The retail employee who directs you to the self-scanning devices that promise to put him out of work is engaged in economic suicide. But it’s not his choice. He is ordered to do so by his boss.
Human beings who voluntarily develop and perfect artificial intelligence elevate the perverse todestrieb to a nearly incomprehensible scale. A.I. workers could do anything else. They could do nothing at all. They could sabotage the bots and self-driving cars and autonomous armed drones that will drive us to the unemployment line before blowing off our heads. I do not know what the fact that A.I. scientists roll up their sleeves and do their best to render us all redundant and obsolete demonstrates about our psychological wiring, but it cannot be good.
As a cartoonist of the early 21st century I am the last of the Mohicans, a direct heir of the first known artists: the Neolithic people whose cave paintings of hunters were discovered by a French boy who tumbled through a hole in the ground in Nazi-occupied France. Drawing for a living under late capitalism is a challenge. Selling political drawings in an era when humor and satire has all but vanished from popular culture is even harder. (Charles Schulz, Rudy Ray Moore, Carol Burnett, Flip Wilson, Dave Barry, Art Buchwald, “Weird Al” Yankovic: None would find work if they were starting out today.) When I began drawing editorial cartoons for syndication three decades ago, there were hundreds of us. Today there are an even dozen. I am 59 years old and I am one of the younger ones.
The cruel gods of artificial intelligence have targeted me and my kind for termination. A.I.-based text-to-image generators are the latest technological leap that exploitative entrepreneurs are using to make a mockery of copyright and trademark, the fundamental legal protections of intellectual property in the United States. From a user standpoint, the interface is simple. You go to a website and enter some terms, say: “Abraham Lincoln painted by Picasso.” A few seconds later, if the data set is big enough and the algorithms smart enough, out pops a picture representing your request. It’s not exactly cool. But it’s interesting.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the technology. Honest Abe couldn’t be more in the public domain. We all know what the Picasso style is, although whether we are talking Blue Period or high cubism is an open question. The question is, where does the material — the actual art — originate? What does the computer use to work from?…