AI and the future of work: What ChatGPT, DALL-E and other AI tools mean for artists and knowledge workers
From steam power and electricity to computers and the internet, technological advancements have always disrupted labor markets, pushing out some jobs while creating others. Artificial intelligence remains something of a misnomer – the smartest computer systems still don’t actually know anything – but the technology has reached an inflection point where it’s poised to affect new classes of jobs: artists and knowledge workers.
Specifically, the emergence of large language models – AI systems that are trained on vast amounts of text – means computers can now produce human-sounding written language and convert descriptive phrases into realistic images. The Conversation asked five artificial intelligence researchers to discuss how large language models are likely to affect artists and knowledge workers. And, as our experts noted, the technology is far from perfect, which raises a host of issues – from misinformation to plagiarism – that affect human workers.
With humans surpassed, niche and ‘handmade’ jobs will remain
Kentaro Toyama, Professor of Community Information, University of Michigan School of Information
We human beings love to believe in our specialness, but science and technology have repeatedly proved this conviction wrong. People once thought that humans were the only animals to use tools, to form teams or to propagate culture, but science has shown that other animals do each of these things.
Meanwhile, technology has quashed, one by one, claims that cognitive tasks require a human brain. The first adding machine was invented in 1623. This past year, a computer-generated work won an art contest. I believe that the singularity – the moment when computers meet and exceed human intelligence – is on the horizon.
How will human intelligence and creativity be valued when machines become smarter and more creative than the brightest people? There will likely be a continuum. In some domains, people still value humans doing things, even if a computer can do it better. It’s been a quarter of a century since IBM’s Deep Blue beat world champion Garry Kasparov, but human chess – with all its drama – hasn’t gone away.
In other domains, human skill will seem costly and extraneous. Take illustration, for example. For the most part, readers don’t care whether the graphic accompanying a magazine article was drawn by a person or a computer – they just want it to be relevant, new and perhaps entertaining. If a computer can draw well, do readers care whether the credit line says Mary Chen or System X? Illustrators would, but readers might not even notice.
And, of course, this question isn’t black or white. Many fields will be a hybrid, where some Homo sapiens find a lucky niche, but most of the work is done by computers. Think manufacturing – much of it today is accomplished by robots, but some people oversee the machines, and there remains a market for handmade products.
If history is any guide, it’s almost certain that advances in AI will cause more jobs to vanish, that creative-class people with human-only skills will become richer but fewer in number, and that those who own creative technology will become the new mega-rich. If there’s a silver lining, it might be that when even more people are without a decent livelihood, people might muster the political will to contain runaway inequality.