Jorge Luis Borges and the impact of AI on human creativity


Jorge Luis Borges has been one of my favorite authors since my teens. Over the last couple of years I have often thought of one of his masterpieces, Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote, written in 1939, which turns out to be extremely relevant to the age of AI. 

The story recounts how a contemporary writer, Pierre Menard, rewrites Cervantes’ epic Don Quixote word for word. However he writes it entirely from his own context, making the text laden with layers of meaning missing from the original. The reviewer played by Borges in the piece finds the new Quixote, coinciding word for word with the original, enriched, astounding, and more significant than the original.

If a human writer and AI create exactly the same text, which has more value?

Every word written by a person can only come from their complete context and life experience. Any writing utterly reflects the writer, however twisted it might be by education or pretention. AI has no context. It is simply generating a plausible series of words. 

While not everyone has Borges’ sensibility and attunement to the state of the writer, I think most people reading a marvelous story wonder who it was who wrote those words, how they came to the imagination that produced this work. They are engaged not just with the output, but intuiting and relating to the person created it.

Which brings us to the question of how people will treat AI-created versus human-created art. 

I believe that, save perhaps for formulaic thrillers and romances, people will always prefer human-created over AI-created art. They can feel connected to the author and their experience, if they know there is one, but there can be no relationship with an AI that ingests and spits out words.

Then again, perhaps AI, in its statistical recombination of billions of words produced by humans, is distilling an essence of humanity. We are relating not to the machine, but to an amalgam of human experience that we can deeply identify with.

Certainly, Borges’ story highlights that the experience of creativity is just as much about who created it as the creation. 

Link to the story: Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote.