There Are No Ethical Issues With AI Art, Only Capitalism
The problem is scarcity.
There are no ethical issues with AI. There are ethical issues with capitalism.
Suppose tomorrow, the Star Trek replicator became real. For those unfamiliar with the show, the replicator is a futuristic technology where you can press a button, ask for anything you want, and it will appear. Say “coffee, black” and a black coffee will appear. The replicators are mainly used for food but can be used for anything. What would happen if this technology became real?
The Star Trek replicator would end society as we know it. Everyone who had one would quit their jobs. Companies and professionals from every industry would accuse them of “stealing” if replicators made their products. Stocks would tank. Why buy a new iPhone when you can press a button, say “latest iPhone” and it’s there? The economy would collapse because the Star Trek replicator would place us in a post-scarcity world and our entire society is based on scarcity.
On the upside, no one would ever go hungry and everyone would have everything they want all of the time. If ending world hunger and fulfilling our every desire is impossible under our current economic model, then maybe the problem wouldn’t be the infinite machine that gives us everything we’ve ever wanted but basing the entire society on a need for scarcity.
Which brings us to AI art.
AI-image generators are infinite machines that give us everything we’ve ever wanted. Just type “black coffee” and a gorgeous image of black coffee appears. Unlike the replicator, it doesn’t work to create real 3D objects (yet) but it does create any 2D image. You can create any style, medium, or subject. Yet, some artists are upset and claim AI-image generators are “stealing” from them.
I’d like to propose a thought experiment for artists: suppose you could get the same income for your art for the rest of your life guaranteed (or the amount you’d be projected to make if you haven’t built your career yet), would you care about people using AI-image generators? I suspect, most wouldn’t. You can still make art. Nothing has changed about that. The only thing that has changed is the market. What was once scarce is now abundant.
No one cared about this “problem” when AI was coming for labor. Truck drivers losing their jobs was a joke, not an ethical issue. The difference in treatment was because labor is plentiful. Anyone can do manual labor. What makes some labor “skilled” is that it is scarce. Not everyone can do it. Art is skilled labor. The more unique the style or significant the brand of the artist, the more scarce it becomes. Now that AI is coming for “skilled” labor, it is an “ethical issue” instead of a joke. The issue isn’t that AI is taking jobs. The issue is that AI is disrupting capitalism.
There are no ethical issues with AI. There are ethical issues with capitalism. The ethical argument for capitalism was that it produced more abundance than any other economic system while allowing for greater freedom. If new technologies allow for greater abundance than capitalism, the solution is to adapt our system to those new technologies, not smash them in service of that old system.
Capitalism, in its current form, requires scarcity. Goods only have value if their supply is limited. When the supply becomes infinite, the price drops to zero. AI is going to bring near-infinite abundance to every industry. Maybe it’s time to start questioning a system that doesn’t see infinite abundance as good, rather than the infinite abundance machine.
Sidenote: I have a theory that the reason all the characters in Star Trek practice 20th-century art forms in their free time is because they are feeding AIs with human data. I suspect somewhere in the Star Trek universe is a kitchen full of master chefs still cooking everything by hand to train replicators. I wonder if at one point chefs protested the replicator for “stealing” from them or some Gordon Ramsey-level chef got upset so many people were ordering their replicator food with the prompt “cooked by Gordon Ramsey.”
P.S. The longest chapter in my book Children’s Justice is about money. Few have discovered or talked about it yet. Find out how our current economic system impacts the most vulnerable by buying the book here.
Also - I made an AI art book! You can read the artistic statement that opens the book here on my AI Art Journal. You should get the book because you want to support artists in our capitalist society.