Thoughts on the Generative, Creative Economy

By Samim (Twitter)

I find it comedic how professional digital creative tools (video, music, design, etc.) in 2018 are still being mainly promoted as "tools for hand-crafted, artisanal creation" - while we are living in an age where bot-nets are producing and recommending artefacts by the trillions.

While the quality of creative artefacts generated with machine assistance is debatable — it is quickly getting "good enough" across many fields. Combined with other unique benefits of the generative model, traditional digital creative tools are becoming obsolete fast.

The outlines of the new creative economy are clear: 90% of all content will be machine generated (with little to no human intervention) and extremely cheap to buy. The remaining 10% will be artisanally made by humans, which focus mainly on branding and storytelling. Technologically, you don't need "AI" or very sophisticated machine learning for most of this to happen — good old creative computation (at massive scale) does the trick.

Finally, a note to the people saying "No worries, AI + creativity is all about empowering and augmenting human creators, there won't be blood." I've worked in this industry for years & find such talk intellectually lazy and at times even deceptive. There will be blood.

I am not questioning that AI can and is empowering some creators and enabling wonderful new forms of creation — it will. But, to see what happens with such tech when at industrial scale, one can look at fake-news and spam generation bots. That's a more realistic view of what’s coming to all creative industries, operating under our current global economic paradigm.

The generative creative economy won't be a utopia by any stretch, but is likely a messy hell-hole for many creatives — not unlike the situation right now. We have to actively shape this future by fighting vested interests in the system. Yes, human jobs destroyed through growing automation capabilities can be replaced with entirely new jobs. But it won't happen magically — it’s a major generational effort which requires deep investment in education and culture. Human creators need to be recognised, not hidden, by AI. Under the current klepto-capitalist global system, that seems highly unlikely.

If we want more positive outcomes, the "why" needs to be addressed properly, beyond our current semi-pornographic obsession with the "how".

Beyond doom and gloom, there is hope: The vision/opportunity I sense is phenomenal: Creative AI tools could help raise the global level of literacy, creativity and empathy, by dramatically shortening the time of thought to highly communicative (possibly multimodal) artefacts.

Many moons ago I wrote this extensive piece on the sector, from a more hopeful, slightly utopian perspective.

Yet the reality of creative industries today looks very different: Advertising runs the show (see Google etc) — which is really just a synonym for either "spam" or "social engineering": Both horrible for societies in times of climate change — and not conducive as objective functions for more creativity or education. In the sense of raw reach & economic impact, the advertising industry is arguably the most powerful "art form" of the 21st century. And so when you ask for "concrete example" of dystopian generative systems, we must look at developments in this area.

One of the most influential developer of creative tools — Adobe — has recently doubled down on the intersection of "AI" and "Creativity", with their "Sensei" Initiative. Guess who they are targeting with their tools? Yes, Advertisers. In the sector of advertising, the quality VS quantity debate is very different: it is NOT about the values of art in the classical sense, or about storytelling or other humane things — it is about naked money. This is a clearly parameterized signal to feed to machines as loss/reward-function, and due to this fake clarity, such systems can grow like cancer.

Such economic success is precisely what drives humans to extend generative advertising logic to other creative fields. Repetitive generative muzak in the charts and endlessly boring superhero movie rehashes on the screen are a reality already today, and all using some form of "optimisation" algorithms. And so we see the rise of "creative" botnets - the rise of fake news and ever more fractaline simulacra's (see this post).

I personally do not agree with the politics and dynamics of the visions outlined here. My writing is meant as a warning pointer within search space. We must strive towards more appealing outcomes, for humanity’s sanity, and well-being, in times of climate change might very well depend on it.