Is AI a threat to human artists?

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Photo illustration: Jack Forbes/Yahoo News; photos: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images

What’s happening

One of the major points of disagreement underlying the ongoing Hollywood writers strike is over the role that artificial intelligence might play in the creation of TV and movies today — and in the future.

As part of a long list of demands provided to studios, the Writers Guild of America has called for banning AI from being used to “write or rewrite literary material” or “be used as source material” for scripted series and films. The studios have reportedly rejected that proposal, instead offering to hold annual meetings to “discuss advancements in technology.”

Hollywood writers are far from the only creative professionals who fear that AI could put their careers at risk. Image creation systems like Midjourney are now sophisticated enough to win contests against human artists and create award-winning fake photographs. Language models like ChatGPT are able to conjure up passable prose. Recently, a handful of AI-generated songs mimicking stars like Drake and Harry Styles have gone viral online.

AI art also brings up thorny legal questions that have yet to be resolved. AI models — whether they are making text, images, video or audio — produce media by referencing a massive trove of art that’s already available online. Some artists have argued that this violates their copyright over their original works and have worked to have their art removed from the datasets that AI systems draw from. And some AI creators, on the other hand, have tried to make the case that they deserve legal rights over the things they use the technology to produce. The U.S. Copyright Office has so far rejected that claim.

Why there’s debate

At the moment, most AI-generated art falls well short of the standards set by human artists. But as the technology rapidly advances, there’s real concern that it will quickly become sophisticated enough to make creative professionals obsolete, or at least disrupt the economic model that makes art a viable career.

For all of its shortcomings, AI has two huge advantages over human creators: It’s close to instantaneous and it’s essentially free. Many artists worry that a market flooded with AI-generated media will drown out work done through the lengthy, unpredictable traditional creative process. There are also concerns that businesses will happily rely on sub-par AI art if it means lowering their creative budgets by not having to pay real artists. “Art is dead, dude,” one artist told the New York Times. “It’s over. A.I. won. Humans lost.”

But skeptics say AI’s reliance on preexisting material means it will never be able to replicate true human creativity. They argue that current AI artistic outputs are too uninspired to be commercially viable and see no path for solving that problem in the future. Others believe AI will actually be a huge benefit to human artists by helping them with mundane work that often stands in the way of the creative process and allowing those who have historically been locked out of art careers — because of economics, disability or some other reason — to finally pursue their passion.


Cheap, easy AI art could drown out real artists

“A … possible scenario is that unfair algorithmic competition and inadequate governance leads to the crowding out of authentic human creativity. Here, human writers, producers, and creators are drowned out by a tsunami of algorithmically generated content, with some talented creators even opting out of the market.” — David De Cremer, Nicola Morini Bianzino, and Ben Falk, Harvard Business Review

No machine will ever be able to produce true creative inspiration

“AI can do many things — it can make beautiful visuals, compelling essays and interesting poetry. But it cannot participate in the fleshy, awkward, complex and unique human condition. And because it cannot experience, it cannot create something truly new and meaningful. That solidly remains the domain of us humans.” — Chris White, Mercury News

Human artists will be freer to pursue the creative tasks only they can do

“A lot of the work AI can currently do is the fiddly, time-consuming, tedious tasks that eat up time which we could spend on the uniquely human creative side of things.” — Kelly Bishop, Vice

Regardless of its quality, AI can still disrupt the business model that makes creative careers possible

“It doesn’t seem to matter that the tech behind AI is not ready for prime time. The models only have to tell a convincing story to the humans signing the checks — and they are.” — Rebecca Ackermann, Los Angeles Times

AI will make art accessible to more people

“We could argue that adopting AI could displace employment opportunities for creatives, but it could also simply mean that we must find new ways to adapt and evolve in these spaces. AI has the potential to give agency to people who do not possess the hard skills or capital to realize their dreams an opportunity to do so.” — Rahul Raj, Rolling Stone

Businesses are already using AI to devalue human creativity

“It’s to the advantage of the studios and bigger corporations to basically over-claim ChatGPT’s abilities, so they can, in negotiations at least, undermine and minimize the role of human creatives. I’m not sure how many people at these larger companies actually believe what they’re saying.” — Ben Zhao, AI researcher, to TechCrunch

AI art will slowly drain all creativity out of popular culture

“The net result could be a more lucrative industry — at least for the limited number of remaining humans in it — but a horribly stale, bland, homogeneous culture based on endlessly rehashing last year’s mass-market hits rather than discovering something new, plus the socially explosive prospect of a generation who have already made it pulling up the ladder behind them.” — Gaby Hinsliff, Guardian

New technologies never kill art forms that predate them

“AI is changing creativity, business, and society — while changing the intersections of these as well. But it isn’t here to replace us. The invention of the keyboard hasn’t stopped the use of pens. People still play music with traditional instruments, not just on computers. The advent of new AI tools is not the death knell for human creativity — no matter how many headlines you may have read to the contrary.” — Ross Clugston, Fast Company

True artists will be just fine, mediocre ones do have reason to worry

“If what you do is new and truly original, you have no reason to fear: By the time AI catches up, you will move on. … It’s also a time of reckoning for people of modest talent. The modern educational system has made sure they weren’t left behind and convinced many of them that being ‘uniquely you’ is enough. But a lot of the stuff that goes for writing or art these days might as well have been produced by a deep learning model.” — Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg

Is there a topic you’d like to see covered in “The 360”? Send your suggestions to