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Headmaster's Address

Artificial Intelligence and Creativity

The theory that artificial intelligence (AI) will one day surpass humans has been spoken of for years, and of course recently featured as a motion in our own Debating competition. But with the release of chatbots like ChatGPT, some think this idea is closer to becoming reality than ever.

Artificial intelligence, the field of computer science and engineering that focuses on creating machines and systems that can perform tasks that would normally require human intelligence, is becoming more advanced each year.  The arrival of Open AI’s creation, ChatGPT, in late 2022 caused quite a storm, sparking a sometimes heated discourse about its potential impact on human creativity and the creative industries.

While ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for generating ideas, editing, and research, it does not possess the full range of human creativity, such as emotional intelligence and subjective experience. Some believe that ChatGPT could start to replace jobs, especially in the creative industries, and its ability to create content in a matter of seconds raises concerns about copyright and authenticity. Furthermore, the homogenizing effect of widespread AI-generated content poses a risk to the diversity and originality of creative works, potentially undermining the distinct voice and perspective of human creators.

At the same time, others see ChatGPT as a tool that can assist and inspire creatives, and some argue that it has the potential to enhance creativity and innovation in the art industry by assisting curators and collectors in discovering new and emerging artists, and providing a more accessible and inclusive way of experiencing art.

Mr Peck recently shared with me an impassioned response on this issue from Nick Cave, the Australian singer-songwriter, actor, novelist, and screenwriter. He played a prominent role in the postpunk movement as front man for the bands ‘The Birthday Party’ and the Bad Seeds, and is best known for his haunting ballads about life, love, betrayal, and death. Of course all of this is a bit before your time, but you might well know him (or at least have heard his music) from the song “Red Right Hand” – originally released in 1994, but it went on to be the theme tune to the iconic TV series, “Peaky Blinders”, so you may well have heard his music there, perhaps without being aware that it was him.

Anyway, since 2018, Cave has also maintained The Red Hand Files, a newsletter or blog he uses to respond to questions from fans. And I recently came across his powerful and impassioned response to two questions, one from Leon in Los Angeles, and the other from Charlie, in Leeds.  The two questions were as follows:

I work in the music industry and there is a lot of excitement around ChatGPT. I was talking to a songwriter in a band that was using ChatGPT to write his lyrics, because it was so much ‘faster and easier.’ I couldn’t really argue against that. I know you’ve talked about ChatGPT before, but what’s wrong with making things faster and easier?


Any advice to a young songwriter just starting out?


This is Nick Cave’s response:

Dear Leon and Charlie,

In the story of the creation, God makes the world, and everything in it, in six days. On the seventh day he rests. The day of rest is significant because it suggests that the creation required a certain effort on God’s part, that some form of artistic struggle had taken place. This struggle is the validating impulse that gives God’s world its intrinsic meaning. The world becomes more than just an object full of other objects, rather it is imbued with the vital spirit, the pneuma, of its creator.

ChatGPT rejects any notions of creative struggle, that our endeavours animate and nurture our lives, giving them depth and meaning. It rejects that there is a collective, essential and unconscious human spirit underpinning our existence, connecting us all through our mutual striving.

ChatGPT is fast-tracking the commodification of the human spirit by mechanising the imagination. It renders our participation in the act of creation as valueless and unnecessary.  That “songwriter” you were talking to, Leon, who is using ChatGPT to write “his” lyrics because it is “faster and easier” is participating in this erosion of the world’s soul and the spirit of humanity itself and, to put it politely, should desist if he wants to continue calling himself a songwriter.

ChatGPT’s intent is to eliminate the process of creation and its attendant challenges, viewing it as nothing more than a time-wasting inconvenience that stands in the way of the commodity itself. Why strive?, it contends. Why bother with the artistic process and its accompanying trials? Why shouldn’t we make it ‘faster and easier?’

When the God of the Bible looked upon what He had created, He did so with a sense of accomplishment and saw that ‘it was good‘. ‘It was good ‘because it required something of His own self, and His struggle imbued creation with a moral imperative, in short love.

Charlie, even though the creative act requires considerable effort, in the end you will be contributing to the vast network of love that supports human existence. There are all sorts of temptations in this world that will eat away at your creative spirit, but none more fiendish than that boundless machine of artistic demoralisation, ChatGPT.

As humans, we so often feel helpless in our own smallness, yet still we find the resilience to do and make beautiful things, and this is where the meaning of life resides. Nature reminds us of this constantly. The world is often cast as a purely malignant place, but still the joy of creation exerts itself, and as the sun rises upon the struggle of the day, the Great Crested Grebe dances upon the water. It is our striving that becomes the very essence of meaning. This impulse – the creative dance – that is now being so cynically undermined, must be defended at all costs, and just as we would fight any existential evil, we should fight it tooth and nail, for we are fighting for the very soul of the world.

Love, Nick”

Well, as a love letter to the power of human creativity, how can I possibly improve upon Nick Cave’s passionate words? I couldn’t. But my goodness it speaks to me, and it should speak to you too. Because foregoing the struggle of creation risks destroying what Cave calls the ‘collective, essential and unconscious human spirit’.  Human value and meaning are derived not from effortlessness but from the struggle itself – it is not effort but effortlessness which has the potential to erode the human soul.

Thank you for your attention.