Future Building Technology

This video pinpoints my worries about AI

Watched I tried using AI. It scared me. from YouTube

I just wanted to fix my email.

I am of the Napster generation and it is alarming to consider Chat-GPT could compare with that point of cultural change. The accelerating rate of change for everything is already exhausting. I don’t want to have to worry about whether people think AI generated text and designs are “good enough.”

But, this is how craftsmanship and skills die: a new technology comes along that gives good enough results, and not enough demand is left to sustain an industry of expertise.

I’m reading Wayfinding, and the bit I read this morning pointed out that Europeans lost even the concept of navigating without instruments after just three to four generations of access to navigational tools — when they encountered indigenous peoples who navigated without these technologies, they described their abilities as being “a sixth sense” rather than a learnable skill. A more alarming comparison is the Inuit transition from nomadic life to settlements in the 1960s, which apparently happened so swiftly their breed of sled dogs nearly went extinct (per the book).

The pace of change we’re up against would be that swift. It’s one thing to say “oh yeah, industries die, suck it up and learn a new skill” and another to recognize that entire creative industries collapsing practically overnight would mean a dramatic change in income and lifestyle for a ton of people. You want to destroy the middle class? Congrats! 🎆

It’s especially aggravating when you consider that yet again, Millennials would be among the worst hit. To suddenly have your skills become worthless just when you’re coming into your peak earning years, and have finally paid off that student debt? And on top of that, Boomers want to take away our ability to ever retire by shutting down Social Security.

We’re talking about a massive transfer of wealth from skilled professionals to the corporations that own the AIs built on stolen intellectual property — as has been the pattern for the entire industrial revolution. A forced deskilling to justify lower wages: it’s better for corporations to get the same average performance from every worker than to lean on anyone too much who you’d need to fairly compensate. AI will still need workers to operate and fix up, but they’ll be lower skill positions with lower pay.

(I’ve probably positioned myself in a decent spot since government is cautious about adopting new technology and about what exactly is said to the public, plus AI is not accurate yet 🤷‍♀️🤞)

My hope is that it becomes clear “the kinks” in generative AI are bigger problems than can be corrected quickly. Remember when self-driving cars were hyped as nearly ready like a decade ago, and they’re still killing people today? I hope that Microsoft and Google’s search engine chats flop big and that courts rule in favor of intellectual property so training data must be licensed and used only with consent.

(I just had a distasteful thought: I know you can’t re-license work released under a Creative Commons license, but what about new technologies released after licensing? Even if courts rule that training data are not fair use and corporations can only use licensed works, would the photos I’ve released under a share-alike license still be fair game for training data? Because I don’t want anything I create fed into the model, but I didn’t foresee generative AI.)

(Also I agree, screw labels, give me folders!)

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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