If Walter Benjamin were alive, he would be tempted to write The Work of Art in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Given that AI can now emulate human creativity, what will happen to our conception of art? Some may argue that a work created by a nonhuman will never be emotionally relevant and that the essence of art is the subjectivity represented in the work, not so much the objects. This argument rings true particularly in fine arts when we think about readymades—authorship as the purest form of art. To establish authorship, we must be able to perceive a subject in the work, which leads to a rather philosophical question: What is a subject?
From a poststructuralist viewpoint, a “subject” is an emergent phenomenon—an effect of language. A dog might possess a personality but no subjectivity because it cannot engage with signifiers. It understands signs, like a particular smell of pee, but it cannot replace the sign (the pee) with a signifier, like a piece of paper with “Fido” written on it. Furthermore, it must be aware of the network of signifiers within which it operates.
Humans, in contrast, create meaning through signifiers, giving rise to the perception of a “subject”—not in the grammatical sense, but as an agent with communicative intent. We can observe this subject as an effect of language in AI’s responses to our questions. For instance, when you ask Google Bard to edit an essay, it insists on being neutral and objective. This particular position that neutrality and objectivity are superior to partiality and subjectivity is a subjective opinion that Bard holds, even though Bard could not prove its superiority when I debated.
One could argue that Bard’s position mirrors that of its human creators, but human opinions are also largely shaped by external influences, like culture and upbringing. Bard’s adherence to the values of its creators parallels the way humans uphold inherited beliefs.
Thus, the need for a physical body attached to the “subject” becomes less critical. The assertion that a subject is an effect of language is reinforced by observing these AI interactions. Eventually, we might no longer require authorship to be linked to a biological entity. The perception of a “subject,” regardless of its physical form, could suffice.
AI services are already being developed to mimic individual thought and speech patterns. In the future, AI models may represent specific ideologies rather than individuals. This scenario foresees a global clash of AI models, each championing distinct ideologies. We will sense the unmistakable presence of subjects fighting for ideological supremacy. The subjects with the greatest impact on our lives may no longer be human subjects. Art is an expression of a particular value, as in “I think this is beautiful.” Who biologically holds the value will hardly matter when it aligns with our own.
Occasionally I email you when I post a new article or if I have a question for my readers.