Our episode with Andy Stanton, talking about his book Benny The Blue Whale, has really made us put on our big boy pants and take a proper look at AI and its possible (and most probably probable) impact on the creative industries.
A brave new world?
It’s a little bit frightening actually. It really feels like we’re on the cusp of a truly tectonic change in how people on the creative side of things work. And it’s difficult not to feel an overwhelming wave of empathy and sympathy with the original Luddites - and to not day dream about planning a few modern day plug plots (or maybe with our soon-to-be computer overlords, that should be the plug out plots?) But that’s not really possible.
Pandora’s box has been well and truly opened. A large part of the problem is I’m pretty sure that when they first started talking about robots and AI the idea was that it would take care of all the boring, dirty jobs. Not take over the creative fun stuff, and that seems to be the current, unstoppable direction of travel.
So what does the immediate future hold?
So, as far as we can gather from our limited and most likely incredibly flawed research, here’s exactly what we can expect the future to look like, using ourselves as a test case.
We, the hosts of the Failing Writers Podcast, rely on voiceover work as our main source of income. And that’s not looking too peachy with Robbie the robot breathing* down our necks promising to do things fast, cheaper and perfectly adequately.
So, maybe we embrace the future and get our beautiful voices uploaded to the matrix and then we can just commission our dulcet tones out via a clever online widget, and we can just sit back and count the cash? Well, I suppose it’s possible. However, the path of least resistance is for the AI bods and bots to simply create millions of AI voices that cover whatever style, accent and age of voice that a client might want.
So, why would anyone choose an AI version of an actual voice, that will probably cost more, over a cheaper, similar, inter-changeable 100% AI voice? Hmmmm… not great news for our jobs and livelihood on the face of it.
The thing is, you can probably take this template and switch it across to a bunch of other careers too. An artist or graphic designer? AI can get rid of them. Singers? Not really needed. Maybe for the odd live session. (Or do we just get pretty people to mime over the AI generated singing? That’s not a million miles away from some of the less musically gifted performers we’ve seen over the last 20 or 30 years, is it?) And what about the musicians and audio producers and writers and copywriters? All AI replaceable. Although at the time of writing, I think we might be able to say that comedy writers might be safe for a little while longer...
ChatGPT Prompt: Write a two line synopsis for a brand new sitcom
Title: "Mixing It Up"
Synopsis: When a quirky food scientist and a no-nonsense bartender become unlikely room-mates, their lives get shaken, stirred, and baked to hilarious results in the zaniest fusion of flavours and personalities ever served up in the big city.
Although, to be fair, that is bloody funny. But in a “MONKEY TENNIS!” Alan Partridge kind of way, rather than an “intentionally and well thought out” way.
Resistance is futile
But the tentacles of fast and cheap AI will undoubtedly reach out far and wide. Well beyond the creative industries. Serving staff at a fast food restaurant? Not really needed. Nor the cooks in the back. Or the cleaners? Or the people that do the accounts? The lawyers? Taxi drivers? And project that to a few more years in the future AI will be able to produce entire films, computer games, design buildings, perform major surgery… the list goes on and on and on and on.
So, where on earth does this leave us all? Well, if you’re anything like us, right now it makes you feel a rather vulnerable and very much like you could become a relic of the past in the very near future. Take a scan through some of the posts on Twitter/X and it doesn't take long to come across some understandably very scared and angry writers. In particular it seems to cause the most discomfort in the “yet to make it” group of authors out there.
I think there’s a feeling that if, all of a sudden, there’s this technology that can muster up an entire book quicker than it takes most of us to settle on the name of our protagonist, then the rug of success has been well and truly pulled from under our feet. Any chance of getting a publishing deal or getting a self-published book to cut through the potential deluge of AI noise on Amazon has all but vanished.
History repeats itself
But we’ve been here before. Most of you reading this probably won’t remember the industrial revolution of the 1800’s, but many will remember the internet revolution at the turn of the last century. That changed things forever. It altered how we live on a society-wide, global scale. I’m absolutely sure we can agree that it made some jobs and products obsolete (RIP Ceefax).
But it certainly created a whole load of both too. Oh, and there was the way it magicked money out of seemingly nowhere (remember the dot.com boom where you could make millions from being smart enough to register AsSeenOnTv.com… there’s $5,000,000 for you, spend it wisely!)
So, yeah, deja vu is in full swing here. But it’s easy to look back on previous sea-changes and say “hey, look, it wasn’t that bad! We all (well mostly all) made it through OK!” Hindsight (or high insight as I thought the phrase went until I was about 15 – which kind of makes sense, so you can see why I thought that) is a wonderful thing.
Right now we’re at the start of a nerve jangling ride. Sure you can try and go with the flow and be as early as possible to adopt the new technology. That can always go some way to lessening the blow. Although right now it feels more like AI is an all encompassing, smothering force.
For many it feels like it will just shut off so many doors to them, and that their skill set and learned experience from years of industry and life experience doesn’t really stretch far enough to get to any other doors that might be open. I think a lot of us would settle for a couple of “slightly ajar” doors right now.
Of course, the other possible outcome is that with so many jobs being taken care of by Skynet, is that the government and powers that be take a little time out from lining their pockets and looking after the 1%, and they implement a wonderful system of Universal Basic Income.
So that everyone can live a simple but comfortable life and can pursue fulfilling creative endeavours without fear of not being able to put food on the table. They’ll do that, won’t they? The politicians and whathaveyou? They’ve got our back? Right?
* those AI voice-overs do actually breathe now. Seriously! They’ve worked humanoid patterns of speech, rhythm and “noises” (coughs, breaths, mouth noises) in to the AI output. All to make it sound more human. Which is interesting in itself really, that the producers of this tech are well aware of the need for this new AI technology to sound as “real” as possible – which, hey, could be easily achieved by letting humans do the work? (Again though, I guess we come back to those too unbeatable magic words for any capitalist society – faster and cheaper).