AI and Imagination


By Elena Greco

Romolo Tavani from 123rf

Typical reading time: 2 minutes

December 23, 2023

Imagination is more important than knowledge.
~ Albert Einstein, from ON SCIENCE

I’ve been thinking a lot about AI recently. With the launch of ChatGPT, everyone seems to be trying some sort of AI-generated thing or other. I’m a techie, a great lover of apps and gadgets and technical solutions. But the now globally-accessible and easy use of AI (artificial intelligence) has me concerned.

ChatGPT can be handy with mundane tasks to be sure, but I believe there is a moral element that should be, and must be, contemplated as to how it should be used, personally and globally. I think it is imperative that how AI could affect our ability to express the highest of human potential and thereby affect our future on this planet must be considered.

When I look at an AI-generated image, I feel uncomfortable, even queasy. The discomfort is not intellectual but visceral. Something feels very wrong to me. I was looking recently on an image website for an picture to use for an article. I found one that had the right subject matter, but I could not bring myself to download it, although I didn’t know why. It just didn’t feel right. Later in my search I saw that it was marked as an AI-generated image. My body knew even before my mind did that something was off, that there was something inauthentic about the image.

This is not the first time I have had such a reaction to an AI-generated image. I should note that I have no problem with vector images that are created by human beings on a computer. It is only images that are generated by AI rather than by human creative work that I find disturbing aesthetically.

I worry about children and their future relationship with AI. Children don’t have the capacity to think philosophically, reason or see the future in the same way an adult can do. I’m concerned that they will take to AI as if to a shiny new toy without realizing what it is doing to them, what it might be destroying. And I worry that if their imaginative capability is destroyed or suppressed during childhood, when imagination is naturally freest and when it develops for use as an adult, they will never regain that capacity. That particular harm that AI can potentially do to them and to us all is the reason for my concern.

So my primary apprehension with AI is perhaps not the first one people think of—that is, that AI will take over, dominate and even subjugate humans. It’s that AI will slowly and inexorably remove the most essential characteristic of human survival and progress: imagination.

Imagination is one of the first things that fascists deliberately obliterate, through brainwashing and cruelty, in order to remove their subjects’ ability to overcome them. Intimidation and fear suppress imagination. If we want to stay free, we had better be cognizant of the danger of anything that suppresses or minimizes our imagination.

We are born with imagination. Children’s play is imagination manifested in our physical reality. Somewhere along the way, many of us lose some of our ability to imagine. I’ve noticed in my coaching work with people, especially in the last few years, that there seems to be a reduction in the ability to use imagination. It’s now often difficult to get people to envision something beyond what they believe possible; in short, to imagine.

We mustn’t let this happen! Imagination is the way that we create our future. If we lose that ability, all we can do is spin our wheels and live the same life continuously without growing or progressing, individually and collectively.

AI can regurgitate what we’ve already done or recombine ideas into something that might at first glance appear novel, but it will never have the creative spirit, the magic sauce that is created when we connect to that source within us that is higher or less polluted than our usual intelligence: imagination. Creative and novel ideas come from humans, not machines. We must never surrender our imagination.

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