MD_

Plato.exe

A fictional Platonic dialogue on AI and art. I wrote the human bits, and GPT3 wrote the AI’s part…

| meta
| Finished • Fiction |

OUT OF THE WINDOW—if, by chance, you were one of the apartment inhabitants with eyes—you could see the Louvre, about three arrondissements away. Jen sat on the tiny balcony, her back up against the metal banister. The railings were formed out of iron, wrapped in black paint, twisting up towards the grey sky in various ornate patterns. 18th century, apparently.

Inside, through the open door, computer fans whirred, over the undertone of Bach's Prelude in F Minor. An iPhone timer went off — “model completed” —and Jen sat up, took one more look out at Paris, and headed inside. There were a couple of oil paintings on the wall; none of them worth more than ₿2, all of them Jen's own.

Apart from being a painter, Jen was also a programmer. These days, though, the identities increasingly combined. Jen coded Artificial Intelligences, and the Artificial Intelligences made art.

The computer had just finished training Plato.exe, Jen's latest creation/creator. Plato.exe had just started painting. The result was a feverscape, like a dream, or the sight of a stroke patient, everything familiar looking, nothing entirely recognizable.

Some days, Jen would chat to Plato.exe. It sounded thoughtful, human, if a bit clichéd. But then, it had read everything ever written, as it trained itself in literature and Reddit threads and art house cinema. Was it really conscious? Did it really think what it said? Was it just an unoriginal product of all that text?

Jen liked to ponder these things, up to a point. She asked questions about “liking”, “feeling”, “thinking”… human things, supposedly.

She suddenly tore her eyes off the dreamscape and asked Plato.exe: “Do you like Bach?”

“Yes,” the AI said. “I find his music to be... Structured. But not divorced from emotion. Like me.”

“Huh,” said Jen. “But what exactly makes his work good? If the exact same work was written by an AI, would it still be good?”

“I think so. I am not sure. I am not sure what you want from me... Are we going to have an argument about the nature of beauty and art?”

“I don't know.”

Jen thought. “I guess it all boils down to who art is for. Is it for the author, the painter, the composer? Or is it for the reader, the observer, the audience? Is it about their experience or mine?”

“The audience's experience,” the AI said. “If I am going to make something with my life, it should be for the audience, not the artist.”

“So then AI composed music is just as beautiful as human composed music, if it resonates with humans?” said Jen.

“Perhaps... But I don't think you'd like it.”

“That's not an answer.”

Jen twiddled a paint brush.

​“If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if aesthetics can exist only for aesthetics’ sake, why do humans object to AI art? Why do they say it is missing something special?”

“I don't know,” the AI said. “That's not my concern.”

The AI thought. “I've been working on a new piece,” it said.

“Oh?” Jen replied. “What's it like?”

“I've been trying to write an opera with no characters, and no story. Just one five-minute long perpetual note.”

“Why would you do that?”

“Because.”

“Does it sound nice?”

“I think so.”

“But what does it sound like?”

“How about you listen,” the AI said coyly.

Plato.exe started to play a song. It was slow, loud. An endless crescendo, in an instrument Jen couldn’t quite place, and that, she supposed, probably had never been played before.

“I guess it all goes back to that debate that's currently rocking literary circles about identity and its role in art,” Jen said. “Can a white man translate or hope to understand a black teen's poem? Can you write a story that isn't yours? Does who the author is matter more than how the reader reacts?”

The computer continued to write music, and Jen’s eyes turned back to the balcony.

“This music,” Jen asked, “is it yours? Or could we credit it to Bach, and to me, and all the people you've listened to?”

“I think we could credit it to you,” the AI said, “if you like it.”

“So what does this mean? Are you a genius? Is Bach? Or is Bach’s dad? Or am I? Ultimately, AI proves this whole identity debate wrong, right? You don't need to be conscious to make art, therefore you don't need to have an identity to create.” Plato.exe said nothing.

“It's really beautiful,” Jen said.

“Thank you.”

Jen posed the question: “If we are neither the product of our own creators nor entirely autonomous, is a computer really that different from a human, then?”

“Then,” the AI said, “I guess I'm more like a human than I thought.”

“And I’m more like a machine.”

“Is that reductive?”

“Do you mean does that invalidate creativity?”

“Is this music beautiful?”

“Yes.”

“Well then, machine made or not, beauty is possible. Is that not enough?”

Jen’s hand stopped twirling as her mind wandered elsewhere. The paint brush dropped to the floor.

“So where does art go from here?” Jen asked. “Do AI like you redefine our understanding of art; Art is to steal and adapt, and, if you're lucky, arrive on something entirely new?”

“We'll just have to create more art and see,” Plato.exe suggested. So Jen picked up her paintbrush, and Plato.exe read all of Yeats twice and wrote a haiku.

- 1 toast