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AI and Our Labor Addiction

The level of naivete, if not outright hubris, on display in a recent New York Times article about AI-generated art is gobsmacking:

The resulting image didn’t end up going into an ad, but Mr. Carmel predicts that generative A.I. will become part of every ad agency’s creative process. He doesn’t, however, think that using A.I. will meaningfully speed up the agencies’ work, or replace their art departments. He said many of the images generated by A.I. weren’t good enough to be shown to clients and that users who weren’t experienced users of these apps would probably waste a lot of time trying to formulate the right prompts.

It’s hard to say how prevalent this attitude is among creative professionals, but the presumption above seems to be that AI, in its current not-ready-for-prime-time state, is a finished product, with imperfections that will define it for the foreseeable future. This, despite the astoundingly rapid increase in sophistication several image generators have demonstrated in the space of just a few recent months.

There’s a bothersome classist aspect to this perspective, as if white collar skills are conferred from some divine realm, insulated from the kind of automation that’s ravaged the lowly blue collar industries. But if you haven’t noticed, those mystical white collar skills are getting less mystical by the day, and the shrinking middle class’s expatriates aren’t ascending to Shangri-La.

What drives me nuts about all this is that a decreased need for human labor should be a good thing! AI and other forms of automation are primed to allow some of us to work smarter instead of harder, and to allow many of us not to work at all. Which could be great if we were living in a system that prioritized keeping people healthy and happy rather than insisting that they endlessly cultivate capital. AI, which might have been molded toward shifting that paradigm, seems more likely to help accelerate its ugly natural conclusion.