Web dev at the end of the world, from Hveragerði, Iceland

AI, Algogen, and Anti-Poetry


Two things caught my notice recently.

The first is the use of the term algogen as a catch-all term for algorithmically-generated art and text.

​But a thing I find being discounted in a lot of these conversations is value. Things that are easy to make, things anyone can do, aren’t valuable. Value is a driver of worth. Algogen art will crash its own value just existing. (Iron Spike over on Twitter)

That this term was wrapped in an astute comment by a comics publisher on supply and demand was a bonus.

The other is the astute observation, by clarissa over on Mastodon, that because algogen text is all about generating text as it’s normally used—it’s middling utilitarian as an explicit ideal—that makes it the opposite of poetry. Where poetry de-familiarises, algogen is perfect familiarity. Where poetry casts the unexceptional as exceptional, draws out the unusual beauty in the usual, and reuses language in original ways, algogen aspires to peak mundane. Even when it’s ostensibly creative, it only does so through postmodern mash-ups: mixing up tropes, conventions, and references. It is perfectly mediocre.

Which goes a long way towards explaining why people in tech love it. It also explains why there is such a disconnect, in my experience, between how tech people describe algogen art an text and how it’s perceived by those outside of tech.

The flawed hands are just a symptom. It sets you up for an easy joke, but fixing it won’t make algogen art as good as that made by an artist. Many of those working in AI just don’t see even a fraction of the quality, rendering, composition, colour, anatomy, and texture issues in the art their tools generate. The same applies to the text. I’ve lost count of how many people in tech (and marketing, natch) who say that algogen text is just as good as that written by people. They genuinely don’t see the limited vocabulary, word repetition, incoherence, and simplistic use of sentence structure. They only aspire to perfect, non-threatening mediocrity and algogen text delivers that. They don’t care the role writing has in forming your own thoughts and creativity. They don’t care about how writing improves memory and recall. They don’t value the role of creativity in the text itself.

For them, it’s all about the idea.

That algogen fans are predominantly idea people—the lot who think that 99% of the value delivered by any given form of media comes from the idea—isn’t a new observation, but it’s apt. If you don’t think the form or structure of the medium delivers any value, then it has to be a uniform commodity that can, and should, be generated algorithmically to save people from the tedious work of pointless creation.

This worldview is such an utter misunderstanding of so many things that I wouldn’t even know where to start.

But it ends with this:

They don’t know what writing is for, yet they claim to be revolutionising it.

They don’t know what art is for, yet they claim to be perfecting it.

The worst thing we can do is to believe their claims.

Clarissa’s post and the following thread is worth checking out.

For more of my writing on AI, check out my book The Intelligence Illusion: a practical guide to the business risks of Generative AI.

You can also find me on Mastodon and Bluesky