Is the kind of label proudly declaring “Handmade” the phrase “man-made”?
Once upon a time, humans made things by hand. Ultimately, machines were built (manually) to make their tasks easier and to increase productivity. Supply usually meets demand. It went on for a long time, but then things changed — gradually, to begin with.
Today, two disturbing developments seem to be heading in parallel directions. An increase in the number of humans inhabiting the Earth is happening at the same time as there is a decrease in the number of people working to keep us in our daily lives. Basically, this is not an entirely new situation as machines have been doing some of the work of humans for centuries. But previously, machines often relied, to a greater or lesser degree, on human participation. What is of concern now is that machines that reduce human participation are found in fields that are currently evolving at an unprecedented speed, especially digital technology, artificial intelligence, and robotics.
However, robots, like machines, are not new. When they were created, they were intended to mimic animals and humans. About 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci built a mechanical lion to entertain the French King Francis I. The lion made his way through a room, and when he came face to face with the King, his chest opened to reveal a bouquet of lilies, the flower that symbolized French royalty. It is believed that Leonardo also created a robotic horseman capable of moving his limbs as well as his head, including the jaw. The idea, of course, was to prove that human ingenuity has the power to mimic if not compete with nature. An earlier example of this vanity is found in the account of Pliny the Elder natural historyWhich was completed in 77 AD. In book XXXV, chapter 36, Pliny describes a work by the ancient Greek artist Zeuxis (5there century BC. AD) that featured grapes drawn so realistically that birds tried to peck at them.
Human collaboration with technology is a popular theme in the relatively new genre of science fiction. Some of the early works were eerie, almost frightening, and prescient. E. M. Forster, perhaps best known for his novels See the room And corridor to India, a short story in 1909 called “The Machine Stops”. Anyone reading it today would shudder to describe what seem to be the ancestors of the Internet, email, Zoom, and Skype, all of which served so many misfortunes and griefs.
In 1954, Roald Dahl published the short story “The Great Automatic Grammatizator” on a machine that could be programmed to type (and print) stories in seconds and novels in minutes.
Do Dahl’s “rules” suddenly sound familiar? Fast forward to November 2022 and we meet ChatGPT, created by Open AI, an artificial intelligence research company founded in 2015. “A machine that can convincingly mimic human language. As of January 3, 2023, New York City schools have banned ChatGPT” on all devices and networks In public schools.” But, of course, bans cannot be imposed outside of school.
A year ago, Open AI introduced DALL-E, which is able to generate images from text descriptions. It has since been replaced by a new AI system called DALL-E 2. I wonder if these AI-generated images will have the same enchanting power attributed to the Zeuxis painting created 2,500 years ago?
What began long ago when human creativity competed with nature or simulated artificial intelligence (AI) mimicked (eventually competed with) humans. Will “Handmade” become as rare as “Handmade”? It is true that we no longer make very little by hand, although we still have accessories called hands. Is it because we do not have time, as we waste our time dealing with all those smart and smart devices that now run our lives and save us time? It’s time why? Not, apparently, to use our brains.
Sabine Ishi is a local writer and art historian with a Ph.D. from Princeton University. Passionate about preserving the environment and protecting nature. Its columns cover a wide range of topics and often include the history (etymology) of words to shed more light on the subject.