Dusty breadmAIkers

Dusty breadmAIkers: Polly(anna) put the kettle on and decided that AI was not a threat to Art

(I mean, it is 100% a threat to Jobs like my own freelance work, I’m really not blasé about this ~ but AI is not going to replace artists or, I think, even supplant the Creative Industries when it comes to providing entertainment to the masses)

If you know who or what these are, you may already see what’s coming in this blog… sketched after Sienkiewicz, Campbell and Doctorow.

There comes a moment in many households when somebody fancies a nice fresh loaf of bread, but the shops are shut. Maybe this is because they work inconvenient hours? Maybe their home is not in a 24-7 Big City? Perhaps their life doesn’t lend itself to going out again today, despite there being nothing but crumbs in the breadbin.


“Wouldn’t it be nice to make bread at home?” somebody muses.

The memory of trying that last Easter might give most people pause. 


All that mixing flour and water and yeast in suitable proportions; kneeding and proving and kneeding and waiting; watching the dough rise and sticking it in the oven ~ checking every few minutes through the glass to see if it was ready.

Only to serve up hard, hollow rolls with singed crusts and realise they’d forgotton to add salt or sugar.


A few doughty bakers will always persevere through April and May and it’s a treat to visit their kitchens with the lovely fresh bread smell (for the Metaphor Immune: these people are the equivalent of artists and writers who learn their craft), but most folks stop and just buy bread when they go to the shops… maybe a nice artisanal loaf from the Farmers’ Market every other Sunday.


“But, wouldn’t it be nice to make bread at home?”


You know, it would! Off they pop, then, to the Internet and with Next Day Delivery they have a shiny new breadmaker squatting on the kitchen counter in no time.


For a while, it’s Fresh Bread every day, but it’s not long before they skip a day. Or two.

Then they treat themselves to one of those fancy loaves from the market, as they are passing.

And, you know what? It’s a lot nicer than the breadmaker!
Oh, sure, that homemade stuff is better than a sliced white from the Happy Shopper, so they keep using it… it’s just that, every now and then, they pick up a crusty bloomer instead…


Give it a couple of months and someone will say: “Look, we don’t use the breadmaker that often. It takes up a lot of space, so why don’t we put it in the cupboard and just get it out when we need it?


And they do.


Out of sight/out of mind. It can be a year or more before the breadmaker comes back out, and even then it tends to be a short lived return.


Breadmaker bread is perfectly adequate bread ~ it’s probably better for you than Mother’s Pride ~ but it’s Good not Great (or Okay not Good if you really like your bread). And you have to buy the machine and the ingredients; you pay for the electricity; you wash up and dry up and give over part of your home to store a machine.

When you could go and buy the perfect loaf for what you’re fancying today.


And that’s what I think Generative AI is going to offer for pictures and words going forward.


Wouldn’t it be nice if I could make Art?” somebody muses, and rather than putting in the hours to learn a craft they start to think about one of the prompt engines.

Off they pop to the Internet and register with an app.


For a while, it’s Cool Things every day, but turning Cool Things into a coherent film or a book or a story takes time and a lot more attention than pushing a button. 


It’s not long before they skip a day or two. After all, consuming all that Product becomes a chore ~ and if everyone who likes this stuff is making their own stuff who has time to look at your stuff?
(This is where the AI user gets a taste of what it’s like to be an artist!)


Generative AI is going to get better and better at making Geek Porn (or porn). It’s going to be easy for those who want to to put their head on an actor’s body and star in their favourite film. They’ll keep using it… it’s just that, NOBODY ELSE WILL CARE

(and serious fans of any IP are serious about The Cannon… if Star Wars fans get upset because Han Shot First, imagine how few of them will want to see you inserted into the Trash Compactor scene)
Remember those digital Christmas cards that did the rounds a few years back ~ the ones with family faces added to dancing elves videos? They were amusing for the people making them (once, maybe twice) but a big yawn for the folks they sent them to.


Give it a couple of months and the app will upgrade and their ‘creations’ will be outdated… maybe the terms of service will change and they’ll have to pay more. Certainly the Cory Doctorow priciple of Enshitification will take hold.


With the gloss wearing off and the costs going up, most users will stop logging on to the app so much. If it takes them a year or more before they have another bash, you can bet they’ll be paying through the nose for something they had already decided they didn’t get much out of anyway.


Generative AI is (eventually) going to offer perfectly adequate words and pictures, but its audience will burn out faster than its user base.


Flash in a breadpan!


Maybe (maybe), rather than resisting the encroachment of AI into the creative process we should be ignoring it… let the fans run with it and spiral off into their own tiny niche.


This is not to say we should be ignoring the effects of AI.

In industrial terms, it is going to cost all sorts of jobs in the Creative Industry… in the short term Copywriters and jobbing Designers/Illustrators are going to take the brunt of things. 

But I get paid considerably less to illustrate an article than the sub-editor gets to commission me. There’s a much greater saving to be made from automating the planning and scheduling and managing of a creative project than there is from cutting out the lowest paid part of The Machine… the artist!


it’s the staff jobs that are going to disappear for good. Artists and Writers will be called back in to the room at some point because, deep down, their contribution is something ineffably unprogrammable.

I won’t be celebrating the loss of Production Editors, or what have you, any more than I was pleased to see the end of typesetters or proofreaders, but all professions face their technological Ragnarok sooner or later.


Yes, companies will find a way to integrate AI into their production lines. But unlike Widget Makers, for whom saving 1p a time will multiply into big profit margins, the fees paid to artists or writers are tiny percentages of their costs per-item. It’s the facilitators whose jobs will completely disappear.


For once, voting with your wallet will tell corporations if changing their Product is worth the small saving compared to any loss in sales (although given that we live in an Amazon/Spotify world, I fear your preferences will be in a minority).


By all means, fight against AI in the Creative Industries if you think the way it was ‘trained’ is unethical or illegal. I have a lot of sympathy with the former but consumers will buy more than we can boycott and the latter is a lost cause thanks to 1) the precedent set by allowing search engines to index all of the internet without permission and 2) MONEY!


Lobby for changes in legislation if you want to help. Just give it a rest with the Blame Game and Stand Taking directed at other human beings with motivations, reasons and Red Lines you are not privvy to.


After all, the maker may be using a tool that is morally ‘wrong’, but unless you are boycotting ISPs and Twitter and have turned down any sort of iPhone or factory farm food, fossil fuel-funded pension ~ or almost any day-to-day interaction you have with Capitalism… maybe don’t rush to judgement. 


You may want to fight AI on Employment grounds. You’ll lose because of 2) MONEY!, but you can always support businesses who don’t lean on AI to replace humans, and lobby for equitable options for those losing work, whatever you personally think that might look like [cough UBI cough]. 


But is it worth fighting Generative AI on the basis of ‘it’s a bit shit’ or ‘I don’t like this nearly-real stuff’?


One day it will be less shit and I’m sure some artists will use it in their practice ~ the work will be judged on how effective it is and if it’s crap we can just ignore it. 


If we ignore it, we can carry on appreciating the real thing and let AI bros play with their apps and compact themselves into a small cohort of People who Like That Sort of Thing that we never have to look at given all the good, true art in the world.

(Plus, we all know that left to their own devices, That Sort of Thing will inevitably morph into serving various kinks and fetishes for those who like politics, slash fiction or a nice crusty slice)


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