I won’t go as far as to say that I’m against artificial intelligence (AI). To some degree it is intriguing, and this type of software is useful or entertaining to many people on more various levels. But whereas ChatGPT has been available to the general public for over a year now, I never developed a dependency on or regular usage of it.
I did tinker with it a couple of times, and it more or less felt like a glorified version of Google. There’s a couple of search-oriented sites I frequent that have incorporated AI into their pages, but it feels more like an annoyance than a necessity.
It’s been theorized for years that AI would eventually cause mass job displacement. When that finally began happening circa late 2022, it appeared that the likes of writers and clerical workers were those most adversely affected.
At the time, I was a content writer myself but never really felt that my job, in its entirety, was threatened. The pay cuts I was initially experiencing as a result of AI sucked, but I was confident that we would prevail against the robots.
Looking back, I wouldn’t say that disposition was due to hubris. Rather, I always took my writing seriously, even when acting as a ghostwriter. I had a mentor who once said that “when you lose everything, the only thing you have left is your name”. I also had a homey back in college who shared with me some wisdom his father gave him, that “the only two things no one can take from you is your name and education”.
Generally speaking, there’s no glory in content writing, and the pay is often less than inspiring. But since I was submitting content under my own name and in some instances it was published as such, based on the above advice I always tried to go the extra mile.
That’s why I felt confident in the face of the robots. The website I was writing for was performing well. We were receiving positive feedback, and there was no reason to believe that software could replicate the quality of content I was producing.
But then I was reminded why the order of the world is often referred to as “the system”, because the powers-that-be usually work in conjunction to achieve certain goals.
So ultimately, it wasn’t ChatGPT alone that did me. Rather, it combined with updated Google algorithms basically rendered the site I was writing for, as well as many others, unprofitable virtually overnight.
Let me clarify here that I’m not against Google either. In fact, I’m a lot more supportive of Google – since it actually serves a practical, universal purpose – than I am of AI. And I understand why both Alphabet and OpenAI, respectively being the parent companies behind Google and ChatGPT, have made certain decisions that they have.
For instance, it stands to reason that Google’s algorithms would become more discriminatory over time, because there’s a lot of mediocre and false content on the web. But let me give you an example of how robots are not the best judges, presuming that they weren’t specifically programmed to be biased against certain types of sites and content (which maybe they were).
The blog I was writing for was about the music industry, i.e. popular songs and the artists who created them. A lot of times, I would have little to no knowledge of the song or musicians I was writing about beforehand, but I always practiced due diligence when it came to researching them. Still, Google had its reasons for sinking the site deeper and deeper into its search results.
By contrast, if you were to conduct a Google search for some of those selfsame songs, our site will no longer appear, but those with terse, poorly-written content (often composed by AI) that distribute illegal MP3s will. And even now as I write this, I can’t understand why Google would prioritize those types of sites over our blog.
My colleague who managed the blog recently said something along the lines that SEO, i.e. search engine optimization, ‘has become useless’. And now that I’ve begun using Google Search Console myself, I sorta see what he means.
You may have pages on your site that Google decides not to index but no clear idea as to why it made that decision. That can be very problematic from a business/viewership standpoint. It can also be really confusing when you think that Google isn’t showing you love because your site has quality issues, only to then see it favor another that’s clearly inferior or even illegal (in terms of reproducing or distributing copyrighted content).
HUMAN WRITERS VS. AI, FROM A COMPENSATION PERSPECTIVE
AI is not smarter than human beings, nor is it less discriminatory. Artificial intelligence possesses the biases of the people who created it and of the opinionated viewpoints it acquires from scraping the web. And its output, in terms of writing creatively, is often inferior from what a human can produce.
But AI is a lot less expensive to employ than people are. Or as one study put it, “companies would rather pump out free, subpar content than pay writers for good work”.
So when my job first became threatened by AI, my employer’s argument was twofold. First was that competitors who were using artificial intelligence were able to produce content at a much faster rate. And yes, in the world of web clicks speed does matter. But my reaction was along the lines of ‘okay, maybe they can produce content faster, but ours will be far superior’.
The second issue though was one that wasn’t as easy to combat. That was the fact that utilizing ChatGPT was a lot less expensive than employing me as an author. That reality, coupled with Google snubbing our blog, sealed my fate with that particular job, which I had held down for five years.
THE FEELING OF LOSING MY JOB TO AI
Losing a job almost always sucks, especially if it’s one you’re depending on for your livelihood, as I was with that writing gig. I’m not mad at people like Bill Gates and other AI advocates for thrusting this technology upon us with a cult-like fervor. But in doing so, it feels as if they don’t particularly care about the negative effects the advent of AI can have on the everyman.
The mentor I cited earlier, Frank Smith, had another saying that goes “the oppressor and the oppressed never think alike”. And that’s how I feel when I read the views of rich and powerful AI advocates.
In an article recently published in which he gleefully speaks on the future of AI, Bill Gates, who reads like a stakeholder in this technology, recently boasted that despite giving or intending to give most of his wealth away, he has “more than enough for (his) own consumption”. Most of us however are not in that position, and even the loss of a mundane day job can derail the trajectory of our lives.
That said, I’m not here to bitch, moan and whine about losing my job nor to lambast the advocates of AI, even if their rationales are suspect. But I don’t mind sharing some of my experiences, knowing that millions of other people have or are, in one way or another, going through the same thing.
THE INDIANA JONES ANALOGY
But what’s more unique about my case is that I live alone in a foreign country, that being Ghana. In other words I expatriated here, by myself, from the United States. And based on certain decisions I’ve made and things that have transpired since, it’s been one adventure after the other. So let me tell you how I feel about adventure.
Have you ever watched that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where “Indiana Jones” is being chased by a giant boulder? That may be one of the most nail-biting scenes in cinema history. And afterwards Indiana Jones can look back, recounting the experience to the joy of enthralled listeners, perhaps even laughing about it himself.
But while he was actually being chased by that boulder, it didn’t feel like an adventure to him. Instead, it was more along the lines of ‘oh sh*t, I may not survive this’, as in dread and fear.
It isn’t uncommon for me to meet people, especially those from outside of Ghana, who may be thrilled or even inspired by my story. And maybe one day, when all is said and done, I too will be able to appreciate what I’ve gone through, mocking the boulders which I’ve dodged.
But currently, being in the thick of neverending uncertainty and discontent isn’t something I wake up in the morning proud or enthused about.
‘STRANDED’ IN THE MOTHERLAND
For instance, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I’m stranded in Ghana. But I will acknowledge that a certain decision I made years ago has made it exponentially more difficult for me to leave the country than it would be otherwise.
I don’t wish to expound on that decision at the moment but will reveal that it involves the US government, and it wasn’t anything bad, illegal or immoral. It was more along the lines of me practicing poor financial judgment and having to deal with the ramifications to this day. But back when I made the decision, all things considered it felt justified.
The specter of it has lingered over my head for years, but so long as I’m working and earning a decent income, the associated disappointment and lack of mobility is manageable. In Ghana, there’s a popular saying that goes like this: “where there’s life, there’s hope”.
Based on my experiences of late, I’ve come up with my own adage, “where there’s income, there’s opportunity”. Cash flow is, in a way, a form of freedom, even if from depression only. That’s why some people hoard money, because the thought of a problem materializing that you don’t have enough dough to solve can be very discomforting.
So what I’m getting at is that while I had my job, the prospect of solving the aforementioned issue appeared a lot more realistic than it does now. We human beings are largely creatures of thought, and now I have a lingering sense of dissatisfaction and discontent due to facing a life-altering issue that can be solved with money yet concurrently lacking in cash flow.
In other words, my stress and pessimism has been magnified since losing my job. And I know this is in large part an unusual scenario, being stuck in a foreign country over a debt to your home government. But again, the purpose of relaying it is to illustrate one of the ways in which AI has personally and negatively affected me through unexpected and almost instantaneous job loss.
And most of us who have gotten the pink slip as a result of artificial intelligence in our own respective ways have gone through the same thing, i.e. having our dreams and aspirations but on an indeterminable hold.
Proponents of AI like to argue that its advent is just another economic revolution, akin to those that mankind has recently experienced in the past, and as such, people will eventually adjust. But I disagree in terms of how necessary “the fourth industrial revolution” may be as compared to those which preceded it.
Mechanization, automation and computers are beneficial in certain scenarios, but not so much with artificial intelligence. With AI, it feels more as if the powers-that-be are advocating it not because it is preferable to human labor, outside of it being more profitable.
I’m not an insider, but I do believe that they’ll eventually be balance – that there’s only so much AI content people can take.
Also, it appears that artificial intelligence may eventually become more popular in terms of creating visual arts than writing content. That may even turn out to be a good thing for authors who take writing seriously, i.e. weeding out those who aren’t as committed. But fantasizing about future possibilities does not erase the discomfort and anxiety I’m currently experiencing after having lost my job to AI.