“AI” can’t replace people in any way. The most it could possibly do is assist a person in performing a task because it is a tool which does not actually have intelligence or awareness. This may be a debate but I am firmly on the side of punting Wilson the volleyball and cautioning people not to anthropomorphize a program whose complexity is minuscule when directly compared to even what little we yet know of an actual human brain. What the programs actually do is use a number of algorithms to decode mathematically what the user meant by their request and encode a response based on referencing values in a way calculated to be most likely to be understood by the average person or combine a number of images according to the parameters it’s interpreted. It’s no more intelligent than a search engine. It is a search engine.
Writers can’t be replaced by “AI.” Have you, the person reading these words, ever read a story written by an “AI” program and were genuinely interested in reading more because of how engaging it was? Neither have I. The “AI” can combine input in such a way that it’s coherent, and it can even be unintentionally funny in the way it mashes things together without understanding them, but the unthinking unfeeling machine does not know and could never guess what a person would actually be interested in reading or want to watch be performed. Even the laziest bestseller or tv script composed of as many cliches as the author can think of until they hit the word limit to submit a manuscript contains more artistry as the author understands why cliches are appealing and is able to apply them in such a way as to entertain a casual audience not totally familiar with them to be tired of them yet. An “AI” program can also combine cliches but meaninglessly and without intention. It’s trash and no one actually likes it. Reading at least 1000 words in a row of any “AI” story makes a better argument against its capabilities than I ever could.
Plastic artists can’t be replaced. Painters, sculptors, digital artists, doodlers, etc. no matter their skill level can produce an image infinitely more interesting than anything an “AI” could possibly produce. When I read about plastic artists being intimidated by “AI” art or despairing about having a skill which is no longer relevant I truly can’t imagine why. To see an image briefly and walk or scroll past it one is probably as good as any other, but is this really what artists hope for from an audience? When you actually look at an image with the understanding that every component part of it was applied by an artist whose methodology and inspiration you may or may not know, a human mind can provide fertile content to react to while an “AI” can’t. Why did the AI compose the image in this way? Why did the AI include these elements? Why did the AI reference this historical style? What did the AI intend to say through this image? The only answer to these questions and to all other questions is that it scraped existing images and created one from that data mindlessly. Compare this to a child’s drawing of a cat. You can tell a lot about the child, the details they find the most significant about the cat, the attitude of the child about the cat, and perhaps even learn something about how a cat exists in the world from another perspective that enriches your own perspective. An artist constantly creating and developing their ability for a number of years packs all that experience and themselves into what they produce, so everything in what they produce has a depth of meaning whether they intend for it to or not. An artist who creates what they feel like without putting much deliberate thought into it is still manifesting a pure expression of themselves informed by their nature and experiences which is relevant to all other human natures and experiences viewing it. An “AI” can put something together that may look cool, but there is just nothing to it.
There are tons of other things that I could get into which “AI” could never competently replace due to its nature but I wanted to use art as an example for what I feel the actual concern about “AI” replacing people is. The problem of “AI” and all labor-saving technology in the last few centuries is not the technology itself but is actually Capitalism. Capitalism is when Capitalists aka investors utilize their Capital aka money as an investment with the sole purpose of yielding a return on their investment aka making their money work for them to make more money. When a Capitalist invests in an enterprise their only concern is that they will receive more money from investing in that enterprise than the money they invested. Capitalists care less about every other quality of an enterprise than that they make a return on their investment because that is literally the only reason they would ever invest in a project; otherwise it would be charitable donation and not capitalism. A business run by capitalists themselves or hoping to appeal to capitalists for investment is most concerned with maximizing profit through some combination of minimizing expenses and maximizing revenue.
“AI” can’t possibly replace a writer or a painter, but “AI” is replacing writers and painters in the market. This is not because “AI” can produce a better or similar quality product because it clearly can’t, but that it can produce an “acceptable” product at minimal labor cost which contributes to profit on the expense side. The reason “AI” products are “acceptable” is not because consumers are rational actors in the marketplace as the myth goes. It’s because of so many myriad factors of consumer behavior that I can’t even reliably list them all here because despite over a century of direct study and numerous ancillary fields of study, our understanding is limited despite a massive amount of evidence for numerous drivers of behavior.
When I was a teenager fresh off of taking my AP Art History classes and really getting into the world of art which had opened up to me I was really into going to art markets and talking to the artists about their work. I had many enjoyable conversations but one of them really stuck with me. He regretted his lot as a professional artist because it was clear that he loved art. There were two sides of his stall: one side was “Florida crap” and the other side was “Texas crap,” both of which he had a severe distaste for. He recounted to me that as a young man he painted billboards in the 60’s and getting into scene more seriously. At that time he could have conversations with his patrons about what they wanted and produce meaningful work which set him up with false expectations for how his career would end up heading. He had glimpses of the business side at that time and described watching Andy Warhol, who was and is notorious for criticizing and vastly benefiting from consumerism, work. He and a number of art students waited in anticipation before the very late Warhol stumbled into the studio too high to even stand up while his assistants literally held him and printed the art with the machine while he slurred words and gestured. Almost literally printing money. From that experience and many others he slowly started to come into the reality of art as a business. By the time I was speaking to him most of his customers’ only concern as he described it was whether his paintings would match their couches. He painted for local decorating sensibilities, which themselves were not expressions of individual decorators but local magazine-derived design aesthetics which he could expect his Florida-style or Texas-style paintings to match. This was from the perspective of one non-capitalist just trying to survive in a market but the same forces apply at the highest level. For this kind of consumer interacting with several levels of market-manipulated consumer taste an AI-genterated painting would probably be suitable to complete their room the way it looks on Instagram.
Quality of work is only one out of many factors involved in marketplace success, and its importance to profit is relative. Due to the quarterly nature of planning at the highest levels of economy, that which is most profitable now is by orders of magnitude more valuable than what may be profitable in 10 years. Low quality “AI” products could crap up a variety of fields as non-expert Capitalists and CEOs shift their money around in the hopes of minimizing expenses within the next few quarters. As far as the most well-known products backed by billions in investment and marketed so aggressively everyone has to deal with them in one way or another, “AI” contributions being abused to replace entire professionals could be a big problem. This and enshittification in general caused by the same market forces is part of the reason I’m getting back into FOSS and Open Source stuff made by only people who care about the project rather than the bottom line.
All that being said, “AI” can be a valuable tool to assist people in making higher quality work than they were capable of creating without it and creating work which is unprecedented. It’s interesting to go to museums and see the fairly mundane furniture of monarchs and nobility which I could now find a better quality version of from an antique store due to the well-established advancement of technology. Similarly, I have used “AI” to mitigate a lot of grunt work from my professional and artistic endeavors that would have slowed my progress to a halt due to the time and resources I used to have no choice but to exhaust which were often more than I had to devote. Even though “AI” gives bad info too often, it’s vastly mitigated the time I take to find quick answers to simple questions which I would have otherwise had to dig for. I’ve learned a lot about the specific things I want to know about spreadsheet formulas, GIMP tools, and programming syntax that I would have either had to grow a second lifetime of time and energy to take a class on and practice with else dig through piles of derisive input from individuals who are personally insulted I don’t know better but still don’t answer my specific question. As a writing companion, I’ve used it to brainstorm and explore a number of sci-fi hypotheticals that no one other than myself are interested in considering or discussing (YET) – giving me specific terms which I can then go on to research and get a real basis in. I’ve been generating image assets which I’ve been cutting up and re-contextualizing to create images meaningful to me which I haven’t ever seen anything like. It’s an interesting tool whose capabilities are only now being explored, but it’s just a tool. It can’t do what we can do but we can use it to do what we want to do.