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Think anew: Will AI outshines & outlasts human creativity and decimate the job market?

By Shirish Nadkarni

Is there so much of a difference between an Artificial Intelligence (AI) technician using the technology’s ability to produce mind-boggling new texts, images and audio, and the man in the White House who has a finger on the nuclear button? Theoretically, both are capable of shaking up the universe as we know it.

For the moment at least, human creativity is managing to hold its own against AI – but only just! AI is improving at such a phenomenal rate, it is surely only a matter of time before more jobs are lost because of it. Will AI eventually kill human creativity, is the question that is currently at the top of many minds.

In the long-running and since-resolved strike of the Writers’ Guild of America, one of the main bones of contention was the guild’s demand that AI be used only as a research tool, and not a replacement for its members. For many writers whose Unique Selling Proposition is creativity, it seems to be getting increasingly more difficult to earn a living with AI around.

At the same time, however, AI tools — which are supposed to help us survive and thrive as a creative species — are often seen as a springboard to next-level human creativity. Technologies such as Anthropic’s chatbot Claude and OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Dall-E3 offer an enthralling creative experience.

Scott Belsky, Adobe’s Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Vice-President of Design & Emerging Products, recently shared some of his predictions on how AI will reshape businesses. He summed up his “general thesis” as: “We need to value human ingenuity and free up the capacity of creative minds for higher order tasks.

“As AI gets really good at optimisation, some industries and business models will need to change. Businesses that use AI to optimise their bottom lines may inadvertently degrade the value of their products.

“Dating apps and music streaming services are vulnerable to short-sighted decisions. Dating apps might try to keep customers on their app longer by offering less promising matches, while the latter might try to keep artist payouts low by offering the longest songs that match a user’s parameters.

“Both are recipes for ‘optimisation’ that would likely harm customer satisfaction.”

There is a very real fear that AI will kill the billable hours model. “New pricing models are overdue to replace time-based and finger-in-the-wind pricing in the age of AI where time is magically compressed,” Belsky wrote. “The ultimate source of the differentiating value delivered to a client — it is less ‘time’ and more ‘experience’.”

The individual factors that will continue to matter are “one’s years of experience, honed skills from formal education and practice, one’s taste and intuition, one’s creativity, one’s network of relationships, and even one’s proprietary data and algorithms honed through volume of past experiences,” according to Belsky.

So how will industries like law, design, consulting, etc. charge clients? Perhaps they will move to a model more akin to that of medicine, in which there is “a new source-of-truth for the ‘value’ of tasks across professional trades via a third-party billing service that determines price.”

We may even enter an era of results-based compensation that is far more objective and measured.

But what exactly is creativity?

In her book ‘The Creative Mind’, cognitive science expert Margaret Boden distinguishes between two types of human creativity.

Psychological or personal (p-type) creativity happens when an individual thinks something for the first time — even if others have thought it separately before. One example is a child realising water can take any shape.

On the other hand, historical creativity (h-type) happens when an individual thinks something that has never been thought before. One example would be Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment in the bath, which supposedly led to him discovering the law of buoyancy. Such moments are important because they continue to shape our thinking.

AI obviously has the potential to promote both p-type and h-type creativity. It can lead us to insights about biology, history and mathematics, and help us create texts and images that may be useful or thought-provoking.

But, according to Boden, there is one key difference between human creativity and AI-driven creativity — the latter does not stem from the evolutionary clash of mind and world.

“AI models don’t contain reality,” she wrote. “They rely on the complex statistical abstraction of digital data. This limits their real-world creative significance and their capacity to produce ‘Eureka’ moments.

“To differentiate AI-driven creativity from old-fashioned creativity, I have proposed a new term — generic, or g-type, creativity. It formalises the fact that while AI models are capable of provoking new thought, they are limited by the underlying data they have been trained on.”

Boden claims that the future will witness an explosion in g-type creativity. The danger here is that our increasing use of AI could make us think too much alike, leading to a decrease in cognitive diversity and an increase in cultural tightness.

“In this scenario, societies would become more rigid in the norms they enforce, and less tolerant of deviations from the status quo,” Boden wrote. “At a population level this would be a creativity killer.

“The threat isn’t just AI-generated movies, TV, books and art. In the future, the homes we live in, the cars we drive (or won’t have to drive) and our shared public spaces will all be shaped by AI. We may see our thinking become homogenised under the pressure of increasingly similar environments and experiences.”

It has been widely accepted, particularly by academics in the field, that it is not AI we should be worried about per se, but the humans who work with the technology. “AI is just a technology about which you should not be necessarily terrified, but [you should be] concerned about who wields the power of AI,” said Mehran Sahami, computer science professor and chair at Stanford University.

Sahami quoted the instance of a person in the publishing industry who cancelled hiring six new jobs because his company’s existing staff could take on that same work using AI technology.

“It was not AI that makes the decision whether or not the jobs exist or not, it’s human beings that make that decision,” said Sahami. “So what AI enables is more possibilities, and one of those possibilities that it creates is job displacement. But people ultimately make that decision. This is going to shift the economic landscape, but the decisions are still ours.”

Sahami sought to reassure those that might be terrified of AI. “They’re not that powerful,” he said. “They cannot replace human creativity. They are not our equals; they could be our assistants, they could empower us to do more with what we can do already, they can help us be more productive. They can help us with knowledge, they can help us with insight, but the tools themselves are kind of simple tools that work on based on statistical rules.”

So AI is just a tool and humans should not be terrified by the thought that they will eventually be smarter than its creator? Or should we keep calm and carry on … just like what we did when the other big ‘A’ [automation] appeared?

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