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Week of 8 May 2023

Week of 8 May 2023

Artificial Intelligence and Weretigers

We dabbled with the new AI feature in our graphics software to create an ad for an upcoming book event. It was easy to do. Effortless even. But we didn’t feel good about it because of the question of copyright and the blithe exploitation of the work of artists on a scale never dreamt of before.

For those unaware, AI image generation is so efficient because the neural network draws from an immense global database made up of the internet-available works of millions of artists. There are countless reasons why artists upload their work to the internet, but I don’t think any intended their works to be source material for AI. The same is true for the text generated by ChatGPT. No author or researcher consented to their works being appropriated, spliced, mashed up, and then spat out as textual simulacra of art or of knowledge. There is no truth or beauty where there is exploitation and theft. This is not creativity but dislocation and disruption.

In the last few months there has been a lot of hand-wringing over the ethics of AI, and quite rightly. As far as I’m concerned, this is yet another death rattle of objective truth and beauty; what Abdal Hakim Murad coined the process of epistemicide. A lot is at stake. We should do well to pay closer attention to the tools we create and wield. Man needs limits: “This far, and no further will you come.”

True creativity, human creativity, draws not from data clouds, but from the wellsprings of the mindful heart. There is inspiration, integration, and synthesis. While I fear for the future of generative knowledge and imagination, this week I read a work of fiction for young adults that the likes of AI could never simulate because of the author’s inspiration, integration, and synthesis. The book is Hamra and the Jungle of Memories by Hanna Alkaf.

With the Asian Festival of Children’s Content around the corner (25–28 May in Singapore), some of our booksellers have taken to catching up on young-adult fiction. In fact, in the next two weeks we will host sessions with the author of Escape from Bussorah Street (Epigram Books), A.K. Zai and the author of the aforementioned Hamra and the Jungle of Memories (HarperCollins), Hanna Alkaf.

Hanna Alkaf’s book is unapologetically Malay and Malaysian: she does not even explain what is a Proton Saga, or a bangau, or the lyrics to a P. Ramlee song. Bravo and syabas. Ostensibly a reimagining of the story of the Little Red Riding Hood by the Brothers Grimm, Hanna’s Langkawi rainforest setting and exquisite centring in the Malay mythological universe has produced something entirely original. Here in action is inspiration, integration, and synthesis, and much more besides, for Hanna in this book explores themes of mental health, care-giving, love, and sacrifice. Plus there is a spot of adventure too.

Later in the week when we were deciding on what book to feature at our window this month, we wholeheartedly agreed on Hamra and the Jungle of Mysteries. In the next few weeks, don’t be surprised to catch the amber eyes of a weretiger staring back at you through the glass when you walk pass our bookshop.

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