AI and sampling end the “quality vs quantity” discussion for good

May 23, 2022Posted ingeneral thoughts, Lil B, video games

Remember when Daniel Ek (king of Spotify) said that musicians need to make more songs than they currently do to survive in the music business? I’m NOT interested in that statement, but I’m interested in how people reacted to it. They reacted like it’s impossible to make more stuff than they currently do, and if they would, the quality of that stuff would decrease. But is that true? Do you always have to choose between quality and quantity? No. I think you can achieve both! Without compromising! How? Be fast! How? Let AI do all your non-creative work, and speed up your creative work by sampling other’s stuff (making everything yourself isn’t more beautiful than stealing, I’ll explain why later). Let’s start with the AI part.

BIg open world games are the kings of quantity, and the king of that genre is Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 (yes). More “normal” open world games may shock you by being “the size of Manhattan”, “the size of a smaller country” or “half the size of Germany”, but Microsoft Flight Simulator said no to all compromises and recreated the whole world. Microsoft Flight Simulator is all about realism, so no creative work was needed in its creation, which meant AI and machine learning got the spotlight. The company blackshark.ai helped Microsoft to recreate 1,5 billion buildings (source) for the game, by letting machine learning algorithms watch flat 2D maps of the world and from that automatically guess the height of houses, the color of walls and tree types. No manual control (except for some important areas) and still, it looks pretty good everywhere. Quantity AND quality! No, you’re not at Microsoft’s level, but blackshark.ai modelled the whole world in 3D and they’re 50 people in Austria. You don’t have to be the world’s biggest company to do the world’s biggest things anymore. A normal person with a cellphone does today what big companies did yesterday and this development won’t stop.

The best 3D look in Google Maps.
How the same place looks in Microsoft Flight Simulator.

But AI can’t do everything! They do some things better than us, some things worse, some things that are impossible to humans, and some things _we_ do are impossible for an AI to do. But when they do it, they do it faster. So with AI you can get more quality out of the same amount of time, because you can focus on the quality while AI does the things you don’t have to do.

AI can search for photos, remove a photo’s background, translate text, extract motion capture directly from a video, find video footage based on words, feelings or people, and pretty much anything else you want it to do, if you have enough time to scroll through search results. I promise you that everything is out there.

But humans are better at being creative! This is how AI being creative looks:

Volcano with a cat’s face, an artwork that I made with this AI tool).

But actually, in this case it was still me who did all the creative work by giving the AI the concept “a volcano with a cat’s face” to work with. I lied by saying this is AI being creative. just wanted to show my cool volcocat. So if we humans must do the creative work, how do we get more creativity out of the short time we have on earth so we can increase the quantity of creativity without compromising with the quality of the creativity? Let’s introduce Lil B!!

The first video is a song, a nice one, which is made out of the sound in the second video. This is called “sampling” and is a huge part of hiphop culture. You may also have heard about “stealing”, which is kind of the same thing. Sampling is taking an existing creation and placing it in a new context, which you could also argue is what all creativity is. But since we have laws (that you should follow) that tell us that sampling is stealing and stealing is bad, everyone don’t know how important sampling/stealing is for creativity. Lil B has stolen the Playstation One startup sound like the little thief he is (I assume he asked for permission before stealing it), but this is in no way a less creative way of writing a song than writing all rythms and melodies by yourself from scratch. “Landlord” by Lil B is more innovative than the Playstation One startup sound in itself, and it’s more innovative than most other songs of his where he doesn’t use any samples. This gives me confidence to say: Sampling makes for cooler creations AND takes less time.

The time you save from sampling (= making cooler stuff) instead of making everything from scratch (= making not as cool stuff), you can use to create more cool stuff. So both quality and quantity increase. When it comes to creativity, quality and quantity don’t contradict each other.

But you have to ask for permission before sampling other’s work, and THAT takes time. But there’s a solution: Creative Commons 0! A lot of people upload their art, music, videos and sounds under copyright-free licenses, the most well-known being the “Creative Commons” licenses, and the most free one of these being “Creative Commons 0”. If something is licensed with Creative Commons 0, you can use it for free in your own work, without even asking for permission. Read here to understand how it works, but it isn’t really more complicated. Apart from this being nice, it also lets us be fast! When you find a work licensed with Creative Commons 0, you can basically just click download and not care about anything else. It’s free, fast and without social duties. It’s almost like having your own team working for you, creating material that you can just pick from and use in your work. The tiny seconds looking for license info or the tiny minutes asking for permission to use it become hours and days if you do it often, but it’s ZERO with Creative Commons 0.

The best sites for finding Creative Commons 0 material are probably Freesound (sounds) and Unsplash (photos, uses it’s own “Unsplash License” which is a modified version of Creative Commons 0).

Left: Corporate stock photography. Right: Classic timeless art.

“AI” is a cool word, but “copyright-free” and “Creative Commons” aren’t (that’s why I talked about “sampling”, a cool word, first). “Public domain”, which is kind of the same as Creative Commons 0, sounds a bit cooler but only a bit. And if it’s boring no one talks about it, and then how will people know about it? This leads to freedom and speed (the public domain) being underground while money and laws (copyright) becomes mainstream, and this unfortunately leads to the public domain being a bit empty of content. Scrolling through the public domain feels like the left picture, but it SHOULD feel like the right picture. It should be the place where you find the most amazing creations for free, and not just the ones that are good enough if you want something for free. One promising thing is that you can’t remove anything from the public domain, so the public domain can only get bigger. It’s built into the license that once you go CC0 you can never opt out. So if we just wait enough, the public domain WILL at one time be big enough to fill all needs, and then everything can be created for free and without limits. This is wishful overly-optimistic thinking that I believe in 100%.