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  • Writer's pictureMicah Voraritskul

Vinyl’s unlikely revival > digital age. humans’ impending revival > AI age.



The Inspiration: “Tech-human-tech…..human?”

Welcome, new friends. I am Micah Voraritskul, a hopeless generalist and passionate advocate for authentic human creativity in an AI-driven era.

I was inspired to write by Madeline Medenski’s recent article, “Tech-human-tech…..human?” in which she reflects on Apple’s recent iPad ad, where the traditional tools of human artistry and creativity are “compressed,” or rather “crushed,” by a machine to form another machine (the iPad). Almost everything about Apple’s ad was wrong. Ms. Medenski nicely articulates the difficulty of innovative human design and AI’s potential role in the future.

AI’s Limitations and the Opportunity for Human Creativity

One of Ms. Medenski’s primary insights is that AI splendidly repurposes and regurgitates an already “meh” sea of human and AI content, and the results are worse than meh. But maybe the AI wake-up call is what’s needed to push humans to the brink of some novel creative innovation. She said it better: “And that’s why AI might present us with our best opportunity to reclaim some of our creativity and imagination, wherever it exists outside the capitalist realm. Because all of that cheap, trope-filled, repeated material is the only thing that AI can actually do.” I have spent the last eighteen months doing extensive research in generative AI development as it touches on human writing, the visual arts, music, the field of voice acting, and EDU. I think Ms. Medenski is on the money.

Exploring the Human-AI Relationship: “Human is the New Vinyl”

I am working on a book titled Human is the New Vinyl: Human Creativity in the AI Revolution. In reference to the title of this article, I have thought about subtitling the book The Resurgence of Vinyl in the Digital Age & the Human Resurrection in the AI World. It’s my intention to follow this post/article with a few more as excerpts from sections of the book regarding the rise and demise of vinyl records, the digital revolution and its massive impact on the creative arts, the rise of artificial intelligence as a serious field, and AI’s current, and future impact on human writing, the visual arts, music, voice acting, and education.

The Unlikely Comeback of Vinyl Records

The analogy is easy. Vinyl records have made a surprising comeback in the past 20 years — an age when digital and portable almost killed it. Vinyl record sales had precipitously declined from about 350 million albums sold annually in the US (pre-CDs) to a meager 900,000 in the mid-2000s. That’s 349 million in the wrong direction.

And iPods and smartphones almost sealed vinyl’s execution. But what a Cinderella story it has been! The masses, like me, who care about old records, have been hyperventilating for two decades as sales have rebounded to almost 30 million annually in the US. Even though vinyl as a medium loses the portability game, people almost universally love its authenticity and nostalgia. MP3s, or lossless whatever files on hard drives, simply don’t have that kind of gravitas.

In the new age of AI proliferation (post-2022), a slew of creatives have been concerned about the meaning of generative AI for the future of their creative industries. The SAG/AFTRA strikes and WGA negotiations of 2023, the recent open letter from Billie Eilish et. al., as well as numerous court cases involving AI’s encroachment on artists’ rights, AI being trained using their material or replicating likenesses of them, or their work is evidence of the complexity and scale of the human-ai situation. Houston, we have a problem.

In Human is the New Vinyl, I talk about how AI is both similar to and different from other historical human innovations in writing, the visual arts, music, etc. In one sense, AI is simply another iteration of creative change; it is just another development of technology that influences media creation, distribution, and consumption. But AI is different because… (1) its scale is unprecedented, (2) it’s steeped in processing human language at its core, (3) its abilities are breathtaking, (4) and its future is open, uncertain, and almost infinitely expansive.

AI’s implications on human creativity are likely to be greater than even the invention of the piano, the printing press, or digital photography — all these being mammoth human innovations that have had centuries-long and enormous breadth of influence on almost every human on the planet.

AI can make stunningly realistic images, impossible to differentiate from human-created ones. AI can write fluently across a wide variety of general topics in over 100 languages. AI can create, mix, and master music at near-human levels. AI can replicate speech and voices virtually indecipherable from real human ones.

But a bunch of us are betting on something: the scrappy essence of authentic human expression will eventually win the day (as it always has), and AI will be relegated to be (as it should be) a tool humans use to make better, richer, and more interesting work — work that is rooted in and expressive of the complications, the beauty, and the mystery of human existence and meaning.

The middle space, the space where AI shines — like scraping the edges of the internet for disposable content or creating generalized writing, images, and generic soundscapes is fine, no one is very concerned about these applications. Even Sora’s impressive cinematic accomplishments are interesting to see, but I wouldn’t want to watch an entire movie directed by a machine’s trained imagination when I can see one directed by a human, like Martin Scorsese. I would never treasure a poem, even one with perfect rhyme and meter, written by an algorithm when I could have a messy one written by a human ten-year-old from Michigan.

With the sudden and ominous introduction of AI in the world, human creative endeavors are experiencing the same kind of whiplash vinyl records did when CDs hit the market. Later, the advent and widespread MP3 medium nearly killed all physical music sales. Streaming music seemed like yet another death blow! But it wasn’t.

Endearingly imperfect, tactile, warm, and historic, vinyl is coming back. People love the ever-fading cover art, the wonky, imperfect grooves, the dust and scratches, and the warm analog sound no lossless file can quite replicate. And just like the glorious vinyl record, humans will rise again to the mainstream of the creative world. Unsurprisingly, Merriam Webster’s word of the year in 2023 was “authentic.” We want what’s real and what’s backed up by lived experience.

The AI hype cycle has started and will likely ebb and flow (forever) as a new but indelible part of the human-technological experience. AI is here. It’s here to stay. Its influence will surely grow and transform over time. But AI is nothing without humans. Moreover, humans have been around for a minute, and we’ve learned how to survive and thrive even among the other profundities of our own inventions, like nuclear fission or photography from space.

And humans have a funny way of appreciating and seeing what other humans can do. Human will be the new vinyl. I have no doubt.

Let’s go, creators. In the face of the new revolution (AI), let’s read, watch, and listen carefully. Better still, let’s write, make, compose, and speak with adaptability, inspiration, and resilience that wells up from the irreplaceable spring of the shared human experience.


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