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Artificial Intelligence and the World of (Artistic) Work

Artificial Intelligence

Is artificial intelligence going to conquer the world? The answer to that question depends on who you ask. You needn't look far to discover numerous books, television shows, and movies centered around the premise of a coordinated technological force overpowering humanity. Even Disney adopted the idea in its 2008 film WALL-E. A Pew Research survey from 2022 discovered that Americans are quite divided on the issue of artificial intelligence: roughly half of respondents felt conflicted over the costs and benefits of A.I. The remaining half was split again over whether A.I. is predominantly good or bad, with most individuals believing that A.I. is more of a threat to society than an asset (read the full article here and see the infographic below).

Pew Research Study American Opinions on AI

While the concept of sentient technological domination is certainly an interesting philosophical challenge, it is a question that takes concerns about artificial intelligence to an extreme. Perhaps a more realistic, and arguably pressing, question is this: how does artificial intelligence affect the current work landscape, especially as it relates to both how we work and how many jobs are available? Again, the views on this topic are as varied as the individuals to whom the question is posed. Some visionaries and entrepreneurs see A.I. as a tool to generate ideas and to make tasks more efficient and self-sustaining. Others in the tech industry (and beyond) see A.I. as a weapon against personal privacy and as a thief of ideas and art. Indeed, we are already seeing the juxtaposition of these perspectives at work in the current strikes in Hollywood. Personally, I believe that if A-list actors and world-class writers are afraid of what artificial intelligence will mean for their careers, careers that are highly public and not simply replaced, then small-time creatives like myself should be paying attention.

ChatGPT Logo
ChatGPT Logo

Until recently, blog posts and work-for-hire sites (ex. Upwork) have been the bread-and-butter of countless self-employed writers and authors. Now, artificial intelligence has become a formidable player in the game: blog posts that would otherwise take a writer hours to craft now take mere minutes using ChatGPT. A novice writer who possesses a basic understanding of A.I. prompt input is able to complete multiple times the number of jobs and tasks as a writer who is simply armed with Google and their own ideas. This is not to say that the writing is always equal in quality. A few months ago, I was reading a Reddit forum for authors where A.I. was being discussed; one Redditor described ChatGPT results as long strings of pleasant-sounding words that lack substance. Overall, I believe that this is a fairly accurate description. I have used A.I. as a brainstorming partner in devising book descriptions, and while the results offered a fresh perspective and expanded vocabulary options, very few iterations were publication-ready as generated.

Nevertheless, writers, artists, illustrators, and others within the artistic community are concerned about how ChatGPT, Midjourney, and other programs will affect their job prospects in the future. Time and again, I have seen numerous children's authors post their book covers to author Facebook groups for critique, only to be shunned and vilified for using Midjourney as the 'illustrator' for their images. As a thrifty, cost-conscious person myself, I completely understand the appeal of using artificial intelligence as a tool, or even as a substitute for hired work where possible. There are certain situations where a task simply needs to be completed 'sufficiently,' and not 'expertly.' Upwork, for example, is full of professionals in need of tech-savvy wordsmiths to provide basic website design and social media content. These individuals are not looking for top-of-the-line, industry-disrupting talent: they simply need the job done. Even as an author, I can understand the temptation of using a free or low-cost A.I. tool to generate illustrations instead of spending thousands of dollars to commission an artist to do the 'same' job. This is especially true for authors who only write for their own benefit and print a handful of copies for family and friends.

Frustrated man in front of computer keyboard

On the other hand, as a writer myself, I understand the fear and frustration of fellow authors and creatives who feel that they are competing against machines that possess seemingly unlimited resources, source knowledge, and historical context. It is said that writers should also be voracious readers, yet how can I, a young mother who barely has time to shower, possibly come close to devouring the same quantity of literature as a computer? The simple answer is that I can't. It is not physically possible, even with twenty human lifetimes devoted to studying literature, history, and the art of writing, to amass the sheer volume of knowledge that is contained within the online library that is the internet. Yet there is one thing that I can contribute to literature that a computer cannot: a unique human spirit.

The words that I put to paper (or computer) are not merely informed outputs to a query, or flowery, meaningless chains of words (I hope!). Rather, my writing is informed by my personal values and experiences as a human. My memories, my dreams, my relationships, my fears, and my physical and mental states inform both the content and style of my work at any given moment. Thus, while I may use artificial intelligence from time to time to enhance my vocabulary, function as a brainstorming partner, or provide basic writing edits, you won't find A.I. generated blog posts anywhere on my website, now or in the future. The words you see here are mine, and I am proud of the incremental improvements in my writing that I have seen over the course of previous posts, emails, and books. As the meme says, "It ain't much, but it's honest work." This is what I love to do, and regardless of the current trajectory of technological advancement, my unique voice and contribution to the writing community can never be replaced.

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