Our Living Disruption Experiment

Disruption is often described in abstract terms with time horizons that look long enough to act on. What we see now is far different from that — faster and more intense.

You might have had relatively few ideas of what artificial intelligence looked like until last week. That was when the news of ChatGPT made its way across the mediascape. The tool, launched on November 30, 2022, allows text to be written from only a few instructions. Imagine having your entire term paper or project report written for you by simply offering a few details via ‘chat’ to this bot.

Writing in The Atlantic, Steven Marche points to how tools like ChatGPT are about to disrupt higher education:

Practical matters are at stake: Humanities departments judge their undergraduate students on the basis of their essays. They give Ph.D.s on the basis of a dissertation’s composition. What happens when both processes can be significantly automated? Going by my experience as a former Shakespeare professor, I figure it will take 10 years for academia to face this new reality: two years for the students to figure out the tech, three more years for the professors to recognize that students are using the tech, and then five years for university administrators to decide what, if anything, to do about it. Teachers are already some of the most overworked, underpaid people in the world. They are already dealing with a humanities in crisis. And now this. I feel for them.

This same threat applies to anything that involves digital creation. Whether you are completing a PhD or middle school, AI tools will change how you learn, produce, and are assessed. Education will be disrupted because the models used to create and focus learning are now easily done automatically.

If you are an art teacher, what are you doing about tools like MidJourney or DALL-E? If you teach graphic design, how are you approaching tools like Canva that now have built-in AI support? For teachers and students alike, the effects of these tools can’t be understated. We have gone from requiring years of study on a method or tool to creating elaborate works in minutes.

It’s the speed and scale of this disruption that is what has my attention.

AI Expansion in Creative Arts

Anne-Laure Le Cunff has curated a list of available AI tools and described them by function. Anne-Laure has mapped over 180 tools, which can be downloaded as a clickable PDF. By January, there will be many more to add to this list.

Each of these uses something as simple as natural language — our everyday words and phrases — to generate essays, artwork, and even code.

If I can generate entire creative works with just a few phrases, why learn the mechanics behind the method? Why would I spend hours thinking of, researching, composing, and editing a manuscript when I could have ChatGPT generate one for me? If I don’t like it, I’ll ask it to do it again.

You will be receiving newsletters written by ChatGPT in the new year. I’ll bet on it. Many blogs I visit will be AI-written in the years to come, too. Why not post something every day if it takes just a few sentences? This will put Seth Godin to shame.

What will this do to the quality and quantity of what’s available?

The Journey and the Destination

Is this the end of blog writing (Censemaking)? No. I get so much value from writing, and I won’t give it up. My writing is part of a journey. I start out by exploring a topic, researching it, writing and revising my work with little idea of where I will end up. That mystery is part of the joy and learning I go through with every post. My writing is also a means to express and clarify my views. I love teaching because it allows me to learn what I know. In sharing my thoughts and organizing them, I recognize what I know and devise ways to share them.

I will lose that using something like ChatGPT. (Will I gain something else? Maybe.). Just as AI might eliminate many simple, banal jobs, it might also eliminate the experience we gain from them. I learned a lot from my first jobs as a dishwasher, a parking attendant, a waiter, a gas station operator, and a stock clerk. These jobs taught me lessons in responsibility, sociability, and customer service. I had to show up for a job or be fired. I was supervised and accountable to a boss and a customer. You learn things by doing them. What if I didn’t have to do them?

Could AI or technology do those jobs? In many cases, they already are. But it is easier to learn the lessons of life and work when the stakes are low, and these jobs — while valuable — are relatively low stakes. Sam Bankman-Fried has learned what it means to learn on the job when the stakes are high, and that’s not gone well for him.

Friction and Creation

Artists learn through creation, struggle, and refinement. More specifically, we learn through friction. AI-driven tools reduce creative friction. Friction allows us to develop a style, not just a preference. My journey as a creator through friction is what creates my art. My art is not just a product and not just an output. Can I create great art (consistently) if I don’t have experience with friction? I doubt it.

I have said that the value of doctoral studies was not what I earned but who I became. My journey, struggle, and dance with friction is what earned my degree. My technical skills mattered, but they only came through work, practice, attentiveness, and care.

AI might allow me to create great products, but I need help to develop my craft. My craft is honed through time, care, and attention. AI-powered tools require none of these. If I don’t like what I create in DALL-E, I can do it again. Within hours I can generate thousands of productions. My craft- knowledge, skill, and wisdom- distinguishes me from others. Your craft is the same.

I am not bashing AI or those who create with them. I can see myself using it extensively, but only to add to my other creative outputs. My worry is what happens when we can generate content on a whim (Look at what we get on social media). Will we just have content and few creators?

We are amidst one of the most profound disruptions of our lifetime. I don’t think we can underestimate what this will bring in the years to come. It’s not just what this brings, but the speed at when it is brought to us.

I wonder what next week will bring?

Image Credit: Andrea De Santis on Unsplash

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