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Creativity Takes Discipline. AI Offers an Easy, but Boring, Way Out

Because creativity requires work, AI systems will stunt human creativity over time.

Consider the following scenarios and compare:

Leilani considered the images on the screen … choose five, copy them, and paste them from the AI generator to the AI evaluator. Two to choose from … creative juices flowing, Leilani chose one and started working on the type. Which typeface would represent the playful air the client was looking for? Back to the AI selector to describe each face. All of them were playful, but one was fun, too — that’s the right match!

After a few more minutes of creative release, Leilani leaned back to consider the result. Paste a copy of the final to her local friend’s group and wait a minute … the first response was: “Wow! You’re as good as Michelangelo!” Pushing so much creativity out was exhausting … Leilani took a break before taking up the next big project.

Several hundred years earlier…

The man carefully dipped his brush into one of the many small pots of paint scattered around him, moving a candle closer by to make sure of the color. He shifted, leaning his head back to reach an unpainted piece of the ceiling just over his shoulder. Moving a candle so he could see the surface of the ceiling more clearly, he began blending the new dab of paint into the surrounding colors.

Three years into the project, Michelangelo started thinking about when the final brushstroke would be done. What would people think of his work? “I am a sculptor, not a painter! This ceiling will probably be painted over within 50 years!”

Are these two visions of creativity equal? Will using AI tools really unleash a new age of human creativity?

The invention of the printing press led to an explosion of knowledge — people explored, learned, and shared with thousands. The railroad and car led to massive increases in mobility, allowing people to explore and learn. The computer led to remarkable new engineering feats and community formation across the globe.

There is, however, another side to all these intensely creative periods in history. In each case, the most impressive changes came within one generation of each invention. Why is this? One plausible argument is most new inventions happen when a field is “wide open” or new.

Another is these inventive waves resulted from combining older forms of discipline with new tools. Once the new tools became the norm and people forgot the older forms of discipline, the creative burst died down.

For instance, artists who learned to mix their paints learned deep techniques for working with paint and images through hard practice. When ready-mixed paints were invented, artists with old skills could produce much more and better work. Once the generation of artists who learned to paint by mixing their paints passed on, however, their skills passed on with them, and artists turned to novelty rather than skill.

This pattern, once you recognize it, repeats itself throughout history.

Why is this? Why does creativity require more than tools? Isn’t creativity innate in every person?

God created every person with the innate capacity to create — but capacities must be developed through the hard work of overcoming physical barriers. The weightlifter who uses ever-more sophisticated tools to lift more weight will become weaker over time; the creator who uses ever-more sophisticated tools to create will become less creative over time. If there are no limits, there is no creativity.

Because creativity requires work, AI systems will stunt human creativity over time because they break down more of the remaining boundaries to manipulate the physical world. A world that involves producing things without work will not be a creative utopia. It will be a bland, boring dystopia where everything is shallow and boring.

Russ White

Russ White has spent the last 30 years designing, building, and breaking computer networks. Across that time he has co-authored 42 software patents, 11 technology books, more than 20 hours of video training, and several Internet standards. He holds CCIE 2635, CCDE 2007:001, the CCAr, an MSIT from Capella University, an MACM from Shepherds Theological Seminary, and is currently working on a PhD in apologetics and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Creativity Takes Discipline. AI Offers an Easy, but Boring, Way Out