How much of the work that the millions of global creatives do is original? Here's an uncomfortable truth, very, very little.
Will I be replaced by ChatGPT? No. Will some or even most of my work be replaced by chat GPT? Yes. Such is the quandary for writers, directors, illustrators, and other creatives in the decade ahead. How many creatives will survive? It's not a happy picture, and this is why.
ChatGPT, and generative AI models more broadly, suffer from two evident flaws when it comes to their output. First is a complete lack of structured thinking or analytical rigor. ChatGPT and other AI models don't actually know anything, but are rather taking inputs from users and producing outputs using a probabilistic model of what seems right. Generative AI will quite literally help you kill yourself, and not even know it is trying to do so.
Second, generative AI models lack any capability to be rigorously original. This often gets confused with their ability to be stylishly original. These models can indeed invent worlds, and images, and paintings the globe has never seen before. Or provide tools for creatives to perform their craft. Style and creative productivity is not rigorous originality, though. AI models can't develop a logical argument on a topic they haven't seen before for the simple reason that they have no actual cognition.
Probabilistic language models are a far cry from an intelligence that can acquire, process, and synthesize knowledge into logical relation. The quandary for the creative class is this: how much of the work that the millions of global creatives do is original? Here's an uncomfortable truth, very, very little.
Most journalism today is a rehash of press releases, news conferences, and PR-mediated information. Most marketing copy is a simplistic remix of prior work. Nearly all editorial columns and DC style think tank policy memos have conclusions that are obvious before they're even written, while having about as much personality as a blank chalkboard. How much of our social media conversation is insightful? The answer, basically none. Especially on that hellscape known as LinkedIn.
That's the analytical side. On the creative side, it gets more ambiguous and open to interpretation. But ask directly, how many artists and auteurs ultimately developed their own taste and a sense of their unique contribution to the creative output of humanity? Originality is a tough bar to meet.
What's uncomfortable is that the creative class was supposed to be the last bastion for employment, a zone of safety from the aggressive automation of the modern economy. Factory work can be automated with robotics. But bots, AI bots, could never replace the thinking and originality of the human mind. Go to college rather than trade school, its mind over muscles.
What was patently obvious though, is that the economy never needed tens of millions of writers, artists, and other creatives. There's never been an audience for all of these people in all of their work, which is why the remuneration and job security for these professionals has been plunging.
While the internet is often blamed for disrupting the economic models of creative and intellectual work, few seem to point out that incomes have plummeted just as the supply of creatives dramatically expanded. That's simple supply and demand.
There is plenty of room for iconoclast and trailblazers to write bestselling novels and sold-out plays, to paint brilliant works and direct heart-wrenching films. But 90%, maybe even 98% of the creative class' output can be replaced today with generative AI.
There are two displacements coming up then for creatives. The first is that many, many professionals will realize that their work is unoriginal. Some will migrate to more sophisticated and original work, and float above the high tide. But the vast majority won't or can't. Entire categories of creative professionals today will be eliminated.
But the bigger challenge, societally, is that we're going to have a collapsing number of pathways to creative excellence.
Nearly all creative class jobs are designed around apprenticeships, even if that's specific word is not often used. Actors start with small and practically invisible gigs. Journalists typically begin with basic beat coverage before being offered tougher and more enterprising assignments. And directors launch with short films before developing their skill to handle feature-length works.
Pay is almost always a pittance before reputations are built.
What happens in a world where all of those simpler, AI-replaceable assignments are suddenly expunged? Generative AI is a tsunami for the creative class. Those on high ground are going to survive and stay dry, but the vast majority are much closer to the water, and much more at risk of being forcibly dragged out to sea than they realize.
What will millions of creative 20 and 30-somethings do when their work is casualized and demoted? What's coming will be one of the most wrenching eras to witness.