Can creatives compete with AI?

For a long time, whenever people spoke about the fear of technology replacing human jobs, the only jobs that were deemed exempt from this were creative jobs. However technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), has been developing and improving over the years, to the point where it is now able to imitate human creativity.

AI operates in a similar way to the human brain: it learns by association. Like with teaching a child, you show it enough images of duck and then ask it to create a duck, it can generate an original image of one. Automating the typically human creative process, it takes “inspiration” from other sources and then creates something new. The internet was all abuzz when OpenAI’s AI image-generator DALL-E was launched last year. The ability to create unique images from text prompts didn’t fail to entertain the public, and people have continuously pushed its “creative” abilities since.

Source: Open AI, DALL-E

Taking this further, some programs like midjourney (a Discord-powered AI art generator) have trained the algorithm on centuries of artwork, artists and art movements, rather than simple photo or illustration references. Now, these programs are able to create fantastical, stunning pieces of art that emulate human-made artwork so closely, it’s often very difficult to tell if they were made by machine or human.

This was the case with Jason Allen’s entry Théâtre D’opéra Spatial at the Colorado State Fair last week — the judges weren’t aware that it had been created by AI. Naturally, when he was awarded first prize for the category “digitally manipulated photography”, it caused an eruption of discussion over the internet about AI replacing artists. Visual Storyteller Stefano Marrone accurately says, “if an Olympic runner showed up with a robot that was going to run in their stead, we wouldn’t let that happen. AI art can be awesome, but let’s create a specific category for it”.

Théâtre D’opéra Spatial by Jason Allen using AI

Visual art is not the only creative sector affected by AI. Many companies are now using AI programs to generate short-form copy — things like social media posts, emails and sometimes even full articles. Web Developer Danny Mahony says, “anybody who spends any significant amount of time on the internet is reading AI content without even realising”. Using AI-generated text certainly has potential time and money-saving benefits for some businesses, however it often still needs human finesse to fine-tune, fact-check, and make it come alive. Unless you’re in the market for incredibly generic, soulless writing, it’s unlikely to replace human writers altogether.

For myself, as both a writer and an artist, the rise of generative AI is an interesting movement and conversation to watch. Many people in my network have been sharing their opinions about the recent art fair contention. One LinkedIn connection posted about how throughout history, new disciplines have always been received with scepticism. He made the comparison of painters being opposed to photography and theatres being opposed to cinemas, saying that the AI artist is just the next thing that human artists are opposed to.

The biggest difference here is that AI is simply automating a human discipline, rather than producing a new, alternative medium. As these AI programs become more accessible for the general public, more businesses will generate their own automated copy, and more people will start to create their own bespoke artwork. Timothy Shoup, Senior Advisor at the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies (CIFS), predicts that by 2030, 99% of internet content will be AI-generated. So if this is the case, how can creatives compete with AI?

Imagined Self-Portrait of Salvador Dali by DALL-E

Artist and designer Rich Alapack hits the nail on the head when he says, “AI takes away one of the most rewarding things humans do, which is the process of creative expression”. And that human expression is probably the key thing that will always differentiate handmade from machine-made products or content. Most people will agree that the main thing that contributes to the success of any product or service-producing business today, no matter what faster, cheaper, or more convenient alternatives may arise, is personalisation from human connection.

Generative AI is predicted to continue growing at a fast pace. It’s a hot trend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that creatives will become obsolete. Ultimately, the story behind the work, and that intimate, personal relationship a consumer has with an artist or business is what people invest in and are loyal to. Emerging technologies are incredible and certainly open up new possibilities, but nothing can replace the authentic emotion, character and individuality in human-created content. If anything, the more content AI spits out, it just makes hand-crafted work that much more valuable.

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