Artificial Intelligence, Creativity, and Connection

A picture of Franklin Taggart at a microphone hosting his podcast Franklin Taggart's Virtual Coffee Break. Franklin is in his 60s has gray hair, green eyes, a warm voice, and most of the time a nice smile.

Since the public launch of ChatGPT 3 in late 2022, the rapid introduction of artificial intelligence into the mainstream of every aspect of human living has been a central topic of conversation and concern. AI tools have spread across the creative industries like wildfire and have been inserted into every level of task from ideation to packaging. Where we had hoped the robots would take over the mundane tasks of life, instead, we've seen the technology pointed at the big red target on the face of all our creative activities. 

While the tech gods have tried to assure us that human labor won't be replaced overnight, we've still seen early signs that the trend will be toward computers and machines doing the work humans once did. This isn't an abnormal pattern. From the earliest development of tools, the whole point has been for human labor to become easier and ultimately redundant. But can we be prepared for how the race will be affected as tech takes over increasingly highly skilled tasks?

Before I go any further, I must clarify that I am not anti-tech or anti-AI. I use the tools daily, and I'd be stupid not to. Some of the time required for my creative tasks has been cut by huge percentages. The search for relevant images for presentations that used to take hours has been reduced to minutes with the help of Dall-E and some well-defined prompts. I've been a Grammarly user for a few years now, and I've definitely seen an improvement in my writing as a result. Design tools for graphics, audio, and video have all helped streamline my own DIY production processes. So please don't think I'm against any of this.

That said, I have a few genuine concerns about the impact of AI in a few specific areas, represented by the following questions:

  • What will be the impact of AI on creative work and its market value?
  • What will happen to artistic and creative professions?
  • How will we guard against social isolation as we hand the bulk of our communication over to bots?
In my coaching of creative freelancers, I've already seen some early impacts on clients who have been laid off from jobs as AI tools have been introduced or seen regular contracts not be renewed. I keep hearing about large content creation and marketing businesses cutting their creative teams down from hundreds to a few with the full complement of AI support. These include website design businesses, social media marketing and management contractors, and professional photo and video editors. The market demand for their services doesn't appear to be enough to make their freelance businesses sustainable. 

Unlike the transition in the early industrial revolution, new industries aren't springing up in need of their labor. By the time they finish training in new areas of skill, will those paths also be dominated by AI? For an industry with a lot of uncertainty built into it, this level of unpredictability may be the last straw for many. Will these professions go the way of the blacksmith and become nostalgic novelties that will be seen only in historical tributes? Will the next wave of national parks be the workplaces of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries?

The last question about social isolation is the most troubling to me. We've already seen the impact of technology and social media on the quality of our communication with each other. Our ability to connect on significant emotional levels and to communicate with any depth is being lost to a sea of short messages consisting mostly of emojis. And now we're going to have AI composing, sending, and receiving these messages? Are we trying to create a world in which we never actually have to talk to each other? I'm sure some would see that as a positive development.

I already bristle at the automatic response prompts that are offered in my email replies and text messages. How long before we don't even have to open a message to have a conversation with someone? My email inbox is already filled with messages whose only non-automated feature is their composition. And now even that seems to be on the block. My question really is about the reality and authenticity of human connections. Are these tools really allowing us to improve the quality of our connections, or are they removing us from the social fabric altogether?

I'm not looking for immediate answers to these questions. I don't think there are any. At least simple answers. Humans tend to avoid preparing for disasters until they've already occurred. I have been working with my clients to integrate AI tools into their practices as they find them helpful. Again, I appreciate the bump in productivity. But I'm also encouraging them never to stop exercising their creative and connective muscles, even though they may not be in as much demand. These qualities of being human, creativity, and communication have an intrinsic value apart from their marketability. They are central to the quality of our lives, and I'm not ready to let mine go.