Nick Cave excoriates San Francisco’s ChatGPT ‘travesty’

Nick Cave, the seminal Australian rock figure who helmed the Bad Seeds, had plenty to say about ChatGPT, the text-based chat tech developed by buzzy San Francisco startup OpenAI.

In a letter published Monday in his “The Red Hand Files” newsletter, Cave talked about the humanity of art, the “emerging horror of AI” and ChatGPT’s “grotesque mockery” of his oeuvre.

A New Zealand-based fan sent him a song “written” by the already notorious bot in the style of Cave’s work. To say that the songwriter was unhappy with the song would be underselling his fury.

Cave begins by noting that he’s repeatedly been sent various iterations of “as written by Nick Cave” songs. To put it bluntly, Cave says the song in question “sucks.”

“What ChatGPT is, in this instance, is replication as travesty. ChatGPT may be able to write a speech or an essay or a sermon or an obituary but it cannot create a genuine song,” he wrote in perhaps one of the more brutal callouts of the technology. “It could perhaps in time create a song that is, on the surface, indistinguishable from an original, but it will always be a replication, a kind of burlesque.”

Cave goes on emphasizing the necessity of having a human being behind the creation of art and music. He writes that humans necessarily have an edge over technology in that they can “offer … the transcendent journey of the artist that forever grapples with his or her own shortcomings.” 

“ChatGPT has no inner being, it has been nowhere, it has endured nothing, it has not had the audacity to reach beyond its limitations, and hence it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend,” he wrote.

As a working musician, Cave has some skin in the game to ensure that his art does not get supplanted by a computer. He also seems firmly skeptical about modern technology in his work. (For example, the 2013 song “We No Who U R” is, in part, about what he described in an interview with the Guardian as the “apocalyptic” nature of texting.)

Cave is one of the first high-profile musicians to rally against ChatGPT and the AI-ification of art. But as OpenAI gets folded into Microsoft’s product line — and artists of all forms continue rallying against OpenAI, Midjourney and other AI art producers — he won’t be the last.

OpenAI, in which Microsoft is reportedly investing $10 billion, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from SFGATE.