If You Think Creative Professions Are Safe From Automation, Think Again


A recent article about robotic writers with artificial intelligence in Mashable was surprising, but not the part about automated writing. The surprising, and slightly scary, part was that the US Central Intelligence Agency has a venture capital division:
"The CIA's venture capital wing, In-Q-Tel, has invested an unknown amount in a company called Narrative Science, which codes software capable of turning massive data sets into easy-to-read written prose, according to All Things D. Chicago-based Narrative Science got its start by turning baseball box scores into readable accounts of games — not unlike a piece you might see in your local newspaper's sports pages."

The reality is that if a computer can learn to play chess, it can take a set of basic facts, follow a pattern to create a basic story based on those facts, check it against a style guide and post it. That means that basic news stories, will largely be automated in the not too distant future. There will probably (maybe) be some calling for investigative journalism and analysis. It may be difficult though for humans to keep up on the analysis front. Humans have instinct, and can evaluate the personalities of other humans but computers can, in seconds, run though vast databases of historical data, probability models, and statistical models like those used by Nate Silver to predict the 2012 election. What that means is that computers may be able to analyze and predict events at a level that humans cannot.

Creative writers are also not entirely out of the woods. It's likely that humans will still be able to create compelling stories that people want to read, but it is not impossible that computers will be able to do the same. Joseph Campbell famously pointed out that stories, even fictional stories, are not without basic formulas and structures.
"A popular form of structure derived from Joseph Campbell's Monomyth from his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces and adapted by Christopher Vogler is the Twelve Stage Hero's Journey. This is essentially a more detailed Character Arc for your story's hero which is overlayed onto the more traditional three-act structure that many successful Hollywood movies such as Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz when analyzed appear to follow."

Granted, many of the stories written by AI may be terrible (many of the stories written by people are terrible) but the computer can potentially produce several full novels per hour. If it is true that if you have enough monkeys at enough typewriters they will eventually produce Shakespeare, then surely an artificially intelligent computer, given some basic formulas and the whole of world literature to model, producing 500 novels / day should be good for a decent less than terrible bit of fiction at least once or twice per month. It will cost nothing to publish these stories as eBooks so it does not all have to be brilliant.

By this point writers are screaming that, it will never be art, but neither is most of the bestsellers list if we're honest about it. Also, if you work in another area of the arts, and are feeling bad for writers but secure in your own position, don't forget that animation will one day be indistinguishable from real life, voices will be synthesized so as to be indistinguishable from the real thing. In other words, software will be able to produce feature length films without actors, without camera people, set designers, costumes or props, the only additional thing that it will need l is a story (see above).

As for music, the two videos below show robots playing music written by people and people playing music written by robots. There will likely be a few 'jobs' in helping to refine the formulas used by computers and a few jobs vetting the output but, realistically, most 'jobs' in the arts will be gone as well. Even without computers and artificial intelligence, everyone else's jobs are going away as well so there won't be much money to be made.

That doesn't mean that people with a talent for the arts should give up and walk away. In the not too distant future no one will have a job. We are going to have to find new ways for society and the economy to function. That means that those who are so inclined will have more time to pursue art, without worrying about money at all. It is not a terrible world we're heading into, just a very different one.

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