Who gains and loses from the new AI?

With so many spectacular AI developments coming out this year, it is worth asking who benefits and who loses.

Specific technologies usually help some personality types and hurt others. For instance, the rise of computers, programming, and the internet helped analytical nerds. Today, you might be in high demand as a programmer or run your own start-up and earn riches. But back in the 1960s, you might have been lucky to get a job at NASA and pull in a middle-class income. Earlier, the rise of manufacturing and factory employment helped able-bodied male laborers who had an enthusiasm for physical labor.

One striking feature of the new AI systems is that you have to sit down to use them. Think of ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion, and related services as individualized tutors, among their other functions. They can teach you mathematics, history, how to write better and much more. But none of this knowledge is imparted automatically. There is a relative gain for people who are good at sitting down in the chair and staying focused on something. Initiative will become more important as a quality behind success.

The returns to durability of effort are rising as well. If you quit in the middle of executing your AI-aided concrete project, the new AI services will, for you, end up as playthings rather than investments in your future.

The returns to factual knowledge are falling, continuing a trend that started with databases, search engines and Wikipedia. It is no longer so profitable to be a lawyer who knows a large amount of accumulated case law. Instead, the skills of synthesis and persuasion are more critical for success.

ChatGPT excels at producing ordinary, bureaucratic prose, written in an acceptable but non-descript style. In turn, we are likely to better understand how much of our society is organized around that basis, from corporate brochures to regulations to second-tier journalism. The rewards and status will go down for those who produce such writing today, and the rewards for exceptional originality are likely to rise. What exactly can you do to stand out from the froth of the chat bots?

Our underlying views may become more elitist. If you are a programmer who is only slightly better than the bots, you may lose respect and income. The exceptional programmers and writers, who cannot readily be copied, will command more attention and status. And as successive generations of the GPTs improve, these rewards will be doled out to a smaller and smaller percentage of humans.

It is charged that the new bots do not have originality. However true that may be, the observation eventually focuses your attention on the question of how many humans have that same originality.

Most writers are likely to lose some of their audience, if only because would-be readers will be busy playing around with the bots. A deeper danger, not yet upon us but perhaps not far away, is that the bots will be able to effectively copy our best-known writers and creators.

One current common strategy is to give away a lot of writing, or images, for free on the web, and use the resulting publicity to build an audience for more commercial outputs, such as books and lectures and artworks. In the future, that may be asking for trouble, as the bots will copy you and in essence you will be training your competitors for free. It will work only if you can produce charisma and celebrity, two traits that will rise in importance.

The “old school” strategy of releasing limited editions, not available on the internet and not fully defined by their digital qualities, may increase in importance, as it will be harder for AI to copy such outputs.

The prior generation of information technology favored the introverts, whereas the new AI bots are more likely to favor the extroverts. You will need to be showing off all the time that you are more than “one of them.” Originality, including “in your face” originality, will be at a premium. If you are afraid to be such a “show off,” how is the world to know you are anything other than a bot with a human face?

Alternatively, many humans will run away from such competitive struggles altogether.  Currently the bots are much better at writing than say becoming a master gardener, which also requires skills of physical execution and moving in open space. We might thus see a great blossoming of talent in the area of gardening, and other hard to copy inputs, if only to protect one’s reputation and IP from the bots.

Athletes, in the broad sense of that term, may thus rise in status. Sculpture and dance might gain on writing in cultural import and creativity. Counterintuitively, if you wanted our culture to become more real and visceral in terms of what commands audience attention and inspiration, perhaps the bots are exactly what you’ve been looking for.


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