Stolen Grief

02023-02-17 | Book, Computer, Music, Writing | 15 comments

But fundamentally this version of AI can only ever counterfeit insight by being the average, the approximation derived from analysis of the human cloud. It has no judgement, no taste, no self. It’s all stolen grief, stolen love, stolen experience. Maybe that’s good enough, or maybe we’ll become frustrated by its product.

from Nick Harkaway’s Substack

I added the emphasis. That’s at the center of the so-called AI threat, isn’t it. Without lived grief, love, experience, how deep can the poetry or music coming from an AI be. So far, nothing I’ve learned seemed very interesting. Sure, it’s new and will become better. That’s a possibility.

I remember a story from a friend who went to a food exhibition. In one booth he was invited to try a bottle of wine. So he did. He was asked what he thought of it. It’s not very good, he replied. Then he found out that the wine had never been touched by a grape, it was purely chemical. He was told that he was correct, it wasn’t very good… yet. I remember thinking that in the future there will be two kinds of wine. The first might be made by combining chemicals. It could taste very good and would be reasonably cheap. The second will be wine the way we know it. Grown on fields, touched by sunshine and rain, harvested by people, and so on. It will, of course, be more expensive.

Perhaps this is what will happen with stories and music? There will be books and music created by AI. Lots of it. Cheap. Accessible. And there will be books and music by humans. Those will be words and melodies touched by lived grief, joy, love, despair.

Maybe we will use the words of Nietzsche when we investigate a book or piece of music, wondering whether it is human or not: Can it walk? Even more can they dance?

Do check out Harkaway’s above linked post on Substack. I consistently find him very insightful.


  1. anne

    No expert on the future direction of AI – but can’t imagine the human heart will be replaced.

    ..but if it is,… maybe something new will emerge??

    whats that saying…. Good artists borrow; great artists steal.

    • ottmar

      That’s a line from Picasso. :-)

      I think the whole AI thing reeks of fraud, so far. There is no actual artificial intelligence at work. Just computers searching and collating. It’s not OJ, it’s a juice-like orange flavored drink.

      • anne

        yeah – tang drink was awful -remember drinking it as a kid

        don’t know enough about the background of AI – or why, ..probably something to do with money

        • JaneParham

          I am learning more about AI writing. Writers are USING AI as an aid to increase their productivity, but they are also including their own living experience and imagination in their writing. I think I will soon take a seminar for writers on ideas for utilizing AI. So rather than presenting a poor substitute for human expression, AI might enable more interesting human masterpieces.

          • ottmar

            For me writing is not about productivity. Neither is music. The moment I feel like that I’ll stop. I don’t want a short cut.

  2. JaneParham

    Yes, for purely creative writing – which is art. I think writers called on to write copy, news, and other types of business writing can benefit from combining AI with their own thinking. It could give them some time to add their own creativity, making our business culture more interesting.

    • ottmar

      Yea for powerful tools to more easily and convincingly create false information. Just what we needed. We can get back to this in a year or two and discuss which direction it took.

      • JaneParham

        Or more time to investigate, searching out the truth and strongly

        • ottmar

          Wanna bet?

          My take is that it’s much easier to mess up a thread – just ask any cat – than to untangle it.
          Therefore I think we will discover that AI will do more tangling and less untangling. :-)
          More falsehoods more misinformation.

          • JaneParham

            One more thing…my neighbor is a college teacher in communications. She and her colleagues are very worried that students will produce papers relying fully on AI. No way to tell.

  3. Steve

    Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI (creators of ChatGPT) who said:

    “AI will probably most likely lead to the end of the world, but in the meantime, there’ll be great companies.”

    Which is good to know … it’ll kill us, but stock prices will soar.

    Which begs the question, how have tech companies handled this responsibility so far? Miserably, I’d say.

    Based upon the current trajectory, I don’t see how this ends well.

  4. ottmar

    Do you think it would be useful to create and enforce labeling of “AI” created content? We label food organic, we put warning labels on cigarettes and alcohol…. we could do the same for “AI” content.

    • Steve

      Hm. Not sure. I’m not really certain that I can evaluate the question in an objective manner. I definitely have some very strong opinions about A.I., and in particular A.I. art/content.

      On A.I. in general I kind of have an attitude:

      “… only a stupid species purposefully creates potential rivals to get a financial return on investment. Only stupid species create rivals because they think it’s a swoopy career move or because it’s fun to play around with in a chat window or to get a very slightly superior search bar or … to get artificially generated art to mess with … ”

      And, on A.I. art/content:

      “… antithetical to the raison d’être of art/music in the first place …”

      And let’s face it … we already have a significant existential crisis already queued up with climate change which we don’t seem to be dealing all too well with so I don’t have a lot of confidence that good decisions will be made.

      One thing is for sure- corporations ought not get to decide if we have competitors as a species.


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