being, and Her Advice to Writers, is actually from a few years ago, but was highlighted because it was Sontag’s birthday. The article referenced, At the Same Time: The Novelist and Moral Reasoning is in the Files section of Canvas because I thought it might be a good reading for the course, as it questions some of the potentials of digital storytelling and the web. Maybe those questions could be applied to AI as well.

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2 Responses to Just because we can doesn’t mean we should

  1. Kevin says:

    I love Maria’s blog and posts, and how she balances art and poetry with a center in what it means to be human in a very complicated world.
    It is interesting how a trend in many technology circles is, Oh, there are ethical considerations? We didn’t realize that, until now.
    I think this is the debate unfolding in the AI field right now (cue: OpenAI chaos a few weeks ago).

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