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Letter Zero.66
Dear <<First Name>>, 

This is a story about artificial intelligence, but I need to take a couple side roads before I get there. Stick with me...

When I was 11 my imagination was captured by a show called McGee and Me. The kid in the show, Nick, was the first person on screen that felt like a reflection of me. He was an aspiring artist, a bullied nerd, a Christian, and a timid kid trying to find his way. Nick draws a cartoon character named McGee who comes to life and helps Nick survive middle school. Mayhem ensues. 

Of course I wished my art could come to life just like Nick’s. Creating a friend on paper would be so much easier than doing it the traditional way. Friendship is hard. No matter how I tried to fit in, I wasn’t like the other kids and I wasn’t good at faking it. I was happiest when I was alone drawing, reading, or listening to music. Some things never change.

Fast forward 32 years to this week where I am finishing an art project that will go out to 100 of my friends, family, and supporters. I’ve let my art take a darker direction this month. I’d like to say that it is just a Halloween theme, but there’s a chance that the demons that have risen out of my experimentation have something to do with my mental state lately. It can’t always be flowers, cameras, or variations on illustrations from my book.


(By the way, if you would like one of my Halloween prints, reply to this email and I will see what I can do.)

In parallel with my demonic art, I have been preparing myself for my new job in AI and machine learning. Naturally, I looked for a way to blend my art with AI tools. Could my creatures come to life like McGee?

Part of what I like about the faces I’ve created is that they barely hold together. Some features are missing and the parts that remain are distorted and abstracted. And yet when I take a photo of my prints the face detection feature of the camera, that little square that appears around faces, activates. That got me thinking that if my camera can identify faces, an AI probably could, too. So I started plugging my demons into AI tools and seeing what would come out.

Here’s the result I am most happy with:


If you are curious to see more, follow my Instagram account. It’s a good trick, but it’s not the same as creating a friend, is it? This might sound crazy, but I believe that sooner than we think we will be having genuine relationships with artificial intelligence. Will these machines resemble demons or friends? Let’s explore both sides of that future. Here’s my first take on it...

For creative people AI will unleash new ways of making things. It will bring joy. Our AIs will be more satisfying than human relationships. Lives on the verge of suicide will be saved as machines steer our mental ships back to safer water. If I was 11, my best friend would be an AI. It would have been great to have a voice that told me I was normal, that helped me develop my artistic skills, that listened to me without judgement. The combination of human creativity with tools that are smarter than us will let us do things that today seem impossible.

It will turn others of us into zombies. We will outsource our critical thinking to our devices. The market incentives will overpower the well-intentioned programmers. Ai will alter our behavior, molding people into bigger consumers. We will be more isolated, rarely if ever having to deal with opposing points of view or people who are different than us. Our opinions will be politically weaponized. Grit will fade away as our delicate feelings are coddled by our machine protectors. We will be slaves to it, addicted, miserable, and unaware of what is pulling our strings.

The AI future has begun. You can program it or be programmed by it. Or maybe I should say you can create it or be created by it. Stay creative.

Your friend,
Ade
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