30 Comments
Jun 3Liked by Brian Merchant

Small but important note -- even if you don't have a union, if you and your coworkers *collectively* take some form of action (e.g. a jointly signed letter to management expressing concern about poorly-implemented AI), that is still legally protected by labor law, so it would be illegal for your employer to engage in any kind of retaliation. It's called "concerted activity" if you wanna get technical about it, but the legal standard is basically "do something with at least one other person."

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Thanks JT — great point.

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Jun 3Liked by Brian Merchant

> "Who stands to profit, after all, from the rise of job-stealing software that costs

> a monthly fee to license?"

As well as being about as reliable as a Yugo's transmission. And who has to fix the problems? PEOPLE! And just as people need time off for vacations and illnesses, software "takes time off" when it's down. These idiots who want to fire everyone and just use software doesn't understand that.

I know someone whose company went all out a few years ago with getting all sorts of time-saving, money-saving software. They laid off 25% of their workers. Now they have more problems than they can count, are far behind, and are spending much more money (on software) to achieve the same results. Last December for the first time ever they could not pay out bonuses because all their money went to fixing the software that was going to save them all that money. And this is "reputable" software, from companies like Salesforce, Oracle and Google. At conferences they talk to others in their industry who tell the same story, so it's not just them. When I asked my friend why they did this when it was clearly a losing move, she replied, "Because everyone else [i.e., their competitors] is doing it." Brilliant. Reminds me of Apple's infamous "Lemmings" commercial. It angered people who saw it, but Apple told the truth, and everyone hated them for it.

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I hate that all of this hype is being used to conceal the harms already occurring from AI. Lavender, Israel's AI, is being used in the genocide. Pedophiles are using it as is law enforcement. Yes, corporations are being threatening and short sighted with it but they've always operated that way. The investment groups who are merrily bankrupting companies, Red Lobster being the latest victim, are far more threatening to employment.

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Can't we as a society walk and chew gum? Worker's jobs matter from AI, just as AI use for the military, or criminal and police AI activity, (you forgot the enormous environmental costs of AI and the undermining of democracy and news with AI) or whatever is happening with Red Lobster and investment companies.

We can tackle all of these aspects of AI at the same time along with other ills of society, I think. By the way, the Culinary Union in Las Vegas went on strike last year around the summer for AI workers protections. It was barely covered compared to the WGA and SAG strikes for AI worker protections that happened around the same time. Aren't Las Vegas restaurant workers under threat from AI as important as Red Lobster restaurant workers under threat from investment groups bankrupting companies? This isn't a victim competition. Businesses are part of the community. We need to start holding them accountable and demanding more from them. Whether that be AI and automation, or bankruptcies or whatever, they owe more as a member of society. I always find it sad when people say a variation of, "It has always been this way." And saying, "...corporations... being threatening and short sighted [is the way] they've always operated..." falls into that category. Well why can't it be different going forward? Apathy is the greatest tool of bad actors because it requires nothing from their end, it just requires lack of care from the public.

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Ummm... All of this hype over AI wiping out jobs is COVERING up the very real harms from AI that HARDLY ANYONE is talking about because everyone is talking about this🤦‍♀️ Yes AI will cost jobs. But it's also being used in a GENOCIDE. Mass murder is a wee bit more horrific than people losing their jobs. Da fuq is wrong with you.

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Okay... take it down a notch. Also Jon Steward's podcast was cancelled because he wanted to talk about job losses from AI. I immediately knew about Israel's Lavender program when you mentioned it because it was talked about in prominent media, including the Guardian. And let's not pretend AI is the reason for a potential genocide, AI is just one of the many methods the Israeli government is using to poorly conduct their war. If they didn't have AI, the civilian casualty rate would still be unacceptably high because the Israeli government is not particularly concerned about civilian deaths, just an unwavering delusion they can completely destroy Hamas.

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This is a fantastic piece, Brian. I really appreciate the breadth and depth of your coverage on AI. Not a day goes by where I'm not conflicted in some way about it. I leverage AI in my professional and personal creative work because I see it as a powerful tool to extend the reach of what I can do, not as a replacement for the work. And yet, I'm reminded daily as I apply to new technology jobs and get no call backs, just how much AI has impacted the job market. I'm also aware of how generative AI will quickly average out everything that is produced leaving us with a sea of sameness. There seems to be no clear path forward that won't completely disrupt and even completely destroy old ways of working. We can't go back and no one has any true understanding of what going forward looks like. While your comparisons to the industrial revolution are helpful, I think we're looking at many-tentacled beast with AI that is advancing at a rate we can't fully comprehend across broad swaths of industry. We have to be vigilant, flexible, and informed. You're providing a great service with your reporting. Keep it up!

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It's refreshing to read a piece on AI, labor, and management and feel... inspired? Encouraged? To feel more hopeful about practical ways to navigate this responsibly, and collectively. Super excited to read your book soon.

I've been noticing that one of the most common questions I get is also "how will AI change my job?" or "will AI take all the jobs?". So much anxiety out there, and folks tend to be skeptical when I cite the plateau we're starting to see. I'm also observing a lot of black-and-white thinking, that AI is either totally a dud or a complete apocalypse to society as we know it, while I'm more inclined to agree with you: it's both. It's likely to change a lot of things, and it's likely to change different things than we might expect, but ultimately - it's the humans who are making decisions, not the technology itself, that's what we need to be paying attention to.

Thank you for the sharp analysis here.

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Great article. As an illustrator, I have to admit that AI image generation and its overall homogeneity of looks, bad anatomy, general failure in perspective and just about ever other dysfunction as art, drives me nuts when people start raving about its wonderfulness. It let's me immediately know these are people (and clients) who are as brainless as the pixels being pushed around by the algorithms. Human artists will survive this use of AI, but it will definitely cull those whose talents, or ability to market themselves, aren't great enough to stand above this sea of garbage being pumped to the idiot masses.

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Speaking of hammers https://glaze.cs.uchicago.edu/what-is-glaze.html

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Unfortunately, Glaze/Nightshade doesn't really work that well for protecting images, see here:

https://www.reddit.com/r/StableDiffusion/comments/19ecsj7/ive_tested_the_nightshade_poison_here_are_the/

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Reddit says Glaze/Nightshade don't work.... you can go to the Glaze website and learn more about how it works and also read published research papers on it. Glaze/Nightshade have been created by a team at the University of Chicago.

I'm not saying the Reddit is wrong, just I mean I'm not going to trust some reddit users in a Stable Diffusion group, where you can tell they have a bias to believe it doesn't work because they want to protect the integrity of their AI models. Read the comments and see that they are not impartial observers who have discovered Glaze/Nightshade doesn't work. They are primed to believe they can defeat the technology and that's why they tested it in the first place. Classic confirmation bias.

I say don't trust some random person on a Stabile Diffusion Reddit Chat. Try out Glaze/Nightshade and do research of articles on the technology yourself.

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That's a shame. Still, steps in the right direction

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"Good enough" is the key here. Too many creative people laugh off generative AI by pointing at its flaws, but I'm confident people in charge of budgets will be perfectly happy to pay pennies for mediocre copywriting or illustration rather than pay a living wage for something great. And instead of paying a writer or artist to create one or two high-quality pieces per week/month, they will use AI to generate hundreds of drafts and then pay low-skilled workers pennies on a gig queue website to clean them up.

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The insightful warning here is: GenAI doesn't need to be good to affect jobs, the people that have control over jobs simply need to *believe* it is good enough. Hmm, that is true. And also humanity might — we tend to do that — settle for 'cheap' (poor cheap cloth then, poor cheap data now). That sounds true too. Somewhat depressing, this. Because the predictions about how all jobs will disappear and we need universal basic income because of that is the story of brilliant AI. But AI isn't brilliant by far. It is 'cheap'.

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There has always been hype about the replacement of jobs by technology - I’m on the fence about the impact of AI at the moment, but I can never understand why it would be in a company’s interest to replace all workers? If no one is working then what are the companies for? Who buys their goods or services? Household consumption is such an integral part of most economies - destroy this and what’s the point?

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Great article! It's sobering to think that 'good enough' is all it takes for AI to start replacing humans. And that humans will be the ones that need to clean its mess.

A part of me hopes that the next jobs threathened by AI will be those of managers and CEO's. After all, a big part of their job is decision making, and AI might be better at it than they are.

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Companies that advertise as "AI Free" will prosper perhaps?

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Quick run through Walmart today for a few essentials only to find one register open—only other option, self-checkout, manned by one worker furiously trying to keep tabs on all the different kiosks. I felt bad for her.

In comparison, had a visit to a walk-in center/doctors office. Those coming in for appts had a self-check-in kiosk, those of us coming in for the walk-in (or leaving appts and needing to schedule follow-up) had the benefit of 3 workers at desks, ready to help. I was grateful for them.

Nothing is worse that facing a kiosk or row of machines in an empty airport terminal, or needing a question answered but forced to cycle through an automated phone tree with no way to reach a human.

Why would Musk want everyone to lose their jobs? What kind of a wild would that be?

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Areas where the stakes are low can be easily automated and humans will lose jobs. Where stakes are high, even if the grunt work is done by AI, it will still need human supervision ... and again where things are unfamiliar, and human insight is needed, humans will remain relevant. I think a lot of today's jobs will be automated, and there will be fewer humans who are working with the AIs for much greater inputs than today. On the flip side, AIs will enable humans to do other jobs, which may not exist today - the key is to remain agile and retrainable ....

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~ flattax on sales = ai/robottax ~

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https://dailynewsfromaolf.substack.com/p/lifestyle-medicine-how-doctors-are

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I’m not sure comparing the anti-AI with Luddites holds water. Weren’t the Luddites protesting against tech advances that improved quality and performance vs what was previously available?

That’s not the case with AI art and writing which is clearly not an advance and not better quality than humans are producing. It’s worse. A step back. A decel in the development of the quality of art (to adopt some of the awful robotic language these ‘people’ use).

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Not at all, the Luddites were protesting very much the same thing — the machinery did a much worse job, creating cheaper, lower quality products. The Luddites were protesting the bosses using those machines to squeeze workers with worse output, much like today. If you’re interested in the full story, have I got a book for you!

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Ah OK. Thank you. I sit corrected! Yes, please let me know the title of that book.

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