The AI Revolution Is Closer Than You Think

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Is artificial intelligence coming for your job? The surprising answer is, “Maybe, and sooner than you think.”

Futurists have long forecast that AI would begin to displace knowledge workers and some skill-based professions, but the concern was long-term rather than immediate. Two developments this week suggest that future is closer than we think.

1. AI Image Creation

In the last few days you’ve likely seen your social media feeds filled with images of your friends in strange costumes and unusual artistic styles. That’s the fault of Lensa, an AI image tool that just became the top free app in Apple’s App Store. (The app is free, but the avatars you are seeing likely cost your friends a few dollars.)

Lensa takes selfie images and applies a variety of AI filters to create different looks. I’ve found the results, like many AI creations, to be somewhat hit and miss. When I tested it, some images were quite recognizable, albeit enhanced in various ways:

Others generated images were a bit strange.

This seems common with today’s AI – startlingly good results are often the result of extensive prompt tweaking or at least selection from a large pool of results, many of lesser quality.

Beyond Avatars

While the “magic avatars” created by Lensa are fun, they have limited practical value. Much more interesting are images created merely from text prompts. Tools like OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 can work from just a description of the desired image. For example, I used another AI tool, Supermachine, to create an image of a dog wearing goggles, a concept that combines two types of imagery I often use in speeches:

My exact prompt was, “brown Labrador retriever wearing steampunk goggles, photorealistic.” Arguably, the breed of the creature Supermachine created is not one that a Westminster Kennel show judge would recognize as a Lab. Nevertheless the image is striking and fits the concept exactly. It is usable as is, and could be further improved by fine-tuning the prompt or uploading a starter image.

This image, or any other image meeting the prompt, would be impossible to find at stock photo sites. It would normally be a custom job for an artist or photographer.

2. ChatGPT is for real

There have been plenty of AI-based writing tools, but until now the copy they create hasn’t always been equal to that of a decent human writer. Some of the AI product might be usable directly or with minor edits, while other attempts might be unusable without rewriting or heavy editing.

A week ago, things changed when OpenAI introduced ChatGPT, a “model which interacts in a conversational way.” It’s a chatbot that can, OpenAI says, “answer followup questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests.”

As a quick test, I asked ChatGPT to “explain neuromarketing to a business audience,” a request I often receive. It (I didn’t get a chance to ask ChatGPT about pronouns, so we’ll go with “it” for now) responded:

  • “Neuromarketing is a field of study that uses neuroimaging and other technologies to measure the brain’s response to marketing stimuli. This allows researchers to understand the psychological processes that underlie consumer behavior, and can help businesses develop more effective marketing strategies. By understanding how consumers react to different marketing messages, businesses can create more compelling advertisements and more effective branding campaigns. Additionally, neuromarketing can help businesses understand how consumers make decisions, and can provide insights into the factors that drive consumer behavior.”

While this differs from my preferred definition of neuromarketing, it is a perfectly valid answer. It’s well-written and and shows some nuance. The style is a bit windy and academic, but a few minor edits could fix that. Most likely a slightly different prompt (e.g., “for high-school students”) would be enough to make the style more reader-friendly.

In fact, the answer was so precise and well-written I wondered if ChatGPT had copied it wholesale. So, I ran the answer through Grammarly’s plagiarism checker. Like me, Grammarly found some issues with conciseness and word choices, but there was no evidence of plagiarism.

Not just Q & A

While ChatGPT’s linguistic abilities impress, it has other skills, too. It can create simple websites, write code, and even create music. These skills are, at best, primitive compared to what a human expert could accomplish. Nevertheless that a chatbot can do them at all is impressive.

Artists, Photographers, Writers – Imperiled or Empowered?

The ability to generate novel imagery has been restricted to artists and photographers. An artist could craft an image of a dog wearing goggles in any number of styles, from cartoonish to highly realistic. Or, a photographer could create the shot with a few props and a compliant canine. Either could combine multiple images in Photoshop to create the desired image.

Any of these traditional approaches to creating an original “dog with goggles” image would cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, depending on the skill and reputation of the creator. In contrast, the AI image was created for near-zero cost.

While top, “brand name” talent has little to fear from AI, the vast majority of creators toiling away creating stock images, illustrations for websites, article content, etc. might have more to worry about. Why contract for an image if you can whip one up in seconds without leaving your desk? Why hire a portrait photographer when AI can subtly enhance your image in any number of ways? Why hire a copywriter when you can give your brief to a machine?

A better scenario

AI tools don’t have to replace human creators. They can also amplify the creativity and productivity of those creators. It’s likely that using AI tools to create publishable work will still require some level of imagination and skill. A creator well-versed in prompting, tweaking, and editing should be able to do both more work and better work.

While it’s too soon to see how these tools will develop in the short term, it would be wise for creators not to fight them or mock their many failings. Rather, creators should begin to incorporate them into their work.

Humans have long used machines to amplify their capabilities – creators can do the same with AI tools.

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