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You Will Not Be Replaced By A.I.
No matter how sophisticated it gets, A.I. will never replace you — and here's why.
I need you to know something — you are important. But more than that, you are irreplaceable.
I say this because I’ve seen a lot of writers expressing concern about the widespread growth and usage of A.I. (artificial intelligence), the most prominent example being the recent WGA strike, which is, in extremely oversimplified terms, a plea for Hollywood to value the work of actual talented human writers, and NOT replace them with A.I. text generators.
Because yes, we’ve gotten to that point.
Text generators have been around for a while, but the text-generating A.I. ChatGPT is different in how realistic and lifelike its responses can seem. That’s because it has an entire internet’s worth of data to “learn” from, including tons of actual human writing and conversations.
There’s also the “Norah Ephron scenario”, in which text-generating A.I. “learns to mimic cultural titans, eclipsing new human writers.” So in essence, if a studio wants a new Norah Ephron movie, they can generate one without paying anyone — and without having to check out any new up-and-coming writers.
There’s already something similar in music — if a studio wants a new Drake song, they could have their A.I. simply make one… without Drake.
This may seem terrifying to you, and in a way (well, in several ways), it is. Again, in extremely oversimplified terms, the people who pay writers tend to be greedy corporate executives who would rather NOT pay actual human writers, and it’s so easy to generate text using A.I. for free. (You can try it yourself using ChatGPT here, if you want to.)
These business-minded executives see writing as a formulaic content-generating process and not a craft, in the same way that they see moviegoers as brainless wads of cash who will hurl themselves at the box office to see Adam Sandler fall down in a wig.
But before I get too cynical, it’s probably a good idea to ask some questions — for example: Do audiences want movie and TV writers to be replaced with A.I. text generators? (e.g., Do we want to watch A.I.-generated Norah Ephron movies forever?)
The aforementioned executives would love that, of course, because their main concern is making as much money with as little thought and effort as possible. But what about moviegoers and TV-watchers — what is our main concern?
Start by asking yourself: Why do you watch movies?
Okay, maybe it is to see Adam Sandler fall down in a wig, or to see Marvel Hero #725 punch Bad Guy #437 in the jaw. But while those things can be really fun, I don’t think that’s the main reason you’re taking the time to watch a movie.
I think that, deep down, you are looking for connection. I think we all are.
Now, I could have said that we watch movies because we’re simply bored, or that we’re looking for entertainment or an escape from real life or a reason to feel something, but even those are byproducts of that essential sense of connection.
We watch movies (and read books and look at art) to feel connected to and empathize with characters, to imagine ourselves in new places and scenarios and worlds, to feel like we’re a part of something big or new or horrifying or mysterious or beautiful.
We cry at the end of Big Fish because everyone comes together so generously and tenderheartedly to celebrate Edward Bloom’s incredible life. We cry at the end of A Little Princess because during the movie, we have to some degree become Sara — we are connected with her, and we are desperately relieved that our father has finally remembered who we are.
Heck, I cried during Luisa’s song in Encanto because I connected so strongly (get it?) with the situation she was in.
The reason these scenes are so powerful is because we are not only connecting with the characters and situations, but the very person(s) who created them. The writer(s) have pulled from their own experiences of pain or loss or gratitude or wonder (or all of the above), and successfully communicated the meaning/truth they derived from it to us with great empathy and skill.
It’s part of why we write in the first place — to share our stories and experiences, and in doing so to connect with our audiences. We have a fundamental need to be seen and heard, and to see and hear others.
Now: can an A.I. generate a story that gives readers or viewers a sense of connection? Of course. But I would argue that it is simply the aesthetic of connection, and not a genuine connection itself.
Because what are we connecting with? (Or, if you prefer that I be grammatically correct: With what are we connecting?)
Think about visual art — the reason that we value certain paintings, sculptures, etc. above others is because of the human beings’ talent and emotions and intention and vision behind them. Sure, A.I.s such as DALL-E 2 can create images (including “visual art”), but it lacks something. Even though it may look nice or even beautiful, it lacks context. It lacks purpose and motivation — crucial to a true sense of connection.
Think about your favorite painting or sculpture — why do you love it so much?
Is it because the artist created it to deal with the loss of their father? Is it because of the incredible skill of that artists’ hands? Is it because unimaginable hours of effort and care went into its creation? Is it because it simply “speaks” to you in a way that’s difficult to describe?
A.I. can create the aesthetic of art, but without the reason for creating and sharing that piece of art, it doesn’t mean as much to us. It doesn’t connect us with anything purposeful or meaningful, and thus doesn’t carry as much value or resonance.
The reason we put works of art into museums is (largely) due to the artistic and personal merit of the creator(s) behind them.
The same can be true for books — I may be speaking only for myself here, but when I find a book that I really like, I immediately start looking for other books by that author. I think it’s because I’ve connected with them through their work, for a conscious or unconscious reason — for example, they have a similar worldview, they create characters and situations that resonate with my own life experience, they have crafted a world in which I would happily dwell forever, etc.
Honestly, I don’t have favorite books so much as favorite writers — and I think that many people feel the same way. If a new book comes out by T. Kingfisher or Tana French, for example, I am buying a copy without even reading the blurb.
I realize that we’re getting dangerously close to talking about literary criticism and “death of the author”, and that’s really another topic for another day. But I do believe that we create art for a reason, and that reason is important, and gets embedded into the art we create (whether we want it to or not).
It is going to be increasingly important for authors to have a strong personal brand — to have good writing attached to your name and to you yourself. Audiences will follow and develop loyalty toward writers and the works they create, much like music fans and their favorite bands. In fact, they already do (see above re: T. Kingfisher and Tana French).
Now, one day (perhaps sooner than any of us expect), A.I. will develop true intelligence and sentience, and become capable of experiencing life and suffering and pain and joy, and create art in response to those experiences. And at that point, I’ll reconsider my stance on A.I.-generated art, and evaluate whether connecting with the A.I. behind it is a valuable experience.
But until then, I want you to know that your creative work is valuable and irreplaceable because you are valuable and irreplaceable — you have unique insights and thoughts and experiences that other people will want to connect with, and find meaning in connecting with.
Storytelling is just a means to facilitate human connection, after all, even if we do treat it as an end in and of itself.
A.I. will not replace you because A.I. cannot replace you. So take a deep breath, remember what is important to you in life, support the WGA strike, and go make something amazing.
Words & warmth,
P.S. I’ve been using “A.I.” with periods in it because otherwise, in some fonts, it looks like the name “Al.” And we can’t give Al credit for everything.
P.P.S. Here’s a video of Neil Gaiman, live from the WGA writer’s strike (I do not own this video):
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