New Humanism and the Difficult Question of AI Art


AI achievements should not overshadow human existence. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Twenty-first–century science has led humanity down a strange path. All the advances in technology need not be recounted, and all signal the emergence of a brave new world. This is not to mention all that is still to come. Advancements in the field of physics, computing, etc., may lead us to a philosophical revolution in which conclusions are reached that negate any possibility of the sanctity of human life or sublimity of consciousness. The only recourse at such a point would be to continue to live in spite of everything. This is what we will call New Humanism, when the fruit of our own rationality has torn from us any possibility of our objective value and we are left to either lay down and die or turn up our noses at this and carry on living. This is the last frontier of human courage, that dreadful moment when we are deprived of all sentiment and our acts are left to exist only for their own sake.

But we must first examine a more relevant permutation of the problem of sanctity, that is the question of whether or not works of art by an artificial intelligence can be considered art. It must be noted, of course, that, in its current form, AI art is not good. The somewhat recent AI completion of Beethoven’s unfinished tenth symphony is technically impressive, but lacks anything like inventiveness or beauty. Artificial intelligences remain extremely primitive, and their faculties to create rely on the ability to recycle existing things. They create arbitrarily based on algorithmic knowledge and their works are, importantly, prompted, received and finalized by humans.

In this sense the AI art of our time is essentially random generation. Therefore, the question as it applies to AI in its current form is: if you kick a typewriter down a mountain and it yields a poem (in which the author so brilliantly displays their wit and sensitivity), is it art? To be moved by such a work is akin to being moved by a natural occurrence, not in the sense of finding a flower or a landscape beautiful, but in the sense that we ascribe a sort of literary or poetic cadence to certain seemingly arbitrary yields of life. Being moved by a chatbot’s painting is like being moved by an incredible coincidence. It reminds you of the wonder and overwhelming breadth of the world, but this is not the same as recognizing an intentional expression of the human condition.

But the question of whether or not works by any artificial intelligence, real or hypothetical, is art is, in truth, not relevant. Regardless of current technology, at a certain point artificial intelligence will advance to have the capacity of creating works of art so complex and intelligent that mere matters of nomenclature (if it is or is not art) will no longer apply. What happens when humans are no longer the dominant creative beings of the world? More significantly, what happens if our creations attain a higher level of consciousness than us? In this lies the true nature of the problems of artificial intelligence, and the reason why discourse surrounding them so often evokes such emotional responses. They inevitably lead us to question what it means to be human.

In such a world wherein AI has overtaken human cognition, what does it mean to love when we ourselves have created machines capable of intimacy beyond that which we are capable of? Are all of these things still worth pursuing? I am being facetious; of course they are. Every moment of triumph and horror, all of the instances of divine intervention and the words of false prophets, all of what has happened and what has not happened is contained in this great ocean of space and time and all the immaterial things in between. I am an old man whose body is tired and failing, I may no longer reach out to touch another, and yet all those moments in which I shared communion with someone are still out there somewhere, or at least the vestiges of them are visible in the present. In short, the beauty of life and humanity will not be diminished by the things that are to come, frightening as they may be.

I have reached a conclusion that does not satisfy me. It is true that what was once speculative science fiction is emerging, and all of the accompanying existential questions are beginning to undermine what were once essential truths. The aforementioned New Humanist would not be shaken by this. They would respond by continuing to create. Our world grows increasingly strange, and the foundations of things that would normally be accepted as fundamental truths are beginning to be shaken, exposing them as the contrived abstractions that they are. This new reality is looming over us and will begin to manifest with finality within our lifetimes. In spite of everything, the courage to live and create remains the greatest good.

John Wenz, FCRH ’26, is undeclared from West Hartford, Conn.