Why Creatives Have (Almost) Nothing to Fear About AI
Emmy-winning creative executive Gavin Purcell discusses the effect that artificial intelligence will have on creativity from art to video games—and it's not all bad news.
It’s impossible to go anywhere on the internet right now without hearing the drumbeat currently inspiring fear in many people:
Artificial intelligence is coming for your jobs.
This used to be hyperbole.
Then it became true for anyone who did monotonous, boring, repetitive things.
But creative work like writing songs, making artwork, or telling stories? That seemed perpetually out of reach for the machines.
Until now. The wildfire popularity of tools like ChatGPT and Stable Diffusion, which can do everything from write college application essays to design strategic business plans, are just the tip of the iceberg in what will be the biggest change in content creation in a very long time.
Call it AI content. It's the revolution we've all been waiting for—and perhaps fearing.
If you're a creative, AI still isn't coming for your job. But what we’re seeing is for real and you should pay attention. Like sit-up-and-pay-attention-everyday sort of attention. Because AI will fundamentally change how you create.
You’re probably wondering: How did we get here? What changed?
It’s hard to remember now, in this age of ubiquitous smart phones, cloud storage, and high-speed everything, but it used to be rather difficult to make things on the internet.
Blogs, social networks, and video hosting services made it a lot easier. And the explosion of smartphones put sophisticated production tools in everyone’s pockets that allowed normal people to start creating all sorts of stuff as easily as tapping “publish.”
At first the content was bad. And there was a lot of it—a seemingly endless stream of people talking about their daily lives, pictures of bland brunches, things that no one in their right mind would ever pay for, let alone consume on a daily basis.
It all seemed so stupid, really. Who tricked these regular people into believing that others cared about what they were making?
Turns out, we all did. We all became creators and consumers of UGC—user generated content. Made by the masses, for the masses, at enormous scale and reach. Some people are still paid to turn out expensive blockbusters, but the vast majority of content is now created by people just like you and me.
The next wave of creation will include the machine. AI-assisted, and eventually AI-created, content will become the dominant form of media created and consumed. And it will do so for the exact same reasons UGC did:
The democratization of creative tools and the mass volume of content.
UGC rose on the backs of tools being available to the masses for the first time. AI content—the creation of media with AI tools—will do the same. And it will start with poor quality content, just as the UGC wave did. Consider the launch of OpenAI’s Dall-E 2, a text-to-image generation platform that allowed normies to make remarkable (if weird) images with a simple line of text. This was then followed by both Midjourney and Stable Diffusion, two additional text-to-image models, and, most famously, by ChatGPT, OpenAI’s mainstream, simple-to-use interface successor to its text-based GPT-3 model.
If you’ve played around with Dall-E 2 or Midjourney, you know it’s easy to make pretty images from text prompts. It almost feels like magic when you land on something beautiful: the computer generates something that seems like it was pulled from your imagination—or at least what you’d hope your imagination could do.
In the past, it would’ve taken hundreds of hours to amass the skills to create images like this, from learning the tools of creation (Photoshop, Wacom tablets, etc) to the labor of the actual creation. Now, it’s as easy as texting a friend.
The mainstreaming of AI tools will be vastly different from the mainstreaming of the tools of the past. If you look at the tools from the UGC wave, they were mostly based around distribution (publishing + social networks) and production (smaller, more capable cameras, cheaper tech, etc). AI content tools are centered on the act of creation itself.
This is a revolutionary shift in how we look at the tools of creation. It’s less about making the act of creation easier and more about how we create in the first place. It eliminates nearly all the friction to go from thought to product and we’ll be able to do it very, very fast.
This is a scary idea for people who spent their lives learning how to use the tools available to express their creativity. It immediately feels like a short cut—almost like cheating.
It’s not a matter of if, but when. A paper just published by Google shows how AI music will become a thing much faster than anyone is expecting. Full action movies with AI actors won’t be far behind.
Will they be good? Probably not. But there will be a lot of them.
There are significant ramifications to this idea, the first of which is the potential cheapening of the creative process itself. If anyone can create incredibly detailed content, whether it’s text, images, moving images or, I assume eventually, something as complicated as a video game, what value does any one particular creation have? What does it mean to be a ‘creator’ in a world where everyone can create easily and prolifically? How does one even get people to see their work in a world where everyone is making work all the time?
The good news is that we’ve seen this before as well. Technology has often been accused of destroying the creative process. Entire chapters of human history are devoted to the discussion around the printing press and how it would bring about the end of writing. Or how photography would eliminate the need to illustrate by hand. Or, more recently, how digital screens would eliminate the need to print anything on paper at all.
This is a revolutionary shift in how we look at the tools of creation. It’s less about making the act of creation easier and more about how we create in the first place.
The new tools complemented the old, and in many cases, augmented them with entirely novel ways for us humans to use them. Your phone can shoot high quality digital video now, did that stop great directors from making traditional movies or turn every random person into Steven Spielberg? Of course not. But it did allow new types of movie shots to be conceived by the Spielbergs of the world and also allowed entirely new types of stories to be told by many who didn’t have access before.
I don’t believe this is the end of creativity. The job of the creative may become first about using these tools to tap into their imagination and kick start the process. But creativity has always been about iteration and novelty, adding in our own personal experiences and tastes. These large models are based on a collective intelligence but we’ll always have our own individual perspectives to filter them through.
AI isn’t coming for your job because your job, as a creative, is to evolve, learn and push forward ideas no matter what. It might, however, help you push significantly faster than expected.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gavin Purcell is a Emmy-winning creative executive with deep experience in traditional, digital, and experiential media, from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon to web3 and generative AI.
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