Life after the AI-pocalypse

Full Disclosure up-front: I am employed as a Principal Security Specialist at GitHub at the time of publishing this post. I disclose this because GitHub recently released Copilot - an artificially intelligent (AI) tool used to assist developers when writing software.

In August of 2022 PC Magazine reported on a story about a man named Jason Allen, who had used AI-generated art to win the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts competition in the “digital art” category. When other artists took to social media to deride both Mr. Allen and the state fair for this, Mr. Allen responded with a Discord post stating:

“How interesting is it to see how all these people on Twitter who are against AI-generated art are the first ones to throw the human under the bus by discrediting the human element! Does this seem hypocritical to you guys?”

What I think Mr. Allen and other “AI stans” fail to acknowledge from artists’ reactions are that many individuals work on a piece for months or years - often honing their craft over a lifetime. That it took merely a handful of refined queries and a few weeks of touch-up work to generate and modify Mr Allen’s prize winning digital artwork is understandably viewed as an affront by those who have spent years honing their artistic skills.

The prize-wiinning art generated on Midjourney by Jason Allen, which depicts an individual amongst what appears to be a royal court who is looking through a large, circular opening in the background that is brightly lit by sunlight.

(image credit: Jason Allen)

Ubiquitous Talent without Skill

The difference between talent and skill is that talent can be viewed as a trait which an individual is naturally gifted in - whereas skill is something that is honed through commitment and practice. In a world where AI increasingly makes creative talent accessible to a global populace at minimal cost, it will become increasingly difficult to discern between the two.

The fallout from AI making ubiquitous talent readily available will be that skilled individuals become increasingly discounted or accused of using AI to generate their work. This is exactly what happened to Ben Moran when Reddit moderators banned him from r/Art after accusing him of using AI to create his collaborative work at Kart Studios. In an ironic twist of fate, AI is using similar art styles to Ben’s work - pulled from publicly available content on sites like DeviantArt - in order to generate artificial works.

Over time, the increasingly vague separation of AI-generated talent versus human skill will lead to significant headwinds for measuring the value of skilled work. This will have meaningful repercussions for those individuals working in skilled and creative fields such as writing, drawing, or painting - and will have profound impacts in “white collar” fields such as finance, accounting, legal, and even software engineering.

Every [hu]man for Themselves

There will be winners and losers as AI continues encroaching on new markets and industries. Those best positioned to win in a “ubiquitous talent” future are today’s skilled individuals who choose to embrace AI as a tool to accelerate their creativity. They will win by leveraging AI to improve and expand their work, allowing them to become increasingly self-sufficient as a creative class that enjoys a great deal of financial independence.

There will likewise be individuals who fully reject AI as it makes inroads into their respective field; these individuals will also be stratified into their own collection of winners and losers. Those that find a way to win in this category will be individuals who create “Banksy-like” content and experiences that are both unique and singular in nature. Everyone else in this group will either choose to utilize AI as a tool, or lose to those who do.

Finally, there will exist a group of people who fully embrace AI for instruction, completion of tasks, and to assist in performing menial (but hard to automate) jobs. For these individuals every day life may certainly be easier - but their financial prospects and long-term well being will be jeopardized by the constant encroachment of AI in their lives. Financial mechanisms like Universal Basic Income will be required to support this growing class of consumers.

Regardless of which group individuals fall into, those who spend time building and maintaining their brand and online identity - while developing skills that are hard to replicate - will acquire more financial security and peace of mind than those who don’t. This was some of the same advice I gave to those looking to break into the InfoSec industry, which might just manage to thrive during the rise of AI generated software.

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The End of Originality

Like an ouroboros consuming its own tail, those that embrace AI to generate new content will eventually start feeding the AI with its own artificially generated data. With millions - and eventually billions - of people utilizing AI to perform tasks and generate new content, we are perhaps a decade (or less) away from this event horizon. Except perhaps for those skilled individuals who continue to use AI as a tool to enhance their individual creative talents, for many this will mark the end of (human) originality.

Although, it’s entirely possible that we would have reached the end of originality without the assistance of AI. After all, groundbreaking patents and scientific discoveries have practically flatlined over the last seventy-five years. Between 1945 and 2010 disruptive research papers in social sciences dropped nearly 92%. Similarly, disruptive papers in physics saw a 100% decline over that period - and between 1980 and 2010 patents in disruptive “computers and communication” technologies saw nearly a 79% decline. It is not far-fetched to say that these papers and patents feed the large language models and other AI technologies of today - and they are drying up.

Meanwhile, younger generations that grow up with ubiquitous AI assistance in their lives will be significantly handicapped by the very AI that is intended to help them learn and grow. Knowledge and skill developed through challenging experiences are the foundations of intellectual growth, and young people will have many such challenges removed from their lives by AI technologies. For those who have watched West World, think Rehoboam.

Admittedly it can also be argued that this process of handicapping today’s youth began through the use of existing technologies such as search engines; AI will only serve to accelerate this trend.

Re-skilling in the Age of AI

For now, the difference between a skilled individual taking advantage of AI - and an unskilled individual utilizing AI - is still discernible. It’s important to take take stock of your current talent(s) and skill(s), and then come up with ways to build further expertise while experimenting with AI. In the near future, those most likely to thrive will be individuals who develop clever ways to utilize AI to bolster their talent(s), allowing them to build new and uniquely marketable skills. Don’t get left behind in the coming wave by waiting until it’s too late.

That being said, when I asked Notion’s AI what people should do to make a living after the AI-pocalypse has profoundly reshaped global economies as a result of inexpensive, ubiquitous talent - it recommended developing specific skills that are fairly close to the mark for what I would recommend. Here’s what it had to say:

In a world with ubiquitous talent, people must look for ways to develop skills that AI can’t (yet) replicate. This could include developing interpersonal skills such as empathy and communication, problem-solving skills such as critical thinking and creativity, and practical skills such as craftsmanship, computer programming, and engineering.

As AI continues to rapidly evolve, people must continually update their skillsets in order to stay competitive. Furthermore, people should also consider developing personal projects and hobbies that can be used to build their resume or portfolio, as well as create a sense of purpose and wellbeing.

Funny - it almost sounds like the AI read one of my recent blog posts I wrote in Notion 🤔

As always, thanks again for stopping by to read my pseudo-random musings 😊 While I work on writing my next blog post, you can git checkout other (usually off-topic) content I’m reading over at Instapaper - or read my recent blog post on Breaking into InfoSec as you consider the challenging market dynamics we’re heading toward.

Until next time, remember to git commit && stay classy!


Keith // securingdev

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This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.