Observers have expressed a variety of reactions to the organizational drama unfolding even now at OpenAI, the non-profit behind the enormously popular ChatGPT. Some have already written speculative laments in case of OpenAI’s total dissolution, mourning the great strides in artificial intelligence that would thus be forsaken. It’s safe to say that Nick Cave will not do the same: having used his newsletter The Red Hand Files to cast doubt on AI’s ability to write a great song — and to condemn a set of ChatGPT-generated lyrics in his own style — he more recently told a fan exactly “what’s wrong with making things faster and easier” through AI.
“ChatGPT rejects any notions of creative struggle, that our endeavors animate and nurture our lives giving them depth and meaning,” Cave writes. “It rejects that there is a collective, essential and unconscious human spirit underpinning our existence, connecting us all through our mutual striving.”
In “fast-tracking the commodification of the human spirit by mechanizing the imagination,” it works toward eliminating “the process of creation and its attendant challenges, viewing it as nothing more than a time-wasting inconvenience that stands in the way of the commodity itself.” But the creative impulse “must be defended at all costs, and just as we would fight any existential evil,” we should fight the forces set against it “tooth and nail, for we are fighting for the very soul of the world.”
These are strong words, and they sound even stronger when read aloud in the Letters Live video above by Stephen Fry. One may sense a certain irony here, given Fry’s well-known technophilia, but he and Cave have made common cause before, whether calling for government support of the arts or turning up for the coronation of King Charles III. “Fry refers to Cave’s Murder Ballads album in his book The Ode Less Travelled,” adds one Youtube commenter, “while Fry is rumored to be the person with ‘an enormous and encyclopedic brain’ in Cave’s song ‘We Call Upon the Author.'” ChatGPT could well be described as encyclopedic, but in no ordinary sense does it have a brain — the very thing of which authors are now called upon to make the fullest possible use.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.