- A dishonest photographer shows us how a coworker might steal your promotion
- Office workers buying AI services might finally render obsolete the IT department in big corps
- A science fiction magazine overwhelmed by AI-generated spam submissions shows us that content curation might become an impossible job
- We used to have to convince people to buy typewriters
- There’s a new job called synthetic celebrity and, yes, no human does it
- Musicians initially tried to boycott recorded music (they are all dead now, don’t worry)
- ChatGPT makes the joke of the week in Woody Allen style
P.s.: This week’s Splendid Edition of Synthetic Work is titled I will edit and humanize your AI content and it’s focused on how AI is changing the job market across industries (desired skills, job opportunities, and future prospects for hiring managers).
I’m using this third issue of the newsletter to announce the first project related to Synthetic Work:
Fake Show is a synthetic podcast. And it’s about the atrocious things that people in large tech vendors do.
You see, I know that even if I tell you all the incredible things that AI can do every week, you won’t be impressed too much. I need to show you.
And so Fake Show is a playground where you’ll see the latest, most advanced AI models in the world, used to deliver something. The more sophisticated these models will become, the more Fake Show will evolve and do more.
Synthetic podcast means that almost everything you’ll see and hear in the show is created with generative AI models. For example, if you think that you’ve heard the state of the art in AI voices (what used to called text-to-speech, or TTS), think again.
I have yet to find voices as realistic as the ones I’m using with Fake Show.
The background music is not yet synthetic, but it will be at some point soon. The dialogues, instead, will never be synthetic. I write those, and it will remain that way.
But what to talk about? AI models and techniques are useless without a story to tell.
And so the idea is to use this incredible power to shed some light on the darkest corners of the IT industry. After working for large tech vendors in the last 12 years, I think I have enough material for 7,000 episodes.
So. Put the volume to the max and watch the promo. If you know anybody that works for a tech vendor, share it with them. They might feel seen.
I think this week it’s worth mentioning two things that are interesting about AI and its impact on the way we work.
The first thing is the story of Jos Avery.
Many news outlets have covered the story, but if you didn’t have the chance to read it, here’s the gist: the guy starts posting portrait photos generated with AI, but he doesn’t tell anybody that he makes the photos with AI. Instead, he lies and even makes up the equipment he used to take the pictures.
The photos look quite good and he quickly gets a lot of followers.
Eventually, out of guilt or fear to be exposed, he reveals the truth. His words reported by Benj Edwards for Arts Technica:
My original aim was to fool people to showcase AI and then write an article about it. But now it has become an artistic outlet. My views have changed.
Why do we care?
Because this is a prime example of something that will almost certainly happen at work: people will start cheating. I know this information has shocked you, but that’s what people do.
The Splendid Edition of Synthetic Work Issue #1 was fully dedicated to how AI is wreaking havoc in the Education industry. In that issue, titled Burn the books, ban AI. Screwed teachers: Middle Ages are so sexy, we saw students cheating during their exams with ChatGPT.
At some point soon, your coworkers will start using generative AI to do a better job than yours. Writing emails, preparing a report, putting together a presentation, etc.
It’s not a bad thing: I ardently hope that AI will help humanity stop creating dreadful presentations and white papers and marketing material on a daily basis.
But if your coworkers start using AI covertly to gain a competitive advantage at the office, who pays the consequences of that approach is you. Because you might not get the promotion you were hoping for.
In other words, if somebody within a group starts gaining the edge thanks to AI, the rest of the group will feel the pressure to do the same. And that can quickly turn into mass adoption and job transformation.
To prove the point, during the weekend I spent some time with the latest AI models for image generation focused on photorealism. I am not a photographer. I didn’t use Photoshop or other graphics editors to improve the results. This is what I managed to generate (if you click on the photo, you’ll see more on a Twitter thread):
If you are a mediocre photographer who doesn’t use AI, and I am NO photographer at all, and we both compete on the market to gain a customer, I’m going to destroy you by the time the next wave of AI models comes out.
Can you afford to not use AI, too?
OK. The second thing I want you to laser-focus on this week: a tweet by Brett Winton, the Chief Futurist [eyes rolling really hard] at the investment firm ARK Invest:
A notable difference:
IT spend was ~3% of corporate revenues as the cloud migration began.
Knowledge worker spend is ~20% of corporate revenue as AI implementation begins. https://t.co/7hHTuZURJm
— Brett Winton (@wintonARK) February 27, 2023
Brett here is implying that the spending power of office departments or teams, what are called Lines of Business (LoB) in marketing jargon, will increase enormously as AI services and tools start to proliferate.
The underlying assumption is that, going forward, these AI services and tools will generate the most business value for a company. So the people that use them, the so-called knowledge workers [eyes rolling even harder], who are employed by the LoB, will increasingly buy them directly, swiping their corporate credit cards without any supervision or approval from the IT department and its CIO.
Before cloud computing emerged, over 16 years ago, the IT department controlled almost all spending. LoB employees would have to ask permission to get new software to do their job, they would have to wait forever for the IT department to decide on the request, and oftentimes the request would be denied or the requested software would be swapped with a similar but inferior because of a pre-existing corporate agreement.
Countless hours of productivity have been killed because of this. A moment of silence, please.
When cloud computing came to be, LoB employees started to work around the IT department, swiping their credit cards to buy and use cloud services from AWS and dozens of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) startups.
It was a revolution. Finally, office workers gained the freedom to get the job done much faster with the exact tool they wanted. And who gives a damn about regulatory compliance and corporate security.
Now, Brent suggests, we are about to see a repeat of that play, only at a much larger scale.
It is entirely possible, as I suggested for years in my previous job role, that in the future the IT department will become a mere auditor of what the LoB employees do. With no budget, decision-making capabilities, or gateway roles. Simply a team of people that will routinely check if you have done something wrong, endangering the company you work for.
Completely unrelated to this. If you just started your first job in an IT department: hey hey hey!
You won’t believe that people would fall for it, but they do. Boy, they do.
So this is a section dedicated to making me popular.
This week’s chart might be my favourite in the history of Synthetic Work (3 issues):
What you are looking at is the total amount of spammy submissions to Clarkesworld Magazine, possibly the most famous online fantasy and science fiction magazine in America.
The editor of the magazine, Neil Clarke posted this. And Neil is not just a random editor with opinions. He’s the winner of the 2022 Hugo Award for Best Professional Editor.
Towards the end of 2022, there was another spike in plagiarism and then “AI” chatbots started gaining some attention, putting a new tool in their arsenal and encouraging more to give this “side hustle” a try.
In other words, generative AI has removed the friction from content generation so much that people are experimenting with it to build an easy second job.
At a different scale, and from a different audience, since I announced Synthetic Work, I’m personally bombarded with requests to review AI apps and services built as a side job by software engineers.
But all of this is only marginally important.
What’s really important is that this is a coal mine canary for a potentially radical transformation.
Not only this is not going to go away, but I believe this is going to happen to every other creative field. People will use generative AI to saturate every content platform exists: short stories, (audio)books, images, videos, music, etc.
No (human) editor/curator will be able to cope.
If you take this to the extreme consequences, which we might or might not see, you realize that, if content production becomes infinite, the role of the curator becomes impossible & superfluous. We won’t need to choose something anymore. We might simply state what you want to see, or ask for something random, and a generative AI will produce it for us on the spot.
Curation, like the one that Neil does so masterfully, might become a function embedded in the AI models: the algorithm will learn what we don’t like and use that information as a constraint for future generation of synthetic media.
We’re already doing something like that when we specific a so-called negative prompt in AI systems for image generations, or when we ask to not see specific ads on Instagram or Twitter. We are already training the AI owned by social networks how to be curators (they do a miserable job at listening, but it’s a story for another day).
Even the human curation that I do by selecting what to talk about on Synthetic Work every week might go away.
It will never happen to me.
(but just in case, do you have a job for me?)
When we think about how artificial intelligence is changing the nature of our jobs, these memories are useful to put things in perspective. It means: stop whining.
Louis Anslow, curator of the Pessimists Archive, reminds us that we had to convince people to use typewriters back in 1874:
Sixty words a minute have been written after but two weeks’ practice.
This is the material that will be greatly expanded in the Splendid Edition of the newsletter.
There’s a new job. It’s called synthetic celebrity.
I know you think I’m there all week devising ideas to fool you, but no. In 2023, reality is way weirder than any lie any human could ever fabricate.
So, synthetic celebrities. Connie Lin writes about them for Fast Company:
Unlike the other guests, Dayzee is a so-called synthetic celebrity. She is a virtual character that exists in the digital ether, roaming from TikTok, to Instagram, to Twitter, to Discord, collecting millions of followers across channels, and pausing every now and then to DM with real-world celebrities and high-profile brands, sometimes leading to explosive “collabs”: short films show Dayzee, or her partners in crime—a mischievous cat-looking creature named Janky and the rabbit-esque Guggimon—modeling for Gucci, taking a road trip with Mercedes-Benz, or carrying out an epic heist at Christie’s art house.
Behind Dayzee and her friends is Superplastic, a hype machine of a company that manufactures these synthetic celebrities, along with their elaborate backstories (Janky and Guggimon are charming anarchists who might burn the world to the ground, if not for their love of streetwear and haute couture). “We’re an experimental character design studio, and we’re also a character universe,” says founder Paul Budnitz.
“Superfamous” they are: Superplastic’s synthetic celebrities, which now also include Staxx, a purple-skinned, tattooed “weapons and combat specialist,” have 18 million followers on social media, and that’s growing by a million each month.
Wait, wait. Don’t go. It’s even weirder in pictures. Look:
— ParisHilton (@ParisHilton) January 16, 2022
My point is that, while this is just a ridiculous new form of marketing and/or entertainment, the idea that, in a future, certain jobs will be only for AI is not so completely ridiculous.
(I can’t believe I linked to a tweet by Paris Hilton. This is a new low for me.)
For any new technology to be successfully adopted in a work environment or by society, people must feel good about it (before, during, and after its use). No business rollout plan will ever be successful before taking this into account.
In Feb 2012 (yes, eleven years ago), Matt Novak wrote a very entertaining article for Smithsonian Magazine, titled Musicians Wage War Against Evil Robots:
In 1930 the American Federation of Musicians formed a new organization called the Music Defense League and launched a scathing ad campaign to fight the advance of this terrible menace known as recorded sound.
The evil face of that campaign was the dastardly, maniacal robot. The Music Defense League spent over $500,000, running ads in newspapers throughout the United States and Canada. The ads pleaded with the public to demand humans play their music (be it in movie or stage theaters), rather than some cold, unseen machine.
The old newspaper snippers he added to the article are even better:
If you have followed the deluge of criticism against AI-generated art, and the calls for a boycott against whoever supports it, these newspaper snippets might sound familiar.
The new, especially the revolutionary new, is always welcomed with fear by large portions of the population.
AI-generated art is not the only target. We’ll likely see that criticism and that rejection applied to many other AI-generated outputs by those that cannot understand or master the new tool and feel like they will be rendered obsolete (spoiler: they totally will).
And that goes on until somebody thinks differently. This week, for example, one of the leading proponents of the AI art movement, Claire Silver, announced that her collection of AI-generated artworks will be exposed at the Louvre:
My new collection will premiere at the Louvre.
My 1/1 “Love in the 4th Turning” will exhibit at the Louvre.
Both are with & thanks to @SuperchiefNFT
— Claire Silver 🌸 (@ClaireSilver12) March 6, 2023
It’s happening, baby.
If the joke generated by the AI is actually funny, then we are in deep s**t.
OK. We try this one last time. If the following joke is atrocious like the previous two times, I cut this section (if you want me to keep it, send me a petition over email).
Me: Tell me a joke about inflation, in Woody Allen style.
ChatGPT: “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons,” Woody Allen once famously quipped. Here’s a joke in his style about inflation:
“I’m so old, I remember when a dollar could buy you a candy bar and a newspaper. Now, you need a dollar just to keep the candy bar from melting in your pocket, and who reads newspapers anymore? It’s like they say, ‘Inflation is when you pay fifteen dollars for the ten-dollar haircut you used to get when you had hair.'”
It’s my fault. I provoked it.
When I think about how AI is impacting the job market, four different perspectives come to mind:
- What new types of jobs are being created, if any
- What existing types of jobs are being eliminated, if any
- What’s happening to students preparing to enter the job market
- What’s happening to recruiters
Let’s start with:
The new types of jobs being created, if any
The ongoing planetary enthusiasm for AI, and more specifically generative AI, is giving new job opportunities in one of the most depressed economies we have seen in a decade.