End of tedium? How AI impacts the creative sector

20 Apr 2023

Business Times, 20 Apr 2023, End of tedium? How AI impacts the creative sector
CHATGPT may be all the rage now, but some Singapore creatives have been working with artificial intelligence (AI) content-generation tools long before this. In 2021, actor-playwright-director Liu Xiaoyi was already writing theatre plays using AI tools InferKit and Caiyun Xiaomeng for English and Mandarin scripts respectively.
Liu, who is well-regarded in the theatre circles, wanted to see if these AI tools could rival the scripts written by humans. So he commissioned four human playwrights to each write a script – two were in English, two in Mandarin – and then worked with the aforementioned AI platforms to also generate two English and two Mandarin scripts.
In early 2022, he invited an audience to a reading of the eight scripts by actors. The audience was then asked to guess whether the scripts were human- or machine-generated. “Most of the guesses were correct,” says Liu. “But some of the AI-generated scripts actually passed the Turing test.” The Turing test was established by English scientist Alan Turing in 1950, which stated that a computer can be said to possess signs of human intelligence if its responses are mistaken for human more than 30 per cent of the time.
At Liu’s reading, over 30 per cent of the audience thought that two of the four AI-generated scripts “could be” or “are most likely” written by humans.
Still, Liu is not entirely convinced by AI’s efficacy: “I would say that AI still doesn’t have a good understanding of the dramatic vocabulary such as characters, action, conflict, stage space and so on. Sure, it can generate dialogue for the characters – but the writing is quite conventional and formulaic. And it certainly doesn’t have the knowledge to end a story satisfyingly, like, say, looping the story back to its beginning.”
But that was in early 2022. Things have changed quite dramatically after Open AI released ChatGPT in November 2022. Now, the latest version ChatGPT-4 has captured the world’s attention with its ability to generate credible text, scripts, proposals, letters, jokes and poems within seconds.
Type a prompt such as “Write a Shakespearean parody of Batman” and you will get the Dark Knight spouting: “Hark! Who goes there, that doth disturb the peace of Gotham?” Change the prompt to “Write a Batman scene in the style of Kuo Pao Kun” and the same character will ponder philosophically: “What do I truly represent? What is the purpose of my endless crusade against crime and corruption?” (Yes, ChatGPT knows the oeuvre of the famous Singaporean playwright too.)
Liu now intends to carry out another full experiment with AI writing when he finds the time and resources. Does he expect ChatGPT to one day write a good enough script that can be staged by his theatre company Emergency Stairs? He smiles and says: “Never say never.”
2023: Year of AI
2023 is shaping up to be the year of AI, just as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrency defined 2022 and 2021 respectively in the technological realm. But members of the creative sector say they have long been working with AI to compose music, produce images, conceptualise apps, design fashion and develop building plans.
In 2016, Immanuel Koh, who holds a PhD in AI and Architecture, was already developing deep neural networks for generating architectural designs according to patterns learnt from training large datasets of building designs. Now an assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, he says: “AI will not only play an increasing role in removing many processes that were once tedious, it will also augment the very creative design thought process itself.”
In 2019, music producer Jason Tan created an entire album that was written and performed alongside a self-generative programme which he designed. The album titled Cantus Firmus offers beautiful ambient music and is available for download on the Bandcamp platform.
Artists such as Brandon Tay, Brian Gothong Tan, Syahrul Anuar, Jo Ho and thesupersystem have long incorporated AI into their practices and works, which run the gamut from multimedia installations and projection mappings to filmmaking and NFTs.
Many have only good things to say about how AI has supercharged their work in ways that were inconceivable to them only a decade ago. But they are also mindful of the ethical issues now being hotly debated across the world, such as copyright and authorship, privacy and misinformation, and the likelihood of job redundancies in the millions.
Ho says: “The subject of authorship is a tricky one because artists have long been ‘copying’ other artists, so to speak. It’s just that now there is an easier and more accessible way to do it via AI programmes like Dall.E2, Midjourney and Stable Diffusion, which uses the vast wealth of human images to generate new and exciting ones… Where do you draw the line between what is ‘borrowed’, ‘inspired by’ or ‘stolen’?” (As the saying goes, good artists borrow, great artists steal.)
The most recent controversy over authorship took place this week when German photographer Boris Eldagsen turned down his prize at the Sony World Photography Award after revealing that the winning image was generated by AI. This comes on the heels of other scandals such as the victory of Jason M Allen at the Colorado State Fair art contest for an artwork generated by AI tool Midjourney, as well as the launch of Japan’s first AI-drawn manga Cyberpunk: Peach John amid an industry crisis where manga and anime artists are notoriously overworked and underpaid.
Koh says: “AI models are being trained to learn and synthesise the unique styles of various artists – but without the artists’ permission. Even though some artists have submitted their names on sites such as haveibeentrained.com to stop these AI companies from using their works in future AI training, it is not very effective. Such ‘opting-out’ approach is missing the point in rightfully crediting the artists, and will instead, deny the opportunity for AI and the artists to truly co-create in novel ways.”
While genuinely concerned about these issues, Natalie Hennedige, festival director of the upcoming Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) 2023 in May, also thinks there are extraordinary opportunities in AI.
“AI is able to merge the physical and digital world to create these surreal worlds connecting history, politics, society and personal expression.” she said. “The possibility of synthesising our ancestral past with the present or imagined future is incredibly exciting, and can potentially create new emotional connections with the audience… As a festival director, I am always keen to work with artists exploring AI technologies.”  
SIFA’s AI-inspired offerings include Realm Of Silk in which Sougwen Chung collaborates and paints with AI robots, and Privacy in which artists such as Sadiq Mansoor and Vince Fraser work with AI to generate works that wrestle with the notion of privacy in an increasingly surveilled world.
Are humans replaceable?
While AI has the potential to disrupt many sectors, not everyone is convinced that it can replace genuine human creativity. Sure, it famously completed Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in 2019. But it is still a system that thrives on patterns and regularity – not exceptions and anomalies, which is where breakthrough and innovation often lie.
Liu says the scripts written by AI may reach a certain level of coherence, but there are no surprises in them. “It’s like a mainstream Hollywood script, with all the usual dialogue and plot turns. I don’t know if I would enjoy another formula-bound Hollywood movie.”
Ho concurs. “Why would you want more of the same of anything? When we think of art, we think of the bold, unusual and unexpected. We think of something that pushes boundaries.”
There are also a lot of racist and sexist biases in AI’s content generation – which are disturbing, to say the least. Art director Jermine Chua says: “In the past when I used Open Source AI programmes like Dall.E or Midjourney, and typed in the text prompt ‘beautiful woman’, it mostly generated someone with white skin. It is important to discuss how these programmes came to perceive and associate the term ‘beautiful’ with white skin, and it’s made me more conscious of how I want to use the AI within my practice.”
AI companies say they are working to weed out the prejudice. But some critics counter that the companies are only paying lip service to these issues because the vast online data that AI draws from is already riddled with so much human, institutional and systemic biases. 
Koh says: “There’s a tendency to dismiss the technology without fully understanding its creative potential – as well as the tendency to embrace the technology without understanding its ethical implications. The fact is, there is still so much we don’t know about this technology – and this applies even to the people working in AI. We don’t completely know how the black box of AI will behave exactly.”
For now, though, creatives across many industries are relishing AI’s possibilities more than they are fearing its pitfalls. As Chua puts it: “I mostly use AI as a catalyst to jumpstart new perspectives and ideas. AI could easily generate visuals of things that would never exist in reality or even just conceptually. It is like a colleague that you bounce ideas back and forth with because they perceive things differently from you.
“I think AI has kind of changed the game and landscape for the new generation of creatives who choose to embrace this technology.”