Editor's Choice

A dying art? A look at the impact of AI on creative industries

By Business & Finance
27 April 2023

As society acclimatises to a new wave of generative AI tools, Sarah Freeman, Managing Editor, Business & Finance speaks with a number of leading experts in the cultural sphere to get their take on this new paradigm and gauge the reaction to the technology and the impact it might have on creativity.

They include Professor Chris Morash, Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing in Trinity College; Deborah Kelleher, Director, Royal Irish Academy of Music; Philip Kennedy, Illustrator and Lecturer at National College of Art & Design; Shane McGonigle, CEO, The Marketing Institute of Ireland and Michael Wu, Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley. 

In 1964, American science fiction writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, Isaac Asimov, famously predicted what the world would look like in 50 years time. Writing in the New York Times, he said, “The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders.”

Years later, he expanded on this theory in ‘Robot Visions’, wherein he posited, “In a properly automated and educated world, then, machines may prove to be the true humanising influence. It may be that machines will do the work that makes life possible and that human beings will do all the other things that make life pleasant and worthwhile.”

Today, it could be argued that Asimov’s predictions have come to pass. With the rise of Generative AI, specifically ChatGPT which was launched in late 2022, machines can write novels and poetry, compose sonatas and symphonies and create artistic compositions in mere seconds.

Is language descending into Newspeak

Professor Chris Morash is the Inaugural Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing at Trinity College Dublin. He confesses to enormous interest in generative AI. 

“I’m fascinated by it. Technologies have always changed the way we use language and the best way of understanding the present is understanding the past. In the 19th Century, the telegraph completely transformed what was understood to be news. In 1858, the first transatlantic telegraph was transmitted and people talked about time and space being annihilated.”

When television first came out, there were dire predictions as to how it would rot the brains of the world.

“What we’re going through at the moment is another iteration of that,” continues Morash. He mentions media theorist, Marshall McLuhan, who spoke about the ‘Rearview Mirror Effect’, positing that it was only really possible to see a technology when one had already gone past it. 

“We really have only come to appreciate television with the advent of the internet and realise that it’s an art form, it’s not just entertainment rubbish. This is as legitimate as cinema or theatre…when television first came out, there were dire predictions as to how it would rot the brains of the world.”


In December 2022, Canadian writer Stephen Marche wrote in The Atlantic, “The essay, in particular the undergraduate essay, has been the center of humanistic pedagogy for generations. It is the way we teach children how to research, think, and write. That entire tradition is about to be disrupted from the ground up.”

Morash is not as pessimistic. He draws a parallel between the introduction of electronic calculators in the mid 1970s and today’s generative AI. He recalls older generations predicting that it would herald the decline of mathematical ability and the skills of multiplication and division. 

“But what happens is that you find a certain type of activity that machines can do well and you use it for that which frees you up to do more interesting things. So with generative AI, I had that ‘staring into the abyss’ moment where all my students would simply be logging in and having their essays written for them, so I started talking to them about it.”

Morash concluded that with a disruptive technology, you can try to contain it or you can try to work with it. Speaking on his own behalf and, emphatically, not on behalf of Trinity College Dublin, he indicated to his students that they could use the technology to do a rough draft of work. 

“I don’t see that as any different to going to the library and picking things up and getting a basic shape on things because the thing that generative AI can’t do is something which we look for in our students which is it can’t think or deduce things.”

The importance of original thought

Famed linguist Noam Chomsky has written about the perils of AI and how it might be used as ‘a way of avoiding learning’. However, Morash quotes a recent New York Times opinion piece penned by Chomsky in which he argues that AI neither deduce nor think. This, argues Morash, provides some clarity on what thinking requires and, by logical extension, renders some of the fears surrounding AI’s abilities and potential for overtaking human thought somewhat redundant.  

What the actor is presenting to the audience is a facsimile of emotion and yet the theatrical experience is just as profound for that.

Morash acknowledges that certain skills may ultimately be lost if students are not required to aggregate information, sift through vast tracts of text, isolate salient concepts and distil arguments. He goes further to say that certain kinds of legal advice that generative AI could do well whereby a practitioner must sift through legislation and precedent and come up with what is the best solution e.g. the Law of Torts, Tax and Property. 

“My own field of literature is probably a little bit safer because we’re dealing with precisely those areas where language doesn’t do what you expect it to, where it’s the things that aren’t said, the breaking of the rules of language that actually produce the interesting effects. AI struggles with those things.”

Notwithstanding the obvious current limitations posed by generative AI whereby it can’t take a moral stance, it’s not capable of original thought, nor can it show real emotion, Morash is pragmatic about the attraction its cultural output might hold for the consumer. 

“It (generative AI) can simulate emotion…and if you look at the theatre where an actor replicates all the emotions as a character and then goes off stage to have a cigarette…what the actor is presenting to the audience is a facsimile of emotion and yet the theatrical experience is just as profound for that.” 

His pragmatism may serve him well. 

Beauty in the unexpected

Deborah Kelleher is Director of the Royal Irish Academy of Music. She also has a somewhat sanguine outlook. 

“Working with AI in some form is inevitable and it’s already here. I’m a pragmatist, so the question is how do we minimise the dangers and maximise the positives.”

She describes a recent meeting where the minutes were both taken by AI and then summarised to produce salient action points. 

It can’t replace the unexpected, the beautiful, the human genius, but it can be a very effective musical assistant.

Kelleher notes that the music currently created by AI, using outputs that have been fed in, is not of such a standard that would threaten composers. 

“It isn’t yet astonishingly beautiful or surprising so in a way, what you’re hearing is somewhat old fashioned. In the arts, you’re expecting something unexpected, something very special. That’s why the arts are there. So more of the same is not attractive.”

While Kelleher says that AI cannot replace humans in the realm of music composition, she does believe that it can prove very useful and might obviate the need to know the nuts and bolts of musical building blocks by using adept programming of AI instead. 

“It can’t replace the unexpected, the beautiful, the human genius, but it can be a very effective musical assistant. However, you still, at some point, have to be an expert at a granular level. Even if you use it to help you write, you have to come up with the ideas that make the music something genuinely artistic and special.”

The acoustics change when the audience is there. The audience is part of the instrument. You cannot do that via AI.

Kelleher acknowledges the potential challenge generative AI poses to the industry and the questions it might raise about live musical performances and how relevant they will remain. 

“I believe that in the coming years, in terms of major trends, human experience in a non-human environment will be highly valued. An authentic experience in what some are already calling a post-truth and post-fact world will be sought after. I really believe we’re already moving towards that because we’ve seen the extremes in an era of Trumps and Brexit, where you can understand people becoming bamboozled by technology. So I believe people will continue to really value musical experiences that are in reality.”

She adds, “When you ask people why they go to concerts, for example classical concerts, they’re going to see artists do something extraordinary. They’re not going for a recreation of the thing that they could listen to at home or else they would just stay at home. After Covid, audiences are returning to live and there is almost an increased hunger for those social interactions.”

“The acoustics change when the audience is there. The audience is part of the instrument. You cannot do that via AI.”

In terms of Music education and students using AI for research purposes, Kelleher can see the benefits for her students. “No one should waste their time so if there is basic information that is easily verifiable, then that’s ok.”

“We’re working with the Society of Artistic Research and research isn’t only written down, it can include what you are thinking about, talking about, reflecting on, doing podcasts, posters and performances, so we’re not terrified about plagiarism, we’re more interested in making sure that the student is independently thinking about this and that they can communicate it in such a way that I know it’s their work.”

Isn’t the point of engaging with art, music and literature that you get a glimpse into someone’s soul? 

“I would find it very hard to believe that I would be moved on a level from something that is artificially created because we also want to see human beings challenge themselves and doing something that is not easy to do. These are aspects of being human that AI can never recreate and in fact I imagine they’ll become even more valued rather than less.”

The more machines do things for us, the more special those human moments of the soul and communication will be.

Kelleher concludes that it’s necessary to draw the positives from AI because ‘the tide is not for turning’. “It is a more democratic age thanks to AI and technology because more people can access information and even though the extremes of wealth and poverty are depressing, the age of technology allows people from disadvantage to have a slightly more even playing field.”

What is Art

Philip Kennedy is a lecturer and leads the Illustration course at National College of Art and Design

Kennedy suggests that AI will encourage us to have conversations about art and to question what it means to make art, what value it holds in the world and what collective function artists might serve. Indeed, he puts it further. 

We may be forced to redefine what we consider to be art.

While it’s easy to think of art as being a human skill, it can be a little limiting to think of it in such singular terms. Indeed, creating art is not just one skill but several. The world is in constant motion and art works to react to these changes. If we were to look at visual art prior to the 19th century, we could argue that the majority of it centred around the representation of the external world. But, as technology advanced, the skill of representation was surpassed by technologies such as the camera, and artists adapted and began to be concerned with exploring other things such as the internal world, our own inner lives and abstraction.”

Art is something that is always in flux. It’s always reacting to the world around it. Being able to react to this change is one of the key skills of being an artist and so I don’t think it’s 100% the case that AI is encroaching on what it means to be an artist.

Kennedy believes these conversations will lead to a deeper questioning and understanding of the value of art being produced. 

“Why should we make art during a period of such great global inequality? Why should we make art when the planet is dying? When we are suddenly confronted by these types of questions, I think the notion of an AI artwork winning an art prize suddenly starts to feel rather trivial.”

Kennedy is pragmatic about the encroaching impact of AI on art. 

“When the first photographs showed up in the 1840s, the painter Paul Delaroche proclaimed that “from today, painting is dead!”. And yet, people continue to paint. The invention of digital printing allowed traditional print methods to be freed from their commercial responsibilities and today, print exists as a Fine Art that mixes tradition with a deep curiosity for the future. Indeed, even the Industrial Revolution didn’t completely eradicate the potter. 

He echoes the sentiments that the skills in danger of being lost are those that are formulaic in nature. 

I think what I’m seeing right now is that AI is setting a baseline. By its very nature, it follows a formula. And so, what might be lost is formulaic work. Art that is bland. Creations that are unimaginative. I don’t see that as much of a loss.

The hardest part of anything creative – be that writing, drawing, creating videos, whatever – is having something to say. And although it’s the hardest part of the process, it’s also the most valuable and the most rewarding part of creativity. I don’t think AI will be able to erase that sense of human curiosity.

In terms of the future, Kennedy believes AI will hasten the demise of mediocre art. 

“From my perspective, I feel it will become increasingly hard to be a mediocre artist, illustrator, designer, etc, as mediocre work will be outsourced to AI. And while I wouldn’t bemoan the end of mediocracy, I’d be cautious about how this might impact our wider relationship to the value of creativity.”

He posits that, ultimately, the machines will encourage us to become more human. 

“While AI does raise lots of difficult questions around the ethics of creation, I do believe that its existence has the potential to force us to ironically become more human. Our value will not be found in the machine-like habits that we have adopted over the years. We will be forced to be less formulaic and our soft skills will set us apart. Unlike machines, we will continue to think critically, question things, solve problems, embrace emotions and connect with other humans. When it comes to teaching art and design, these will remain the important skills to teach.”

Focus on the Upstream

Shane McGonigle is the CEO of the Marketing Institute Ireland. He notes that while many people refer to AI as the fourth industrial revolution, the introduction of AI is possibly less auspicious than the invention of the steam engine back in 1786. McGonigle looks at generative AI as an opportunity for humans to focus on adding value while leaving some of the grunt work to AI. 

‘AI can generate the basis of an email in 15 seconds when it might take you or I 10 mins to marshall their thoughts.’ He says that the time saved allows time to focus on the upstream, the value added part whereby one can use their expertise and empathy to craft and polish the message. 

He also notes that, in certain circumstances, its lack of humanity is exactly why AI is not necessarily as adept at achieving success as we might believe. When companies are executing aspects of digital transformation, McGonigle notes that while AI can get the tech part right, it can often fail because of its inability to take into account human components of a cultural shift, namely that we might take longer to assimilate new technologies and to abdicate from habitual mechanised processes because their very familiarity renders them the easier option. 

So AI might lead us to water but it can’t make us drink and nor can it anticipate that we won’t want to drink. 

Freeing people to be human

Michael Wu is Chief AI Strategist at PROS. The PhD graduate of UC Berkeley worked as an analytics engineer and then ultimately took on the role of leading the science team at PROS to infuse more AI into their products. PROS stands for Profit and Revenue Optimisation Software and it helps other companies monetise more efficiently. 

Now, we’re little wimpy weak guys sitting in front of computers.

“AI will have a very profound impact on culture, far beyond business, it has already. Look at this device (his phone), it has changed the way we behave. People in a public place used to talk to each other, now they have their heads down, looking at their phones. It’s weird behaviour.”

Wu references the photographer Eric Pickersgill and his 2015 photo series, ‘Removed’ whereby he photoshopped phones from portraits of people and the remaining poses look so odd. 

“This digital revolution has created this new behaviour and it’s now a cultural norm for Gen Z. Now with AI, this will shift the culture again. How precisely depends on how we adapt to these tools in our life. I think with generative AI, we’ll use it more as a guide.”

In the future, Wu believes the only difference with this cultural phenomenon is that it arrived very quickly. 

“We now have the tech for this to spread quickly across the globe. So when things change slowly, people have more time to adapt but when it changes too fast, the danger is that it’s uncomfortable and people are forced to change when they’re not ready.”

Because this technology does have value, it will be adopted eventually. 

“We will be losing some skills but we’ll be learning new skills too. Before the Agrarian Revolution, we were strong hunter gatherers. Now, we’re little wimpy weak guys sitting in front of computers. Back then, if that transition had happened quickly, people would have been shocked.”

For further exploration of what AI means for our world, visit Dublin Tech Summit on 31 May and 1 June, 2023. Tickets for this year’s event are on sale now. For more information, please visit the Dublin Tech Summit website.

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About the author: Sarah Freeman is Managing Editor of Business & Finance.





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