Perilous Tech

Occasional thoughts on technology and social issues

2023 is going to be an interesting year for generative AI. Past the demos of the previous year, there’s going to be a big push on monetization. This application and integration into products will have a displacing effect and this effect will have a disproportionate impact on certain areas, mainly in the creative arts.

Note: All images in this post were generated with the prompt, “generate a stock photo image that is just okay and mildly pleasing to a human“

Perspective Mismatch

I see quite a few people making statements like, “AI isn’t going to replace people. People who use AI will replace people who don’t.” Or some form of this statement. This is usually followed by a hearty high-five at their insight. The problem with this statement is it just doesn’t reflect reality for certain types of jobs. To put this in another context, this is like saying, “Food service robots won’t replace food service workers. Food service workers who don’t use robots will be replaced.”

These comments are often made by people in positions that have no visibility into impacted areas. If you are a developer who finds a productivity boost from CoPilot or ChatGPT, you have a much different perspective than the millions of independent artists, creatives, and copyrighters across the globe. The warning signs are here. This isn’t AI hate or denialism. This is reality.

2023 will be the year where you start seeing freelance creatives losing opportunities as the impact of generative AI hits freelancers and the gig economy. Jobs will be eliminated or devalued to the point where it isn’t worth it.

From Demo to Application

Last year was the year of the demo, the time to showcase the novelty. Demos like Dall-E, Stable Diffusion, and ChatGPT were everywhere. To quote the philosopher Steven Pearcy, “Nobody rides for free.” In 2023 the novelty is wearing off and the check comes due. These systems cost money, and the need to monetize is here.

This year will witness a rapid expansion of generative AI in all areas with a low cost of failure. Everything gets an AI assistant. This assistant mindset will put the tools much closer to everyone. You won’t need to go to a website or use an API to use the tools. They’ll be built into the things you use on a daily basis. Microsoft is investing billions of dollars into OpenAI, and comments from Yann LeCun from Meta about generative models being built directly into Facebook for creative activities. Notion is beta testing a generative writing assistant integrated into the tool. And the list goes on and on.

ChatGPT was a great demo, but not really overly unique. Other large tech companies have similar tools but are more conservative about how they use and release them. Well, the floodgates are open.

Good Enough is Fine

Creative arts are an area ripe for disruption and democratization, aka devaluation and elimination. In the areas of creative arts, the impact of failure for an AI system is low, making it a great target for AI, which tends to have high rates of failure. This is much different than, say, a self-driving car not recognizing a red light or a pedestrian in a crosswalk. In creative areas, If you don’t like something, just generate another one, or ten, or a hundred.

Human novelty won’t cut it for most regular creative tasks. Sure, some creatives will continue to find work, but the work won’t be the same and there’ll be far less to go around. Even though humans have the potential to bring something unique and ultimately deliver a better product, with the devaluation of artistic endeavors, good enough will be just fine.

This technology will most likely be justified under the heading of “advanced customization.” Being able to take something like an advertisement and custom tailor the content to specific groups or even possibly down to individuals. Today, you can target ads at specific groups of people, but in the future, you may not need to. By having some form of adaptive ad with adaptive content, the ad can tailor itself to the individual. Don’t get me wrong, this is an interesting technical problem but it creates a human problem. Once again, my tech friends are reducing everything down to the process of doing something and not the human aspect of the task. Whenever you have extreme customization and add scale, you always create a process with too much friction for human effort.

This is about the time that I hear the groaning about these creatives having the same access to tools that everyone else has. This is certainly true, but it’s not an equalizer at all. Even if creatives were able to keep pace, there’s a monumental satisfaction drop. If you are an artist who enjoys putting together graphics, having an AI generate a bunch of them isn’t the same as creating your own. If you are a VoiceOver artist, having an AI generate a voice isn’t the same as using your own voice. This isn’t the “eliminate the mundane work so humans can focus on more interesting things” promise from AI being fulfilled here.

I get the feeling in discussions on this topic that technologists equate creative writing to writing code.

I get the feeling in discussions on this topic that technologists equate creative writing to writing code. This is incredibly disconnected. Creative endeavors aren’t some problem to be solved or some slog that needs to be eliminated. In many cases, the slog is kind of the point. As someone who does both, I totally get it. It’s completely inefficient and hard to understand, but it’s the reality.

But this is irrelevant because creatives won’t be able to keep up, especially with these tools at everyone’s fingertips, tempting people to do it themselves. Many just trying to get tasks done will use the tools provided to them in the interface. They’ll wonder why they are paying someone to push the same buttons they can push right in front of them.

Why am I so confident? We have similar evidence for this trend in camera phones. Look at what camera phones and photo filters did to the photography industry. In the past, people would hire a photographer or have a lab touch up photos, but now people use an iPhone and smear a filter on it. This is true even for events as meaningful as their wedding. Sure, we still have photographers today, but the industry is pretty decimated. Many who could have made a living can’t even eke out a meager side hustle with this.

When I was growing up, I used to hear the term “starving artists.” I guess it’s time for creatives to realize that existence again. Even Fiverr will have to rebrand to Freeverr.

Near Future

They’ll notice their work first change, reduce in value, and then drop off.

Most immediately impacted will be freelance artists, graphic designers, writers, and copyrighters. They’ll notice their work first change, reduce in value, and then drop off. Below are a few examples of what I see happening very soon.

Freelance copyrighters, instead of being asked to write the copy themselves, will be asked to tweak and make adjustments copy generated from a tool. They’ll be asked to do this work for far less than they’d be paid to write the copy. In many cases, the copy will be tweaked in-house and the external copyrighter won’t be contacted.

Say you are part of some group that wants to have some t-shirts made. Instead of having an artist design the image and graphics for the shirt, you now use the web interface of the t-shirt company’s website to automatically generate unique artwork for you, bypassing the need for a freelance artist.

Artists are asked to become part of a working group where they receive a gift card for providing feedback on a swath of images generated by an AI for a stock photo site. The mechanical mashing of thumbs up and thumbs down is a stark contrast to the artistic activities to which they are accustomed. Less pay and less fulfillment.

What Do We Do?

So, what can be done about this? Nothing. It’s beautiful in its simplicity. There’s literally nothing we can do. Genies don’t fit back into bottles. I could say that companies should put an emphasis on hiring people to continue doing this work, but it’s not going to happen. And, maybe there’s nothing we should do. This may just be the natural part of human evolution toward becoming machines ourselves. If you look at some of the jobs impacted, these are uniquely human jobs.

If I have hope here, it’s that we begin to tire of everything being automatically generated and tailored specifically for us.

So, let’s pour one out for some of the jobs impacted in the near future. Here are a few off the top of my head, artists, graphic designers, stock photography, VoiceOver and voice actors, copyrighters, proofreaders, and a whole lot more. Coming soon to this space actors and actresses.

A couple of years ago, I said that the people who should really be worried about deepfakes are actors and actresses. Interesting thought, since many of these generative AI systems have NSFW protections built into them, pornography will continue to be made by humans. The future prospects of human actors and actresses look quite a bit different through this lens.

Who Really Loses?

Is humanity destined for a future where “creativity” is defined by just smashing the like button on the output of AI?

My biggest concern here isn’t the job loss, it’s what we are losing as humans. As I mentioned, these are jobs that were previously uniquely human. 65,000 years ago, our ancestors showcased their creative talents by painting on cave walls. They may have been memorializing events, but it’s a sure thing that some of them liked the activity and it gave them a sense of fulfillment.

Is humanity destined for a future where “creativity” is defined by just smashing the like button on the output of AI? Only time will tell.

One thought on “Good Enough is Fine: This Year AI Displaces Creatives

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: