AI, Art, and the Human Condition


AI is revolutionizing the way we create and experience art, and democratizing it in the process. This is particularly evident in the recent advancements in AI-generated images, videos, and of course, text. Despite the initial venomous backlash, it’s crucial to understand the true nature of these AI models and their immense potential to completely transform the creative landscape.

Here’s what a lot of people miss about AI: An LLM, properly understood, is a physics simulator in the domain of words (tokens). It learns the hidden structures that predict, just as a physics simulator trained on video footage learns momentum and rigidity. Similarly, an image generation model like Midjourney is a physics simulator in the domain of pixels, and a video generation model like OpenAI’s Sora is a spatio-temporal simulator in the domain of video frames. These are quite literally world models.

In each case, the AI model learns to capture the underlying patterns and relationships in its respective domain, allowing it to generate novel but coherent outputs that mimic the structure of the training data. Just as a physics simulator approximates the real world by learning its governing laws, these AI models approximate their domains by learning the hidden rules that give rise to language, images, and videos.

As we move closer to the development of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI), the impacts on society, the economy, and our daily lives will be immense. We can expect accelerated scientific discovery, enhanced creativity and entertainment, democratization of access to creative tools, improved education and training, efficiency gains and automation, and immense advancements in healthcare. However, we must also be prepared for potential challenges such as job displacement and economic disruption, widening inequality, loss of privacy and autonomy, programming bias and ideas discrimination (Hello Gemini), and existential risk.

This is exactly why the “AI Bad – AI plagiarism” argument is fundamentally flawed, as it stems from a deep misunderstanding of how generative AI models work. These models are not merely copying or regurgitating existing data like simplistic algorithms. Instead, they function more like intelligent digital artists who learn to understand and synthesize information in a way that closely mirrors human learning and creation. ‘Copying’, very clearly, is not more of an AI problem than it is a human problem.

And so AI models like Sora represent an intellectual breakthrough that will totally revolutionize filmmaking and storytelling in the years to come. These are not plagiarism machines, but world and physics simulators that have internalized the deep structures and governing laws of their domains – language, vision, time. They are our new engines of immense creative potential.

Some of these critiques reflect a profound lack of vision and understanding about the transformative potential of this technology. Many critics fixate on surface-level flaws and limitations, failing to grasp the bigger picture. Others simply dislike the concepts or styles of the AI-generated art, conflating their personal tastes with the potential of the technology itself.

We’ve seen similar arguments before with the introduction of new technologies in art. Samples and DAWs didn’t replace “real” musicianship, CGI didn’t replace “real” cinematography, and Photoshop didn’t replace “real” art. Instead, these technologies unlocked new possibilities and elevated their respective mediums. AI generation will do the same for filmmaking and countless other fields.

Yes, jobs will be lost, perhaps faster than ever. But historically, technological progress ultimately creates more jobs, possibilities, and wealth than it eliminates, even if there is a challenging transition period. The solution lies in proactively steering the technology with foresight and humanistic values, not in denying or demonizing it out of fear.

One of the biggest fallacies of anti-AI sentiment in art is the idea that advancing AI capabilities inherently leads to a creative dystopia — that argument denies human agency and our problem-solving capacity. We are not passive observers but active participants who can shape AI’s direction through our choices and values.

Technological progress is not at odds with humane values – quite the opposite. Renowned philosophers like Karl Popper and David Deutsch, who have made significant contributions to the philosophy of science and epistemology, taught us that the solution to potential dangers or misuses of knowledge is not to suppress the knowledge, but to gain more and better knowledge about how to handle these issues safely and ethically. We need robust public dialogue and thoughtful arguments to steer it in a net positive direction. This will be one of the most interesting and challenging problems for humanity to solve moving forward, and I, for one, am more excited than terrified about the future.

George Kroustallis // Minorstep

5 lessons for 2024


Reflecting on the past year, I’ve distilled a handful of key insights that have not only reshaped my work at Minorstep but also redefined my personal ethos. Here are the five most significant lessons from 2023.

  1. Human Capability and the Essence of Grit: Delving into the dynamics of success, it’s become evident that a person’s enduring perseverance and passion for their long-term goals—a measure of what’s termed ‘grit’—is a profound predictor of success, independent of IQ or physical talent. This revelation is supported by the observation that although talent may offer a swift start, it is the sustained and passionate effort that ultimately forges the path to realized ambitions. The science of achievement is progressively recognizing this blend of persistence and passion as the driving force behind extraordinary achievements, superseding innate talent.
  2. Prioritizing Depth and Intellectual Curiosity: The allure of instant gratification, especially prevalent in the domain of social media, often tempts one to seek quick wins rather than enduring accomplishments. This year has reinforced the value of engaging in work that is deep and intellectually stimulating, favoring the long bet over the ephemeral quick fix. Such dedication to substance over superficiality demands a disciplined approach to creation, eschewing the fleeting satisfaction of social media applause for the lasting fulfillment that comes from truly transformative work. This principle has become a cornerstone of my philosophy, influencing Minorstep to produce work that is not only visually striking but also rich in meaning and context, setting a new standard for what we bring into the world.
  3. The Photorealism Paradigm in AI Media: AI has stealthily just crossed the threshold into photorealism, a feat as transformative as it is discreet. Now, the ability to produce an infinite array of images once dreamt of challenges us to be judicious. Taste – more than ever – becomes our compass in this new era, as we curate with intention, knowing the power rests in our hands to choose what we manifest into the world.
  4. The Dualism of Productivity: The past year has been a testament to the power of wielding dual roles in fostering productivity. Marrying concentrated creativity with strategic oversight has proven to be a dynamic formula for success. This balanced approach has streamlined Minorstep’s operations, enabling deep creative exploration anchored by strategic management, ensuring purposeful progress toward our goals.
  5. Techno-optimism and the Creative Revolution: The vision cast by techno-optimism and e/acc has been a source of inspiration, projecting a future ripe with possibilities, also for the creative industries. Yet, my optimism is cautious, aware of the potential pitfalls AI might bring. It’s a nuanced perspective, one that embraces the excitement of innovation while preparing for the complexities ahead. Witnessing the creative revolution is palpable, but it’s accompanied by a mindful consideration of the challenges that accompany the particular technological leap to AGI and beyond.

May we strive to navigate the evolving landscape of the creative industry, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible and charting a course toward a future richer than ever. I am incredibly grateful for all the collaborators, partners, and clients who have been part of this journey over the past year. Here’s to a year of tenacity, good taste, strategy, and balanced optimism.

The Emperor’s New CGI


Hollywood has a perception problem. The myth persists that audiences favor practical effects over CGI. Thus, studios shout “shot practically” and “no CGI” in marketing materials.

Peel back the poster to find hundreds of VFX artists in the credits. Open the bonus footage to see the reality – vast green screens and actors reacting to tennis balls.

In “Top Gun: Maverick,” authenticity was the narrative. The mission was to capture the skies for real. “No CGI!”.

Yet, beneath this, a different reality buzzed. The credit roll revealed 400 VFX artists. While some real jets were filmed, many were later digitally altered or replaced in post-production. L39 stand-in jets, initially filmed and tracked, were digitally transformed into other aircraft.

Significantly, the Dark Star, F14, and enemy’s fifth-generation fighters were pure CGI creations. During the climactic dogfight sequence, the audience saw a sky filled with CGI-crafted jets, blurring the line between reality and digital artistry. The tangible F18s flown had CGI counterparts for safety or specific visuals, challenging the discernment between real and rendered.

The ‘all practical’ narrative was a marketing angle, yet the blend of practical and digital revealed a broader truth.

Evidence mounts. Scan interviews and watch as directors and talent cautiously navigate the subject, contractually silenced. The shiny new blockbuster is a Trojan Horse, CGI concealed within its practical facade.

This is the theatrical industrial complex in action. The fear: audiences may reject the magic required to create today’s cinematic illusions. So, the wizard stays hidden.

It’s time to challenge old notions. CGI is not a crutch, but an artform. A tool for creation unbound by physics and practicalities. The modern filmmaker’s new palette.

When done right, CGI vanishes from mind, melding seamlessly with the practical. We can’t tell the difference – and that’s its triumph. The real magic is in the imagining, not the technique.

Now, it’s time for transparency – to champion CGI in both process and marketing. To educate audiences that CGI is the illusionist’s latest trick, not a cheat but a leap toward new realms of possibility.

Perceptions change slowly, but progress demands honesty. We must pull back the curtain, spark a new dialogue around CGI. Showcase its artistry. Celebrate its collaborative role alongside practical effects. Only then will outdated stigmas dissolve.

Emerging AI technologies are further blurring the lines between practical and digital. The next-gen tools will foster new levels of automation and realism, requiring less specialized skill and effort.

The future of CGI is a shared canvas – practical, digital, AI-powered. It expands our imagination.

Isn’t it time we openly appreciate its possibilities, not its limitations?

ON QUALITY AND CRAFTING ENDURING IMPACT


A titan in the realm of photography, Edward Weston, left an indelible mark through his sharply defined, masterfully arranged images. His work heralded an era where quality took precedence, resonating with modern audiences in ways that grainy, unfocused images from the past cannot match.

The sphere of film also demonstrates this principle. Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” a film from 1941, continues to captivate audiences with its cutting-edge production values and compelling storytelling. The films from the late 1920s, however, lose their luster when placed in direct comparison due to their dated quality and aesthetics.

This concept holds true in literature as well. The thrilling narratives of a first-edition Ian Fleming novel grip readers today, while a text from the 1600s may not generate the same level of enthusiasm, largely due to changes in language and style over the centuries.

Pivoting to the world of digital design, websites born out of early platforms like Angelfire now feel clunky and outdated. Yet, a blog designed a decade ago, with its thoughtful layout and user-friendly interface, still holds its charm and relevance, successfully engaging with contemporary audiences.

These examples serve to highlight one core principle: Quality matters.

It is the dividing line between enduring and ephemeral, between timeless appeal and transient interest. When a medium achieves a specific quality level, or ‘resolution’, further improvements, while beneficial, don’t radically enhance the consumer’s experience. Once this principle is understood and adopted industry-wide, the fervor for constant improvement in quality tends to stabilize. However, identifying that precise moment of ‘optimal quality’ is often a task only possible with the clarity of hindsight.

As we stand at the intersection of all current and future media, we are uniquely positioned. We’re not just witnessing but actively shaping new content that is striving towards, if not already meeting, that threshold of optimal quality. This progression has implications far beyond just aesthetic or technical considerations. It will establish new standards for visual interaction and cultural expression, thereby setting the stage for media consumption and appreciation for generations to come.

Quality, it turns out, is a commitment. It is the compass guiding us through the sea of media development, pointing the way to enduring relevance and appeal. Resolution and light quality matter, and as pioneers in this field, it is our responsibility to uphold this standard and continue to redefine it for the future.

George Kroustallis // Minorstep

THE AI RAINAISSANCE


The transformative power of Artificial Intelligence is more than an abstract concept—it’s the new normal, an unseen force that’s redefining the trajectory of our creative universe. In the realm of creative expression, AI is a seismic wave, reshaping our understanding of what’s possible and redrafting the contours of our creative landscape.

AI is not just an external force nudging us towards innovation—it’s an integral part of the creative process, pushing boundaries and inviting us to revel in the multifaceted allure of AI-assisted creativity. It’s a call that encourages us to venture into the unknown, dissolving the barriers between us and the uncharted territories of our creative potential.

A shining example of this AI-infused creative revolution, unveiled just yesterday, is Nvidia’s Neuralangelo. This AI technology is dramatically altering the landscape of visual artistry, propelling a shift from traditional 2D to dynamic 3D imagery with unparalleled ease and speed. It’s redefining our creative possibilities, offering a tantalizing glimpse into a future where AI and human creativity coalesce to conceive new realms of artistic expression.

As creatives, we can be innate explorers and visionaries. We map out the unknown, transmute the ordinary into the extraordinary, and peer beyond the boundaries of the known. AI is not a competitor in this quest—it’s a companion. A collaborator that facilitates new forms of expression, broadens the horizons of our creativity, and offers a canvas as boundless as our imagination.

Since last year, I’ve had the honor of partnering with Google as a NeRF (Neural Radiance Fields) photographer. This groundbreaking technology harnesses neural networks to morph 2D images into fully-realized 3D models, plunging us into a novel domain brimming with unexplored creative potential. My work included capturing immersive experiences for Google Maps, including the “Immersive View” location featured in Google’s recent presentation. It is genuinely humbling to be among the global pioneers harnessing the power of this technology.

Google – Nerf Capture

My engagement with NeRF technology has emphasized the profound potential that AI holds for the future of creativity. It’s a conduit that enables us to sculpt intricate, detailed, and fully three-dimensional narratives from simple photographs, deepening our engagement with audiences and revolutionizing the way we narrate our stories.

I am now leveraging this technology to transition from 2D to 3D in product and campaign work, and I anticipate that the creative landscape will only become more thrilling, more unpredictable, and more mixed-media from here.

Equally noteworthy in the field is the development of Adobe’s Generative Fill, now out in Beta version. This feature stands out for its ability to alter digital imagery based on textual prompts. Imagine dictating your artistic desires to a program and having it realize them right on the canvas – that’s what Generative Fill brings to the table.

You could, for instance, instruct it to generate objects, create a fresh background, extend an image’s canvas, or even vanish certain elements. And it does so while maintaining the style, perspective, and lighting of your original image. This is the beauty of Generative Fill – it doesn’t just execute commands, but interprets them in the context of your work.

What’s mind-boggling is how it revolutionizes the creative process. Traditionally, such tasks would have required hours of meticulous work and a deep understanding of technical digital artistry. Now, they’re as simple as typing a sentence and watching the software breathe life into your ideas. It’s not replacing human creativity but augmenting it, making our digital canvas more dynamic and versatile than ever. I’ve extensively experimented with it, and there’s no going back.

I won’t elaborate on Midjourney this time, perhaps you’ve seen my latest work which has adaptively evolved to incorporate images fully or partially crafted via AI—a bona fide game changer. Text-to-video and text-to-3d models are also now rolling out this year, and my brain hurts with excitement.

Which path will you follow: embracing the change or resisting it?

The AI revolution in creativity is not just a global phenomenon—it’s a personal and professional journey. An opportunity to push beyond the confines of the possible. As we stand on the threshold of this new era, it’s time to embrace the unknown and leap forward.

Minorstep // George Kroustallis