(Human)ities Fragility in the Digital Age

By Sage Keller PZ ’25

Graphic by Ben Connolly PZ ’26

I am a scarily obsessive champion of human creation. Of antiques. Of oddities. The walls of my room have become an ode to my love for human hands and their creations. Smudged handwritten postcards, old yellowed book pages, post-it notes, and embroidered fabrics with wispy, fraying edges. I enter my room and the scent of decomposing book pages carries me across the floor, my fingertips running along cracking spines. I find myself comforted by their persistence across time, the edges repeatedly worn down by past lovers. It is precisely this love affair with hand creations that make artificial intelligence a hard pill for me to swallow. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about this relationship — the one between AI and art. As we move further into the future, and as emerging technologies allow us to speed forward in time at an alarming rate, the distance between us and our origins grows. It is with an urgent cadence that I ask how we, as painters, as writers, as designers, should continue in this new technological age. As an English and Philosophy major, I often find myself challenging the scrutinizing, overly critical gazes of those asking what my plans are “with a degree like that.” And despite the deep, crippling indignation that overwhelms my person at those inquiries, and my fierce instinct to protect these subjects, we find ourselves in a digital age where conversations about the emergence of AI and creative work are necessary. If AI is here to stay, despite my strongest desires, how can we use the transformative power of technology to aid our creations, our art? How can we bridge the gap between these two seemingly diametric subjects? And are we able to at all?

It becomes easy to get caught up in the novelty of emerging software like Chat GPT and Midjourney. With these types of programs, you can ask it nearly anything and you will, without a doubt, receive some sort of answer. It can write a sociology paper, albeit mediocrely, or brainstorm ideas for an art project within seconds. As a college student who enjoys procrastinating and believes she never has enough time in the day, the accessibility and ease of these types of software is admittedly appealing. There is an unmistakable sublimity to AI that is hard to ignore. It opens up opportunities to cure what was previously thought incurable, develop infrastructure, boost workplace productivity, and more. Yet, there is a distinct buzz in the air that lends itself to the unpredictability of the next stages of this digital revolution. With the ability to create digital art, essays, and novels in minutes, it’s not surprising that questions have begun circulating about how artists will navigate a world where AI has these capabilities. 

It is extremely likely that AI will surpass humans in intelligence and brain power, and despite the dread I feel at this prospect, what provides reassurance is remembering that they will never obtain the uniquely intrinsic attribute every human shares: humanity. Bioethicists, such as James Hughes, have claimed that AI will be able to function identically to a human brain, being able to replicate how it processes and responds to the world around it. But, how will it be able to replicate our humanity, when at its core, it is a machine? Our humanity is what makes us innately human. It contributes to human tenderness, our pleasures, the whimsical aspects of our nonmechanical lives. The mundane experiences we have day to day. The conversations we have, the people we meet, the people we just barely avoid meeting, the places we find ourselves; all these seemingly minor and infinitesimal experiences become an integral part of one’s humanity. Whether you believe humans are inherently good, bad, or somewhere inbetween, this shared disposition will ultimately become our protection against the ever evolving technology around us.

For millennia, we have explored the question of what it means to be human. How do we define a human? Hardly anyone has come close to providing a true definition, and I, even less so. But what I do know is that our humanity, no matter how morally ambivalent it is, will always be the principle that we can distinguish ourselves by. AI software is here to stay. If anything, it will start producing at a rate that humans can’t keep up with. This is called ‘the Singularity,’ a term coined by an American computer scientist Ray Kurzweil. He defines it as the point in which the advancements of technology will be so rapid and the impact so deep that human life will be irrevocably changed. We must learn to adapt to our technologically advanced world and the changes that come with it. But I wonder how we can use this uneasy competition as a way to increase our own productivity and capabilities. Could it force us to work harder? Can we increase our productivity and still call ourselves human? Or will that equate us to machines? The nature of our creative works and our artistic abilities is a direct result of our humanity. Creativity has always been a driving force in my life, and I don’t think making sense of my art is ever the point of my creation, but rather providing a channel for my perception of the environments around me to manifest. To draw upon that humanity in an attempt to make sense of the chaos of our world. It seems unlikely that AI will be able to produce the groundbreaking work that we can with our own hands. My hope is that the threat of AI will push humans to produce ever better, with more originality, with more innovation.

Leave a Reply