ChatGPT is all the rage. It is what everyone has been talking about in the last several weeks. In just over a week, it garnered over 1 million users, an incredible achievement for OpenAI, the organization that created it. ChatGPT is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) application that falls under the Generative AI category – GPT stands for Generative Pre-Trained Transformer. Generative AI enables computers to create new content using previously created content, such as text, audio, video, images, and code. ChatGPT is not the first AI app of its kind – others like copy.ai and jasper.ai have been around a bit longer – but ChatGPT takes human-machine collaboration to a whole new level, as it interacts with humans in an almost science-fiction sort of way that can be really surprising.
ChatGPT is being offered for free for now. The challenge is that Generative AI consumes a lot of computing resources and OpenAI will not be able to offer this type of service for free for much longer without offsetting the cost somehow. The popularity of ChatGPT is such that OpenAI is having to throttle the consumption of computing capacity to absorb the demand, causing occasional interruptions to the service as experienced recently:
Figure 1 – ChatGPT at Capacity Message
Enough has been said about ChatGPT. I would like to focus our discussion on the bigger picture: the impact this technology will have on the entire field of human-machine collaboration, on productivity, on human work, and the value attributed to machine-generated versus genuine human output, especially in the area of content creation.
Since the beginning of human history, our species has leveraged tools to make our lives easier and to accomplish the tasks we need to get done. Over time, these tools became more sophisticated, eventually turning into machines, and the machines became increasingly efficient and smarter. The internal combustion engine brought ground-breaking changes to human society, leading to the Industrial Revolution where human labor became organized to better collaborate with machines and increase production.
We are now experiencing an even more significant change in how humans collaborate with the machines, and the implications are even more dramatic. The difference now is that the intelligence of the machines has increased exponentially, challenging our own intellectual capacity and leading to a whole new set of unknowns as we look into the future. A likely near-term scenario is that we will see an unprecedented increase in productivity as these AI-based systems become increasingly sophisticated and as we learn how to best work with them.
We are still in the early days. The experience of working with a tool like ChatGPT can feel like science fiction, and the novelty fuels our fascination. However, there are still limitations that require adaptation. For instance, the current AI tools are fantastic for generating ideas, providing facts (sometimes fictional), and creating new images, code, and text. However, the machine-generated content is a bland rehashing of other content created elsewhere. So, it lacks soul. It lacks the human touch that makes life interesting.
This is good news because, to an extent, humans are still needed to create valuable content. The more we learn how to work with the machines, what questions to ask, what input to provide, what tweaks to make to the output, the more productive we will become.
As an experiment, I tried to use Generative AI to help me create this post, but I was not totally happy with the outcome. The article felt a bit bland and didn’t flow as well as I had hoped for. After spending some time tweaking it, I decided that if I just wrote the article from scratch, it would be much more genuine and to my liking, so I discarded the entire AI-based output.
The Value of Human-Created Content
An interesting discussion is brewing on social media about the commoditization of words. Some authors are even considering giving up on writing new books altogether as they believe words will become commoditized to a point where the value of their work will approach zero.
As machine-generated content continues to accelerate, we will see a deluge of content of all types, leading to commoditization. However, it is possible that genuine human-created content will become differentiated and more valuable. We have already seen this is the crafts industry, where handmade crafts can draw a higher price than mass-produced items from a factory. The question is whether we will be able to tell the difference.
Machines can certainly tell the difference. Several AI content detectors are publicly available, and the SEO community believes Google will treat AI-generated content as spam. Humans may not readily detect AI-generated content, but it is possible that over time we will get a sense for content that lacks human creativity and is therefore, less attractive.
The Future of Work
Will machines completely replace human labor? In my view, machines will become increasingly more capable of performing human work. However, we will also see human-machine collaboration greatly flourish, increasing productivity and allowing humans to do work that is more interesting. The ability to effectively collaborate with the machines will become a valuable skill and will be greatly rewarded.
Repetitive tasks will increasingly become automated, resulting in the replacement of many jobs by intelligent agents. However, at least for a while, humans will be required to monitor and supervise the machines. Their output will need to be tweaked to meet our expectations. Notwithstanding the incredible advances in robotics, tasks that require high dexterity will likely remain within the human domain in the foreseeable future.
The long-term implications are much more difficult to foresee. It is possible to envision a scenario where the machines do all the boring, dirty, dull work, while humans focus on what we do best. We are exceptionally good at relating to other humans, providing love and care, and creating soul-based creative output that is genuinely human. These abilities are highly appreciated and valued. Conversely, content that is not authentically human can be easily duplicated and commoditized.
Technology is advancing at incredible speeds, leaving us in wonder and sometimes in fear. New tools like ChatGPT have quickly gained adoption at an unprecedented pace. The fear of commoditization of what used to be the exclusive domain of humans is all around us. What human capabilities are about to be replaced by bots and consequently commoditized? What are the consequences for jobs and the economy? There are more questions than answers.
Short- to medium-term, opportunities are likely to be created as humans learn how to better interact with the machines, increasing productivity. In the long-run, automation may drive unemployment, but there is hope that machines will produce enough goods to sustain our everyday needs so that mundane work becomes optional. That way, we can spend more of our time seeking the matters of the soul. The things that only humans can feel and understand. The things that machines can’t replace.