Six years ago, I wrote The World Has Turned and Left Us Here. The title, inspired by a Weezer song about lost love, came after realizing that my three and four-year-old boys would have very different career choices than I had. At the time, many retail stores were closing as more people bought from Amazon. The news of retail store closings has died down a bit (though Bed, Bath, and Beyond’s impending bankruptcy may change things).
Also, self-driving cars looked like they’d potentially be available in 12-15 years. There are five levels of car autonomy. The first level 3 autonomous car is coming to Nevada around now. Car makers have five years until I have to start teaching my 10-year-old how to drive. I’m not betting on carmakers and lawmakers to figure it out that quickly. However, fully automated cars are inevitable.
Artificial Intelligence is the start. What I didn’t see coming six years ago was DALL-E and ChatGPT – two viral artificial intelligence developments in the last few months. If you haven’t been following, DALL-E can make surprisingly good images from text. The image that you see for this blog post was done by me typing, “Robot changing the earth, digital art.” I could have made it an oil painting or in the style of Van Gogh. It’s not perfect, but it’s reasonably good. I’m sure you’ve heard of ChatGPT by now – it’s all over the news. It passed an MBA final exam at Wharton the other day.
The Artificial Intelligence Blogger
Let’s take a career such as a blogger as an example. I never figured I’d blog into my 17th year, but here I am. It’s possible that ChatGPT could write an entire blog post for me. I’ve tested it a few times. I even published part of one of those tests. Maybe you can find it in the last month of blog posts? Some of the other tests, I’ve put aside to review later. Of course, the writing doesn’t sound like me, but I could take the general ideas and “Lazify” them.
I’ve already mentioned the image. It’s at least 10x better than I could do on my own. It’s also better than the stock images that just look weird.
What if I embedded a video of me explaining the concept in more detail? Making a video is a lot of work, which is one reason you won’t find me on YouTube. However, once again, artificial intelligence is here to do all the work for me. Companies like Rephrase AI and D-ID will digitize your face and voice to create a personal avatar. That avatar can be programmed to say anything in front of a green screen and look very natural. All you need to do is give your avatar a script to read – essentially something from ChatGPT.
None of these pieces are perfect, but they’ll only get better. For now, it takes a human editor to paste them all together and maybe make it seem a little natural. For example, the robot picture in this blog post isn’t the first one that DALL-E came up with. I thought it was the best of 8. However, maybe you like this one better?
In the end, you have a writer, an artist, and a video production team available to create a blog post on anything topic you have in mind.
The End of Jobs?
That’s a scary heading. It reminds me a bit of WALL-E, where the humans have machines that do everything and can barely stand or walk on their own. I don’t think it’s the end of work any time soon. There are still drains to be unclogged. I think that will continue to be the case for a long time. (Though, sign me up for a robo-plumber!)
One of the interesting things to me is that AI can outperform doctors according to this Harvard Business Review. That article is over three years old, so imagine how much better the AI bots are now.
This sounds dismal, but I see humans working with AI, such as my hypothetical blogger above. Perhaps an AI doctor discovers something that the human didn’t, and the patient is better for it. AI is already helping doctors in surgery, perhaps roughly analogous to autonomous driving – just with a scalpel.
So when might AI threaten jobs? Price Waterhouse Coopers predicts it is coming very quickly. They estimate that AI automation places 3% of jobs at risk today (early 2020s). They also predict that the number will grow to 30% by mid-2030s (Source). They note that financial services are particularly vulnerable to automation in the late 2020s.
Looks like my blog has an expiration date! Maybe I should brush up on my plumbing skills? What do you think? Let me know in the comments.
I’m a skeptic. I was working with artificial intelligence software thirty years ago and the rate of progress has been pretty glacial in my opinion. We were supposed to have flying cars forty years ago and home robots that could cook and clean equal to any human, still vaporware. Sure we have robot vacuum cleaners but those things are incredibly dumb and stymied by furniture or stairs. I personally don’t see that much change coming to the world of work. I started as a chemical engineer in the late 70’s. Chemical engineers today are solving the same problems with the same software and building the same equipment I was building back then. It’s just not that different. It is different than one hundred years ago, but the last fifty haven’t shown that many advancements in most industry. Sure we have very powerful phones and computers and better video games but most of this is used to waste time or to make each other feel inferior. The idea that super video games are really a mark of progress, that’s questionable. We have recent generations of kids with record levels of ADHD and mental illness and poor physical fitness, all of which have some links to too much screen time. Or maybe I’m just an old grouch, but until I get my flying car I’m not really buying into a vastly different future any time soon. I’ve been hearing about machines taking all the jobs for my entire adult life, but the refinery I worked at had more employees when I retired than when I was hired nearly four decades earlier even though we had gone from human to computer controls.
Lazy Man says
I got my degrees in computer science and linguistics 25 years ago and there was nothing close to ChatGPT. I think there’s a lot of progress in knowledge models with all the information available on the internet.
I don’t think flying cars are a particularly good idea. At least I wouldn’t want humans controlling them in a third dimensions.
I would hope that chemical engineers are working with different software than in the 1970s. That must have been Fortran back then. I would imagine we can write better software today – or maybe chemical engineering reached maturity back in the 1970s?