Navigating the AI Era: Liberty, Creativity and Job Evolution

TK Arun

In a culture of creativity, AI can be used to open up far more job opportunities than it shuts down. And this culture can only flourish where individual liberties do, too.

India’s staffing data indicates that AI jobs are growing twice as fast as other digital roles. This underlines that whether someone would end up losing their job to AI or wielding AI to create far more value than ever before, depends on the human agency that person possesses.

Someone conditioned to simply follow instructions, and move in a rut, will probably lose their job to AI. Those who are in command of what they do, within their context, will find AI tools to enhance their output. Whether you are Charlie Chaplin of Modern Times, who, caught up in the machine, writhes helplessly, or Chaplin of The Great Dictator, who delivers that rousing speech at the end, depends on your critical faculties. This, in turn, depends on the political economy within which you function.

Sam Altman, of Chat GPT fame, told the Dubai World Governments Summit that AI needs a global oversight body, on the lines of the International Atomic Energy Agency for nuclear energy. The AI industry is keen to outsource regulation to govts and transnational bodies – it does not want to be held accountable for the things that go awry, it just needs to claim to have complied with the applicable regulation. Imagine laid-off employees of Infosys bringing a class action suit against Open AI for eating their lunch!

Before we give in to the temptation to explore the world of Terminator-like cyborg killers and intimate passion with humanoid robots, let us think of what AI could do to jobs.

Developing AI would entail writing smart code, testing the results for hallucination, bias, and consistent reliability, producing AI tools, and things like these. That means high-end jobs, calling for high levels of education and innovation. It would generate a fair number of traditional manufacturing, managerial-administrative, marketing, logistics jobs, as well.

Pervasive AI would call for a vast number of advanced computing chips, which would need to be manufactured, transported, deployed in server farms (for cloud computing), or in devices for situations that call for computing in-situ (edge computing, in the jargon). For cloud computing to work, you need ultrafast networks capable of large data throughput. Laying that network and making the gear for such networks mean yet more traditional jobs.

But the more fascinating part is how AI would impact or transform ordinary jobs. To get a flavour, go to Bing’s Copilot and ask it to draw a sketch of the Ram temple, or to write slogans for the farmers’ protest on the lines of Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh. What comes out could both amuse and alarm you. After rejecting pictures of temples in the shape of the male goat, you do get a decent image of a Hindu temple.

If AI can render passable pictures based on instructions, or churn out catchy slogans in a jiffy, do we need traditional illustrators and copywriters? Won’t AI kill swathes of jobs?

This is not a new problem. When the motor car replaced coaches and horses, cartwrights, and wheelers, not to speak of horse wranglers, perished as occupations. But that did not mean mass unemployment.

Motorised transport created new jobs in itself, and enabled entire new industries to come up and flourish, creating millions of new jobs and unimagined prosperity.

The tech disruption wrought by AI is unlikely to be any different in its economic fallout. Now, it takes a streaming platform like Netflix to pick up an idea for a television show like Squid Game, and make it a global mega hit. Imagine a future in which a combination of satellite broadband and AI enables a thirty-something, stay-at-home Kolkata nerd to produce a graphic novel based on the adventures of Vikramaditya-Vetal, translate its speech bubbles into every language on earth, and make it accessible from anywhere. Imagine, further, while we are at it, that Taylor Swift dubs it ‘adorable’ on Instagram!

Or consider a Kalarippayattu aficionado in Kochi thinking up a game franchise based on the martial heroes of Kerala’s Northern Ballads, with their heady mix of skilled action, ambition, lust, betrayal, loyalty, and courage. AI would destroy language as a barrier to universal access. Demand for illustrators and writers would multiply.

AI might sound technologically daunting. But the smartphone in your pocket is a supercomputer far superior to whatever the moon-landing Apollo mission had. That does not intimidate you. Similar would be the case with AI. It would take high skill to develop AI tools, but not to use them.

But that is a risk as well. Someone with AI but no drawing skills could produce decent drawings. An AI-assisted coder could produce 10 times more code. What happens to illustrators and coders rendered superfluous by AI?

Every individual who loses their job to AI will not need to be a creative genius who can come up with new, AI-enabled economic opportunities. But there has to be a large enough number of creative minds tackling this challenge, and succeeding.

That calls for societal dispersal of creativity, an ability to think outside the box, qualities antithetical to obedience to authority and respect for hierarchy. Authoritarian political cultures that crush dissent and demand compliance from citizens are likely to crumble before the AI onslaught, even as political cultures that foster individual freedoms make AI their servant, to achieve more.
A strong argument for not going the China way.

TK Arun is a senior journalist based in Delhi.

The article was published in The Times of India as Your job is safe if your freedom is on March 28, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

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Acknowledgment: This article was posted by Vishavjeet Singh, a research intern at IMPRI.