In the earliest days of machine automation (we’re talking about looms here), workers worried that they’d be rendered obsolete revolted. These movements and the actions taken gave rise to the terms sabotage and Luddite. By and large, however, the efforts to stop the march of technology have failed, and now you’re reading a pile of 1s and 0s that have been precisely arranged by millions of microtransistors (costing the jobs of the poor workers who used to arrange our binary into graphical outputs).
Every so often, however, a new industry gets dragged to the chopping block. Telegraph operators. Elevator attendants. Newsies. Telephone operators. Travel agents. The list goes on. Not every profession was utterly wiped out, but at best they saw major cutbacks.
For a long time, the same refrain kept beating like a drum: If you don’t want to be replaced by a computer, do something creative or intellectual. It was the kind of sensible advice that sounds true whether it actually is or not. And for a while, “knowledge workers are safe” appeared to hold true.
DALL-E and Midjourney are AI art programs. You give the system a text cue, and it churns for a bit before spitting out its interpretation. The results are often whimsical, literalist, and bizarre. They operate in an uncanny valley of artistic expression, where you can usually tell there’s something a little off about them, but oftentimes it’s hard to definitively say it wasn’t drawn by a human.
As an example, here are some Black Ocean-inspired images Kristin created using Midjourney.
For the time being, the artists of the world appear safe.
However, how long before these learning algorithms learn to create, or at least to simulate creation?
For now, I’ll continue to view it as a curiosity. Near term, I may start using it to brainstorm ideas for book covers, or to sketch thoughts that may be easier to interpret than my own abysmal concept artwork. At most, we’ll use them to create images we can’t justify commissioning, like advertising graphics or cool elements from books that we just want to show fans. However, at the same time, I’ll be wondering whether I’m feeding the beast that will eventually devour human artists.
And I’ll also be wondering how long before the machines come for the writers.