Random thoughts

The so-called big questions in life include things like “Why are we alive?”, “Does life have a purpose?” and similar questions that get discussed when one is ones 20s and gathering with friends late at night after enjoying some, shall we say, mind-expanding substances. But I sometimes find myself pondering such things while out in the woods with my dog.

I am not religious; in fact quite the opposite — I believe in rationality, evidence, and science — but there are times I consider what else there is. What came before me, what comes after.

The other day, I listened to two medical ethicists who were discussing assisted suicide on the radio. It’s illegal in Norway, and neither of them was exactly arguing in favour of legalizing assisted suicide but it struck me when one of them talked about fear of death. In his mind, there is nothing to be afraid of in death, because there is nothing. When you are dead, you cease to exist just the way you didn’t exist before you were born.

I thought about this again last night, when I took the dog out and the sky was pitch black (there is very little light pollution around here) and full of stars — and whenever I am lucky enough to see — and almost feel — the universe around me in this way I feel part of something bigger, something eternal (not quite, I know, but so many billions of years it might as well be from a human perspective).

And I find it quite easy to accommodate both those things: we are finite, we exist for a time but have no existence before or after. And, we are connected, almost intimately so, to something (almost) infinitely larger and (nearly) eternal.

Perhaps sometime this week, I’ll be able to get back to reading about creativity and cognition and writing about what I’m supposed to be writing about!

AI and ethical conundrums

I am one of a group of faculty members who have organised a symposium on «AI and Art» at our university on January 12th. It seemed natural for me; I have always been interested in the ways artists explore new technologies, and push them in ways that perhaps was not intended. This was why I led an initiative that leaned heavily into Virtual and Extended Reality, despite some significant scepsisism from many of the filmmakers who teach at the Norwegian Film School.

New technologies always come with baggage; I don’t believe there is such a thing as a completely neutral technology. There is always a worldview, as set of assumptions and values, and both a cost and a benefit to any technology / tool.

But rarely has this been so evident as in the case of the AI tools that have dominated public discourse in the past 18 or so months. These are tools that can do wonderful things (no link; you can find them easily enough if you haven’t seen them already) but they also come with a significant price attached. We’ve seen the reports of the Kenyan content moderators, exposed to the worst the web has to offer for what amounts to slave wages. We’ve seen the examples of racist and sexist biases build in to the tools.

The biases and prejudices built into the tools are one thing. The other side is it became apparent early on that the companies that have created the AI tools have asserted a right of fair use to copyrighted creations on the web, and copyright holders — including writers, artists, musicians, and more — have launched lawsuits asserting their intellectual property (oh, how I loathe that term) has been stolen.

This means every time, or another artist, uses a generative AI tool like ChatGPT or Midjourney, we are, in fact, using works we do not have to right to in order to create our own.

But is it that simple?

I neither know nor understand all the legal implications of this, but I do know that in the art form I work in — filmmaking — artists have been «stealing» from artists they admire almost for as long as there has been a film industry. Would we have a Kurosawa ouevre to admire if he had not stolen from John Ford? Would we have a Star Wars franchise (that never seems to end) if George Lucas had not stolen from Kurosawa (and many others)?

I know there is a difference between artists taking inspiration from others they admire and a corporation almost mindlessly harvesting artistic works in order to make their machine as slick as possible. But it still gives me pause for thought.

2 of 366?

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but am motivated to get into a writing habit. Yesterday, I was part of a discussion about it on Mastodon, started by Kate Bowles where I jumped in and suddenly realized — inspired by yesterday’s post — that I want to write. I want to be one of the people who find writing a necessity and something one must do in order to think properly. We’ll see if it actually becomes a daily habit, but for now, I will try.

But why?

Much of it has to do with my field — pedagogy for fine arts filmmaking — and some very interesting things I’ve been reading lately about “4E cognition”1 and especially how it relates to creativity. Also, I’ve been reading a lot about the various so-called AI tools that have appeared in the public eye over the past 18 or so months.

The confluence of these things is an interesting thing to muse about. It also necessitates, I think, a concerted effort to, well, think. Writing, as many people have pointed out, most recently (for me), Sarah Honeychurch, writing is thinking and is the one thing we cannot — must not — outsource to a machine.

Thinking, creativity; these are part of what makes us human, what makes us conscious. And while AI
can help us in many ways2, and become a tool that enables forms of creation we perhaps did not have access to previously, it cannot replace human creativity (at least, not yet!).



Hidden things

Many have thought this before. I’m sure I’ve thought this before. But sometimes, when the half moon is still high in the morning sky, I try my best to see the hidden half. I know it’s there but simply cannot perceive it. When I go down this path, I also begin to think about all the other hidden things, the things we know are there but simply cannot perceive.

That’s it.