Fighting against AI makes me wonder what it means to be human

From healthcare to customer support and from finance to spell-checking, AI is ripping through every industry imaginable like wildfire. In one field in particular, though, AI is getting a huge amount of pushback. And maybe for good reason: Robots were built to do work, and humans are wired for making art, not the other way around.

Artists are fighting back. The Coalition for Human Artist Protection (CHAP) launched its “Real Art Isn’t Artificial” campaign, highlighting that while artists have been early adopters of tools and technologies for as long as there have been tools and technologies, the current generation of tech is threatening to replace the artists in some fields. Some startups are training AIs just on licenced images, an academic research project is fighting so-called “art mimicry,” and the recent writer’s strike laid some of the groundwork for how negotiations around AI use may be part of work contracts in the future.


All of this is interesting, but I’m finding myself wondering about something far more fundamental. What is art, and why are we so damn upset that the robots are now making it? The question takes me into the “what does it mean to be human?” territory pretty quickly.

Look, art can mean many things to different people, but creating art is — and should be — a uniquely human endeavor. Despite the remarkable capabilities of AI, it lacks the depth of emotion and the rich tapestry of human experience required to produce authentic art. Put simply, art processes pain, tells emotional stories, and connects dots otherwise unconnected.

There’s some argument to be made that chatbots could remind you to breathe when you’re stressed out, help fight loneliness, and even do more extensive self-therapy, but sometimes you just need to sit in front of a human who can say, “I know what you are experiencing,” or “that sounds frustrating, is it frustrating to you?” and knowing that the person saying it has some concept of what it’s like to be frustrated.

This isn’t to say that technology couldn’t be a powerful tool. A chatbot could probably be a valuable tool in therapy, mostly by focusing on techniques (there’s a reason why “and why do you think that is?” is a psychotherapy trope: It’s actually a helpful question) rather than empathy. For artists, being able to brainstorm and test out ideas visually could similarly be helpful.

But ultimately, one question unites all of the above: What does it mean to be human? Art, psychology, theology and philosophy have all struggled with that question for as long as we’ve had conscious thought. And some humans are being forced to think about that for the first time, as they are facing the AI becoming increasingly humanesque by the day.

Against the constant blurring of boundaries between man and machine, the essence of human creativity stands as a testament to our unique capabilities. Art is, and should be, a reflection of the soul and a celebration of human expression. I’d argue that it’s inherently tied to our consciousness, emotions and experiences. While robots and animals may possess remarkable abilities, they lack the complex cognitive and emotional faculties necessary to create true art.

One of the fundamental aspects that sets humans apart from robots and animals is our emotional range and depth. Emotions are a profound source of inspiration for artists. There’s a reason why almost 70% of all music released since 1960 is about love: The ability to empathize, to feel joy, sorrow, love or anger, allows artists to infuse their work with a level of depth and resonance that is inherently human. The rest of music is, apparently, about baby sharks. I dunno, man, I just work here.

Emotion aside, intuition also plays a crucial role in artistic creation. Artists need that innate sense of knowing to guide their creative process. This isn’t about logic. This isn’t even about an understanding of the world; art is as a tool to explore the world and its resonance with other people.

Art is made to inspire and to change. To rebel. To call out injustices and to serenade from the depths of our hearts. Knowing that robots could do those things is terrifying — but moreover, those endeavors are simply too important to be left to robots.