The ramifications of advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are being felt farther than expected. AI may have entered the public consciousness in the 1990s through chess competitions, but it’s creeping in now artistic competitions and, soon, the written word. Some commercial offers can provide paragraphs of text based on brief prompts, keywords, and tone settings. Users of Google’s mail service have, of course, microdosed on AI since 2018, when Gmail rolled out Smart Compose.
What these developments make clear is that members of the so-called “creative class” are now faced with the first person who feels that automation has long been introduced to blue-collar workers: technology will radically change the way we to work.
As an analyst in a think tank, my job is to analyze political trends, formulate new ideas to solve economic and social problems, and take them forward in writing. If programs like Mid Road, GIVE HIMand Traveler can already captivate a human audience, I have no doubt that my modest ability to metabolize the political landscape, find innovative solutions and manipulate language in provocative and engaging ways will soon be matched, and then surpassed, by the AI programs. designed for the task.
While I’m under no illusions that my work deserves blue ribbons, putting thoughts into words that persuade or elicit emotions does involve some artistry. It is a captivating and rewarding process, from which I derive my identity. When I envision that a computer might soon do better, I, like the Lancashire hand weavers of the early 19e century, feel more than a little threatened.
Garry Kasparov dealt with this conundrum two decades ago and had a head start in dealing with the prospect of obsolescence. Kasparov, an all-time great chess player, had the distinction of holding the world title just as computer chess programs were increasing their prowess. In 1996, Kasparov beat what was then the most powerful chess engine ever created, IBM’s Deep Blue. But as he says in his memoirsDeep Thinking: Where Artificial Intelligence Stops and Human Creativity Begins, he knew then that his reign would soon come to an end. Indeed, in a 1997 rematch for which Kasparov was lavishly rewarded, an updated Deep Blue brought the AI era to the world’s attention, handing the champion a crushing defeat in the game’s deciding sixth match.
In deep reflection, published in 2017, Kasparov explains how his views on AI evolved and why. Despite the anguish the loss of 1997 caused him, he sees AI as one of the greatest opportunities for humanity to advance its well-being. The reason for this is that Kasparov observed in the years that followed that the highest level of performance, on the chessboard and elsewhere, is achieved when humans work with smart machinery.
After Deep Blue programmers established that he could see deeper into the game than the human mind, Kasparov and a group of partners came up with a new concept: What if instead of human versus machine, people played against each other but with the help of chess software?
They called the new style of play “advanced chess”, and the results surprised Kasparov. It wasn’t necessarily the player with the best chess software who won, nor the best human player. On the contrary, the most successful were the players who were able to use the machines most efficiently, those who were able to get the most out of the chess engines and their own creative abilities.
Operating on the premise of Moravec’s paradox, i.e. where machines are strong, where humans are weak and vice versa, what Kasparov took away from advanced chess experience is is that an intelligent work process beats both superior human talent and superior technological power.
The same idea can be exploited by artists, composers, writers, designers, etc. Rather than viewing AI as the end of our livelihoods, we should see the opportunities it presents for better work.
For the creative class, the answer to the AI challenge is to make the most of the programs available to us. Is the art lost to AI, or is it unlocked as we are freed from some of the more formulaic, energy-draining patterning processes? By delegating these aspects of creation to the AI, I expect to have more mental space available to generate the rhetorical flourishes and witty embroideries that make writing enjoyable.
Yes, people who deploy AI in the world of writing, art contests and elsewhere will likely face scorn. But if a level playing field is appropriate in defined competitions, in open fields, accusing a rival of cheating would make no more sense than in that of the textile industry. For the intrepid writer, AI will create opportunities to produce better work at a faster rate, just as the power loom did for the weavers of Lancashire.
Rather than fear, and certainly rather than Luddite repression, this should be a time of optimism. AI is coming for our jobs. Its arrival, however, will not be a harbinger of obsolescence but a catalyst for greater success.
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