People are wrong to fear generative AI taking jobs

The fear of generative AI is completely understandable; neural networks are designed to be generalist problem solvers, and AI as a whole will replace many, many jobs as companies look for cost cutting measures. Nobody is safe. But still, you shouldn’t be scared.

Value is the crux of the AI fear: such a technology could replace all value-providers (workers) and so many will be left without work while big tech wins.

The typical argument against this is that without workers and consumers companies cannot exist. I, for one, find that a bit optimistic. Believe me, billionaires would (somehow) still find a way.

Instead, consider painters. Literally anybody with some colorful liquid and a surface can paint; our ancestors did it with blood. We’ll get back to the valuable stuff, but first consider the crap and why it exists. Painters everyday sell “abstract” art that feels like it would be incredibly easy for anybody to make. And consider non-fungible tokens: how computer-generated monkeys can be sold and bought. It feels like nonsense when you consider value. Who would buy a painting or digital token like that for millions of dollars?

It’s because it’s not the painting or the NFT they are buying, not really. The value isn’t inherent in the work itself but to its scarcity. A Starry Night by Van Gogh is worth so much not just because it is pretty but because it is the only one. It is important because it—and its artist—revolutionized art. Most run-of-the mill stuff cannot compete. AI can make the next Van Gogh style painting, but the work will never be as valuable as the original.

And this applies everywhere. Bloggers are not just valuable because of what they write. Actors are not just valuable because of the stories they can bring to life. Programmers are not just valuable because of the lines of code they type. AI will be able to do all three tasks as well as a human can eventually, but people will still make websites and apps. People will still go to see the work of celebrities. People will still read blogs. Community in itself is another source of value, and there is and always has been a value in authentic connection.

As for the rest of us? Sure, AI can take our (let’s be honest, unsexy and menial) jobs and do our work better, but that opens up the door for more innovation. Artisans were only made possible because of advances in agriculture, after all. Generative AI is not a step backwards for humanity but a step forward.

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