Saturday 23 July 2022

The Makers Hand

Things have reached the point where we should probably develop some kind of classification system to describe the amount of cyberneticisation in the things we make.

This was brought to a head for me be the recent explosion in Dall-E art and others, and by a post by Chris McDowall where he shows some A.I. generated art and talks about its possible use in products.

A fair amount of OSR creations have used archive art or altered historical images, and A.I. art feels like it would fit right into that space. 

This made it clear to me that this is not a 'thing to think about' but something happening right now. It’s pretty clear that we have already reached the point where human beings are in the act of 'putting ourself out of business'. 

This concept of a classification system describing how 'Hand-Made' and how 'System-Generated' something is, is intended partly as a protection for human creators as the power of A.I. s grows and partly to help us manage the conflict and synthesis between the two cultures as they develop.

The moral weight of the difference between the two modes is very great and I imagine will probably intense swings and cultural counter-reactions each against the other. Hopefully, possibly, having a clear idea of what we are talking about will help us at least navigate this process.


There are sound reasons for the use of A.I. content in productions, an A.I.O.S.R.;

- We are all the children of cybernetics. D&D has always been poised between the polarities of a cottage industry and a centralised system. The O.S.R. has a complex relationship with cybernetics already. The movement and products would not be possible without huge web of very cheap communication (effectively free intercontinental video calls) file transfers, international fundraising and production for even small creators. 

- Specifically in the artpunk-adjacent world, there is a taste for weird alienating imagery which programmes like Dall-E seem to do well.

- Many, (most), creators are poor. If they can produce beautiful art to go with their stuff easily and for free, do we have a right to stop them?

- Same applies when the textual Dall-E arrives. When a human artist can command a story or situation be generated based on their art.

- Creators are frustrating and expensive to deal with.

The best argument for A.I. production is the most subtle and the hardest to maintain;

- We don't know what might happen. It’s an experiment. The future is not only dark. It provides threats to the nature and expression of humanity, but it does not provide only threats. The experiment should be allowed and in fact will go ahead whether we like it or not so we may as well manage it.


The arguments against A.I. content should be intuitively and immediately obvious to anyone but I will state them explicitly;

- We are engineering ourselves out of the system. producing a culture which has a cornucopia for the things we want, but no place for us.

- Its use will impoverish visual artists. The O.S. has been oddly good at keeping artists fed, for a movement of people with a range of personality disorders.

- It could lead to the destruction of art, art skills and independent vision. (I think this is possible but unlikely as I intuit there will be massive counter-reaction once people fully sense what is going on).

- The destructive power of the counter-reaction. Total eschewal of A.I. development, or a frustrating unenlightening and resource intensive cultural war between the two cultures. I think is actually more likely. I can imagine very easily people screaming at each other and shaming each other over using the "wrong art" and either "betraying humanity" or being "slaves to the past" and its this uncreative trench warfare that I think we have a chance of avoiding by thinking about it ahead of time.


This is the real tricky part. the current emotional and cultural need is for a symbol and concept which delineates that over here you will find A.I. derived art, but over here you will find human-only art.

Lets try this to start with;


Anarcho-Primitivism. A rare but not impossible situation with *only* direct human action used - a dungeon scribed on handmade paper in handmade ink.

Or more realistically - printed on to handmade or recovered paper with handmade block printing.

(Some of these may seem _unlikely_ but please don't be frustrating in the comments, try to imagine a society a generation or more deep into the situation we see now with Dall-E and its equivalents and then try to imagine the counter-reaction against that, anarcho-primitivist groups are not that strange a possibility.)

"Attempted-Zero", "aimed-zero" or "Zero-minimal" is more likely as in a high tech society making stuff without any tech influence, even in the acquisition of materials, would be very hard.


19th and early 20th century industrial technology, printing presses etc, slide rules and blueprints, but without the internet.

I think this is actually less likely than attempts at Zero productions. People deliberately attempting near medieval construction maybe, but the idea of people deliberately attempting 19th/early 20th century construction seems strange to me, but may not seem so in the future.


Late 20th/early 21stC production methods.

It’s our current world! Hello! Here are used the cybernetic communication and arrangement technology we are currently familiar with - email file transfers, computer programmes etc but with all content generated by human beings, the cybernetics acting as assistants to that.


Then we cross over into deep 21stC methods. Our current moment. Anything Level Three or above will have specifically A.I. generated content - not just AI aid in creation. Art and words which no human hand has touched.


We don't really know and can't predict what might happen there but there is a lot of space to expand into?


We could reverse the order and use the symbol of the hand with the 'level' being the number of fingers held down.

The anarcho-primitivist Class Zero product would have a full, spread hand. (Like the white hand of Saruman).

The industrial but not computer-based Class One production would have the thumb down and four fingers spread.

Our current standard of cybernetic aided Class Three production would have the three central fingers spread.

A.I. generated Class Four production would have the two forefingers.


(Also I realise there are already lots of symbols for 'handmade' but I wish we had some that were less twee)


Its more pleasing and less depressing to imagine a meaningful cultural interchange between cultures Two and Three, artists and. creators moving back and forth, observing each others work etc.

We don't really know how human art will react to the presence of AI art. When photography began to take off, it seems to have had a huge but unpredictable effect, perhaps being a main driver of modernism.

when a human artist grows up in a world of common AI art, what art will they themselves make? We don't know but can expect a re-contextualisation of what art means, why we do it e.t.c.


Since this seems like a relatively sane and good idea I expect that someone else has already had it. I expect you to notify me about that in the comments.

(Along with all your points about how my proposed system lacks discretion and detail. Propose your own systems!)


  1. Re. Predecessors -

    Neal Stephenson refers to the notion of Amistics [Amish-tics not A-miss-tics] in Seveneves, This is, roughly speaking, which technologies a society chooses to adapt or not. There's a certain concentration in Seveneves on 21st century humanity concentrating on social media, iPods, &c and not rocket ships (simplified, but no incorrect) so this isn't quite 'no AI' - though as I recall his future civilisation has anathematised too much computer use.

    Stephenson's The Diamond Age had the future postcyberpunk social grouping or phyle called Dovetail, which produced things and appeared to try to largely live by traditional methods. At least in his future Shanghai, they were profitably aligned (if not formally allied) with the more powerful Neo-Victorians who appear to have embraced the use of X amount of new technologies but do not necessarily try to live through them.

    One can imagine a future product having markers proclaiming, similar to organic produce, that it is 'X per cent Butlerian' - accompanied by a simplified butler image, perhaps holding the percentage on a salver.

  2. ok I like this in concept but it's completely fucking useless the way you put it here. what about someone who hand-writes AI-generated text on handmade paper with handmade ink? what about someone who uses AI to mimic the authorial voice of some famous writer, while coming up with all the plot beats themselves? what about someone like me, who uses AI-generated visual art as key components in very deliberate digital collage work? you're creating an imaginary reactionary response to an existing issue and then trying to accommodate that reactionary response while ignoring the actual breadth of human-AI interaction possible in just this small niche.

    off the top of my head, there's three main points where AI can replace humans within the creation of a game product: generating inspiration, generating actual meat-and-potatoes content, and polishing that content. there might be a human curatorial element present between each of those steps or not, and each step might be fully automated or only partially. a score for how "human" a product is versus can result from that, probably.

    stop worrying about reactionary nerds hand-writing rpg supplements until they, idk, actually exist as a group worth paying attention to?

    1. going back to this bc I'm on a computer now instead of typing shit up on my phone.

      the spectrum that is actually relevant here has zero AI input on one end, and on the other end we have a situation where a guy says "make me a D&D module" and the AI spits one out fully-formed and the guy just slaps it onto drivethrurpg as-is. those are the relevant extremes-- I don't THINK that AI is quite capable of single-handedly generating even a passable full module from scratch rn, but that's VERY MUCH a not-if-but-when question. that's the extreme we ACTUALLY have to prepare for.

      if someone pays me to make a work of art for their game, they're getting a "handmade" work of art just the same as if they paid a normal artist who doesn't use AI. I probably filtered through dozens of initial images, carefully edited a couple good ones, stitched them together, it's collage, what can I say? at the same time, the money they might pay me is explicitly NOT going into the hands of someone who actually knows how to draw a decent dragon. is that a loss? for culture? for society? ???

      ... hey, I just realized something. in the end, you're not fighting for humanity's right to be creative. humans will engage even with a 100%-AI-generated module probably in basically the same way that they engage with a human-written module, creatively. you're actually only fighting for a specific class of professionals (of which you are a member) to keep being able to make money writing modules and drawing dragons. "humanity's building a world without room for itself" no we're just building a world where people can't pay the bills by drawing dragons and writing up dungeons, or at least where they'll have an EVEN HARDER time paying the bills than they do now. which absolutely sucks for them, yeah, but it's not exactly an apocalypse tbth.

  3. I live in Seattle. There are a lot of “kill the internet” type propaganda up on walls around here. Neo-Luddites. I appreciate their stance, but not their methods…a lack of effectiveness more than a particular way of executing the agenda.

    AI is the death of creativity.

  4. More than iron, more than lead, more than gold I need electricity.
    I need it more than I need lamb or pork or lettuce or cucumber.
    I need it for my dreams.

    — Racter, The Policeman's Beard Is Half Constructed

  5. Another argument against AI, at least as it currently stands, is regression to the mean. All machine-generated content is based on stuff that's already out there, and as a result it's designed to spew out clichés. Various weirdness-sliders do a good job of masking this (especially, it seems to me, in machine generated imagery) but the machine is still essentially trying to please us by giving us stuff it knows we already like. My friend Kevin Marks says it better than I can, in this post from a bygone era:

    I mean... not that this will really stop anyone. AI-produced stuff has a good enough sheen of originality for 99.9% of purposes, But the thought that it may never produce anything truly original still niggles (even though we're unlikely ever to figure out quite what we mean by "truly original")

  6. Attitudes towards AI art will probably be a bit like many people's attitude towards casual piracy nowadays -- you only give artists money for stuff if you REALLY like them (as people, with all the trouble and complications that implies), otherwise you just find their stuff somewhere on the internet for free, assuming you don't dislike the artist so much you don't even want to look at their work. Ditto, you'd only want to pay a human artist for something if you really really admire them, otherwise you can just make up a passable (superior?) simulacrum of their work via AI.

    Of course this is just a Level 1 effect of AI. The higher-level effects could involve a deprecation of the value of human artistic labor altogether, and perhaps reevaluation of/scorn towards the idea of individual creative ownership. Until it becomes a quaint hipster/collectible thing like buying Ye Old Handmade Painting or Ye Olde Hand-Thought-Up Novel at the small-town crafts fair.

    Peter Watts' sci-fi novels "Blindsight" and "Echopraxia" both are set in a near-future where the superiority of AI to humans at pretty much everything has led to a general social malaise, and that's not even the main plot of the novels, just a background element.

    1. I think that's spot on Jason.

      I was listening recently to a friend talking about how their kid has given up art because they're "not good enough", because nowadays everything is judged against what professionals do. This has been a thing for decades at least with adults, but so sad to head that it's affecting kids too. I wonder whether AI will further hammer in that sense of human inadequacy, or whether it might open us up to an "every human is an amateur" point of view where we can once again take up creative pursuits for the pure pleasure of doing them, rather than for the competitive thrill. I strongly suspect the former, although life sometimes surprises one.

  7. I see that past me has already commented on, and hence previously read, this post which I have absolutely no prior memory of. I guess I must have skimmed it and assumed it as a springboard for splurging my own somewhat-buthnot-really related thoughts. But this time I read it and want to say thank you for articulating so clearly what I've been thinking during the most recent round of Dall-Esturbation. The comment that it's "completely fucking useless" is way off the mark, as this is not a system for specifying the exact amount of tech involved every step of the way, which would be unworkable overkill (I initially thought there's a case for inserting another level between 2 and 3, for AI with significant human input/finessing, but realised that even that is probably too nit-picky. Beyond 4 is probably stuff created by robots, for robots, and fuck off humans can't you see that this was never even intended for you to see.

    Bringing back to "almost entirely unrelated to the post but my ego needs to get it out there", I can't help but think of my own Nanodeities project, featuring a text collaboration between entirely procedural (human written but spliced together with a lot of randomness) machine-generated content, AI-created content, and some human finessing and statblockisation, accompanied by images drawn by the verifiably 100% human unit that goes by the label "Rich Tingly". This has been moving further and further down my to-do list, and is starting to feel as though, by the time I get around to it, it will be sooooo last-civilisation, dahhlink.