Friday, February 9, 2024

Al, Is That You?


Did you see what Merriam-Webster’s word of the year was for 2023?


They could have chosen Artificial Intelligence, “AI” (which always looks like Al to me, like the shortened version of the name Allen or Albert) or “rizz” or “deepfake” but didn’t. Authentic won out, and I think it should have.

I am sure the decision was indeed a way to call out AI and all the ramifications of it. I see AI all the time these days and I, for one, am sort of frightened of it. Others more so; artists, photographers, writers all see it as a threat to their livelihood and creativity. College professors wade through fake papers. Politicians use it to slander and defame their candidates. Phones fix bad backgrounds, eliminate people and objects, even aggregate a number of images into one, fake, image where everyone is smiling.

What frightens me more is the AI we don’t see and won’t see even more in the future as it gets better and better and more nefarious and, well, meaner. I should acknowledge that, as I understand it, AI can be an amazing tool – predicting problems and treatments in medicine, finding anomalies in weather patterns, aiding in the building of those amazing images from the Webb telescope that surprise us seemingly every day, and in so many more ways I am sure I will never know.

And, you know what? There’s another thing I think I should be thankful to AI for – it has sent me on a search for the truth, the actual, the authentic.

I ask myself, more than ever, perhaps even for the some of the first times in my life, is this real?

That’s profound and exactly what AI is designed to not have me do.

I listen to a lot of new music, mostly Americana, Folk and Bluegrass, and am finding a new voice coming through it all, a true voice, a real story, a new authenticity and, honestly, I think a lot of folks are looking for that as well.

At The Grammy Awards last Sunday there was a lot of big, big stuff – costumes and choreography and songs from artists I don’t know and never will – none of it AI (I assume) but, for me, fake, somehow digital. And then…

Enter Tracy Chapman, analog, a guitar and an iconic song, Fast Car, and then, Luke Combs joins her and I am holding back tears. The crowd roared; the show stolen.

And then, and then…

Joni Mitchell comes out with her beautiful helper and friend, Brandi Carlisle, and sings Both Sides Now in a spinning throne-like chair and her walking staff and re-steals the whole damn show. Imagine, a woman – a young woman – writes a song in 1966, records it and it becomes a huge hit. (I remember my dad loved it and the song’s been echoing about in my mind for decades.) She records it again, a lavish production, in 2000. And then, she sings it again in 2024 – a frail and beautiful woman, strong and tender and so, so lovely. I let my tears run…

…as they are now.

In an opinion piece in The Washington Post just yesterday, Kim Ruehl writes: “I felt these things again as I watched Tracy Chapman and Joni Mitchell sing their songs. At its best, a song can remind us there is light on offer every day. After the past few years of world events, it still feels as though we are emerging from our tiny cabins. We are pretty sure we know what to expect. But then the light comes — just like that. With it come the tears. We didn’t know how much we needed them.”

Ms. Ruehl wasn’t the only one to mention these two performances, out of the dozens Sunday night – journalists and artists, friends and so many others could not help but marvel, comment and revel in the confelicity that we all shared, the joy.

What we saw was authentic.

What we witnessed was the truth.

We saw unadulterated beauty.

It is not surprising that, in this world of AI and deepfakes and this maelstrom of untruths, many of us saw and savored this moment, humans are better than it all, I swear.

Originally when this all started, (when? I don’t know, it just kind of seeped in, didn’t it?) I was angry and distrustful and vowed to not fall for it and eschew it at every opportunity, and not allow it in my life.

Well, that’s not going to work out and life upsets me enough already.

But something else happened, I look harder now for the authentic.

Go on out now and look for it and yourself, you’ll see it.

A little league baseball game.

A high school musical.

The lyrics to this new song or that old one.

The poems of our tender sons.

The tears of a lover lost.

The stone truth in a memory turned to the sun.


Look for it.


AI can simply not compare to the brushstrokes in a Rothko painting, the story in a Norman Rockwell, the images of Mapplethorpe, the detail in a Vermeer. It cannot compare to “To be…” or "When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow..." and all that comes after those lines. It shall never even hum to Brahms’ German Requiem, Bohemian Rhapsody or an American in Paris. It could never conjure the folk dances of the indigenous or put on the slippers at the Bolshoi Ballet.

It can never get to the truth of it all, this Art.

Seek that truth. Seek that place. Seek that, well… Love. Like the Tinman of Oz, you can see its heartlessness and will never get one. It simply… can’t.

There is no Artificial Love.



  1. Bill my friend, you and your insightful wisdom never cease to amaze me. I can’t wait for the day I have all your musings bound in book form and signed,”Peace” by the author

  2. Well spoken, Bill. And a new perspective for me on the question of AI. - Cousin Lynn