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Artificial Intelligence: A Creative's Best Friend or Worst Nightmare?

Artificial Intelligence: A Creative's Best Friend or Worst Nightmare?
Artificial Intelligence: A Creative's Best Friend or Worst Nightmare?

If you occupy a space anywhere near the interwebs, then you are hearing a lot about the take over of Artificial Intelligence (AI). If you’ve read little or nothing about AI, the long and short of it is that we should be terrified. Or that’s what we’re led to believe. The general feeling out there is that it’s an unmitigated, unregulated monster that threatens to put us all out of a job. They are calling it the AI takeover which, at this point, is a hypothetical scenario where artificial intelligence will become the dominant form of intelligence on Earth, essentially wrestling the control of planet earth away from its humans.

Okay, maybe we should be terrified.

But every few decades, the human race seemingly creates the very thing that might be its final demise. Looking back, the warning label on this new technology sounds a lot like the same ones we wrestled with during the assimilation of computers in the work space - remember the 20 hours work week we were promised and the robots that would do our job? Then along came the internet, and the promised downfall of humanity by way of a phone line and AOL account. Fast forward a few decades and now we have ChatGPT - or whatever flavor du jour of AI software you prefer - and we have a similar conversation.

While full of potential for good, what exactly does this mean for the function and efficacy of the human race, especially in the creative space? It might be too early to tell. The consensus at this early stage, whether you are for or against it, is that much like the internet, it’s here to stay. So if it’s here to stay, do we fear it or lean in with eyes closed and hope we don’t regret it? Or both. I’ll answer that question with a disclaimer - I am no expert. Perhaps like you, I’m watching this all unfold in real time and reaching for the popcorn because it’s starting to get wild out there. So, beyond reading a few articles in some big newspapers, I’m just as curious and uniformed as everyone else on the ground level.

However, I will admit that I’m paying closer attention to this particular digital disruptor than I have other similar disruptors in our recent history. And that’s because I’m a freelance writer, which puts me squarely in the crosshairs of this new competition. Just ask the writers on strike down in Hollywood about that. No matter the corner of the writing world one occupies, be it freelance or books or education or entertainment or the myriad places human writers are employed, it doesn’t look good for us. It really does appear that AI will bring nothing and no good to the creative space especially for those of us who rely on our wordsmithing to pay the bills.

It’s hard enough to elbow our way into a niche and then find paying work without the added competition of a robot that can spit out hundreds or thousands of words of copy in a matter of minutes, for free. Not to mention how it is impacting musicians, artists, graphic designer and pretty much every facet of the creative world that’s fueled by flesh and blood. It’s enough to make you sweat and maybe want a stiff drink like the tortured creatives that came before us, except now for a whole new set of reasons.

But if we look at the history of big disruptors in the past, people tend to fall into two camps - those who are using the technology to exploit and gain power, and those who will use it to streamline and hopefully save a whole bunch of time. Most of the world falls in the latter category, if they fall in a category at all. If that’s true, then we might also assume that most of us can be trusted to explore this new tool, as just that, a tool. So being one that likes to look at the latest fear-panic and turn it on it’s head, I’m considering here what it might look like if creatives saw this is a golden opportunity to level up our game and evolve (as is always required), rather than a technology that will ultimately eradicate human creativity altogether.

So here’s three things I’ve decided to do about it. Ready?

  1. Make friends with it. My plan is to learn a whole bunch about it and the ways it might serve me, make me more efficient, and think inside a bigger box. Will I ever allow it to write for me? Likely not, I have too much pride in wrestling words on a page, and I don’t really want to give that up. But will I use it to help jump start an idea, or fill in a blank, or do some quick research for me? I think, yes. I will. Much like the internet has become our new library/dictionary/thesaurus/knowledge-of-all-things at our fingertips, I think AI has the potential to be, at it’s basic premise, a well-trained assistant for the creative field. I don’t know about you, but I could use an assistant.

2. Lean in to the Human Touch While I want to be careful not to make light of the real damage to creativity that could be done here, I am also an eternal optimist about the value of the human touch. Can AI be used to create free, plentiful, and passable content of all kinds? Yes. But for now that content, is just that - passable. It hasn’t yet, and may never get to the level of creating with the nuance and feeling and emotion that can only be felt and layered in by a real live human. No matter how sophisticated the software becomes, while we might not be able to readily tell the difference, I do think we will be able to sense the difference between AI and human generated content, especially when it’s being done for quick-and-dirty profits. Can we fill our libraries with fast books and music made in minutes? Sure thing. But will we want to? Will that be what we reach for in the end? Or will the mass production of digital content become just another piece of milktoast that looks good when we’re hungry but taste rather bleak and lifeless for the long haul.

3. Don’t sweat evolution If it wasn’t AI, it would most definitely be something. We are a constantly evolving species that has our foot on a pretty powerful excelerator right now. Once we broke through a certain barrier of technology with smartphones and a digital-based world, we were only ever going to propel ourselves faster into the evolution of that technology. Weirdly, we might be creating something that will eventually replace us, but that push is being driven by profits, because if you’ve ever managed people then you know they are expensive and take a lot of time and heartache to get stuff done. So, if AI is here to stay we can either look the other way and hope for the best, or take it as an invitation to get creative - no pun intended. Grow with it. Develop alongside it. Find a way to become the competition of the competition.

I’m holding out hope, that those who put out AI generated things without the overlay of the human touch will find a specific audience for that particular item, because most of us will still crave something of value and complex flavor. And when the market is flooded with enough of the bland, it will serve as contrast to the art that is brought to market by the hands of a skilled artist. Perhaps, AI will serve to make the art of creating even more elevated, real and desirable.

Of course this is all hope and wishes and conjecture, but I’m going to roll with it. I’m going to show up in my creative space every day and pour as much heart and life into my work as ever, and let AI do what it’s going to do. And when the time is right, and the project dictates it, I’ll take AI by the hand and ask for it’s help in my creative process. Another tool, just like all of the other tools, that can be a force for good, if we manage it wisely and with a measure of self control.

I am merely one small voice in this very large and evolving conversation. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, in the hope that we learn together.

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