A few centuries later, I feel today what British craftsmen and small producers must have felt when they saw the first machines arrive and the first factories open during the Industrial Revolution.

A new technology, generative artificial intelligences (AI), poses a threat to intellectual jobs that until recently — about five years ago — seemed safe in the face of overwhelming labor automation.

Not anymore. AIs such as ChatGPT, the LLM (large language model) type, are capable of generating coherent original texts from short prompts written by humans.

Like all revolutionary technology, it seems like magic. And it is no coincidence that I return to the same topic in less than two months. ChatGPT was launched five days after I published that first column.

Instead of spending a few hours on research, writing and editing to publish this text, for example, I could have asked ChatGPT to write something about the threat of AIs to those in the writing business. Very meta — and tired; I will spare you that.

The result would not be the same, but it would probably be “good enough”. We know, not from today, that “good enough” is often… good enough for a lot of people. And being cheaper and faster to produce, it is hard to resist.

Today, generative AIs are still a kind of curiosity, a topic for dazzled texts on LinkedIn, creative tests, experimental solutions. The potential, however, is there, wide open.

Microsoft, one of the main backers of OpenAI, the company behind the most advanced AIs (besides ChatGPT, it also owns DALL-E 2, GPT-3, and Codex), announced last week that it’s offering OpenAI services in its cloud solution and already offers features based on them in some commercial products, such as Github Copilot and Microsoft Designer. Rumors suggest that ChatGPT will soon arrive in Bing and productivity applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.).

In journalism and writing for the web, the potential is explosive.

For years, some newsrooms, such as the Associated Press, have been using robots to produce simple texts, such as news on company balance sheets and sports results.

With the new generative AIs, this practice changes levels. Until now, the texts written by robots were sort of a logical, understandable “script”: take this data and put it into a template. With ChatGPT, however, the robot seems to gain imagination and the logic gets lost in complex and opaque algorithms.

The result is also of a different magnitude. ChatGPT creates arguments, detects consensus, discovers controversies. Although lacking awareness, it simulates one. It is “good enough.”

CNet, a US publication covering technology, began testing such an AI last year in the worst possible way: with little transparency.

Someone found out, and under scrutiny, basic errors were discovered in the nearly 80 published robotic texts. A widespread failure: of the AI and of the human being (supposedly) responsible for checking and editing the artificial text.

These are mistakes that perhaps the next version of GPT will not make. The pace is breakneck.

In the journalism domain generative AIs may not be ready for production, but in other less demanding ones they already do very well, thank you: quick responses to emails, answers to search engine queries, social network posts, top-of-funnel content for institutional blogs.

You don’t have to do much research to come across dozens of startups trying to get ahead in this new gold rush — trying to sell shovels to the prospectors who, in the end, will be using them to dig the graves of their own jobs and those of others.

When these AIs are good enough, job openings are reduced and the assignments of those left over change. From writers and editors, for example, we all become “robot babysitters”, correcting blatant (for humans) errors that may slip by in the artificial text and that we, of course, manage to catch. (Because if there is one thing we are good at, it is failing; even in this the AI reproduces us.)

Soon, my routine will gain one more demand: to prove myself flesh and blood in a purely digital environment, full of “rivals” who do not sweat, get tired, get sick, and have no mood swings. We are playing in the opponent’s camp. It is an inglorious struggle.

Unlike the 18th century British Luddites, I don’t even have a machine to wreck. The generative AIs that threaten my craft exist in the cloud, that ethereal concept, mere euphemism for “big computers in controlled warehouses far away from us”. No gunfights against robots that look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, forget about it. The machine revolution will be discreet.

And unlike what the best utopias predicted, we won’t even be able to dedicate ourselves to the arts, because generative AIs also already produce illustrations, paintings and photos. They even win contests.

Perhaps our fate, the fate of humanity, is that we will all become Simpsons grandpas screaming against the cloud. What a pathetic end.

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