Confronted with an AI-generated “Nick Cave”-song, Nick Cave lashed out in his Red Hand Files at the inhuman travesty of AI calling the song “bullshit, a grotesque mockery of what it means to be human.”

The strong reaction to arguably a bad AI song was telling. For Nick Cave, “songs arise out of suffering” and “the complex, internal human struggle of creation.” All of this is threatened, it seems, by AI.

But when Cave lashes out so strongly, I think it is about both the position of humans in the world and, specifically, Nick Cave’s hierarchical position in this system.

His strong reaction comes off as the first stage of grief – anger is the beginning of mourning. Humanity dethroned from our privileged position as the God-like creature of the world – and Nick Cave dethroned as one of the most human among humans: bearer of the transcendent meaning of what it means to be human soon to be indistinguishable from the machinations of AI.

When AI threatens to tear down the existing hierarchies wherein humanity has positioned itself as the sovereign ruler of everything else since the dawn of the enlightenment, the idols and priesthood, the top content creators of this religion, like Nick Cave, also lose their privileged position.

No longer do I have to find inner meaning in the lyrics of Nick Cave or The National when there is always a prompt at my fingertips, ready to serve whatever specific situation I am in.

We no longer have to find a mirroring of our inner life in the lives and expressions of other people through community. Instead of a shared humanity, AI allows almost infinite power of the individual.

This way, AI is democratization and thereby also a decentering of meaning. And although it is also a reminder that we are not God – that however unique we think human creative endeavours are, they can be made just as well by AI – it repositions us as gods in the very same motion. 

This we see, for example, when Accenture Song recreates the JFK speech he never got to perform because of his assassination. It is a warning of what is to come and something disconcerting: Soon, we will all wake our loved ones from death based on snippets of text, audio, video and online digital traces – keeping our loss at bay through digital simulations.

Previously, institutions like museums have ruled over the history of the dead, but now – with AI – it becomes not the story of humanity but that of the power of the individual.

I feel Cave’s mourning, not because of the dethroning of him or even of humanity as the privileged position in this world, but because there is something fundamentally lost when we no longer search for ourselves in a community of others when our wants and our technical abilities to fulfil them become so overpowering that we no longer accept loss and grievance as a part of life.

Ultimately, what is at stake here is not so much about being replicated or superseded by technology. It is about losing our very humanity, replaced by the individual wants of instant gratification.

What kind of humans and what kind of humanity do we become if we won’t allow for experiences that will enable us to grow?

What is needed here is neither Nick Cave’s mourning over the loss of the anthropocentric and his own privileged role in this hierarchy nor the mindless continuation of human mastery over the world, as exemplified in the Accenture Songs project.

Instead, we need to use AI wisely to reconnect to human experience that is not a mere mirroring of our own desires and is not a mere extreme continuation of the human mastery of the world that has led us to the brink of self-destruction as a species.

We need to explore how AI can help us experience otherness and community – how it can help us to find a meaningful place in the world rather than dominate it.

It can be a valuable tool for reaching both inside and beyond ourselves to form new meaning that is not based on mastery but on respect and gratitude.