One of the reasons I started blogging like it’s 2003 again is because of AI. I’m not an alarmist, but I’m not naive either. It’s obvious that writers and DJs both fall under the category of jobs-AI-might-eliminate. They’re jobs that people assume require less time, skill and creativity than they do. Neither writers nor DJs are particularly well-appreciated by the masses, although both have their small communities of supporters. Plus, AI has already made inroads in both media and the DJ booth.
With that in mind, I figured I should carve out my space online now, while I’m still working, just in case a time comes when I’m unemployable and some people are starved for “content” that’s not generated by AI.
To be honest, I’m not anti-AI at all. It’s been around for a long while and, like everyone who has ever asked Siri to name that tune, it’s already a part of my life and work.
Plus, I know that there is real potential for using AI in creative work. In 2019, I talked to YACHT for Los Angelenoabout how they used it in the process of making Chain Tripping, an album that would go on to earn a Grammy nomination and is a really good example of how the technology can be used. This is my favorite line from the story:
“AI is like any technology,” [Claire L.] Evans says. “It’s what we do with it that’s good or bad.”Los Angeleno, September 18, 2019
I’m less concerned about AI than I am about humans because, frankly, we suck. We will take advantage of every opportunity to fuck each other over, to cut someone else out of the equation so that we can horde the cash or the clout or both. We turn our eyes away from injustices over and over again just so we can accumulate more crap for less money. Then we blame systems as if those weren’t built by humans and as if their continued existence doesn’t depend on us enabling them.
So, no, I don’t trust humans to employ AI wisely. I know that both my jobs— writing and DJing— will be on the line as a result. Human intelligence and creativity won’t matter if it means not having to pay a writer or a DJ to do what was their job. And I honestly don’t think that general audiences will care. People accept low standards for writing (see: most stories that fall under the category of “click bait”) and are accustomed to getting music recommendations from an algorithm. We already set the stage for this, whether or not we want to admit it.
I also don’t buy any of the bs that AI will cut out the boring work and give us more time to be creative. The boring work often is essential to the creative process. There’s a reason why you typically don’t see photos of writers in the midst of writing on Instagram. It’s boring as hell. You spend half the time staring at a blank screen wondering what you’ll write and the other half staring at a bunch of words while fighting the urge to delete the whole thing.
Now that I think about it, most of what a DJ does is pretty boring too. Sifting through your music collection can take more time than the actual DJ set. It’s tedious, yet it’s something that you should do, even if you can automate that part of the process now. Going through your music over and over again helps you select the best songs for specific moments and fit them together in the most impactful way.
In fact, when people say “boring,” it sounds to me more like they mean less glamorous or less prestigious. But, as I’m certain many freelancers will tell you, those are often the gigs that make the exciting ones possible. The copywriting and content marketing jobs can help a writer afford to work on portfolio pieces that will inevitably sell for less money than the labor involved warrants. The DJ gigs where you’re tasked with playing the hits, like private parties and weddings, can allow you fill your calendar with more low-pay gigs where you can play whatever you want.
I’m suspicious of anyone who who argues that UBI is the answer, especially in a country where universal healthcare is not a thing and educating oneself frequently requires taking on staggering amounts of debt. It’s more likely we’ll end up fighting for whatever jobs technology hasn’t replaced.
All this sounds extremely cynical, because that’s my nature, but I don’t think the situation is hopeless. If it were, I would spend my downtime looking for a job that won’t disappear instead of writing an essay for which I won’t be paid. I know I’m not unique. General audiences might not care whether or not the news was written by AI or they’re dancing in a club to set mixed by a streaming platform, but niche groups will.
There are people out there, maybe (hopefully) more than I think, who will want to continue reading words typed into a computer by a human and hear music selected and mixed by a human. After all, people who are too young to remember life before Napster are shopping at record stores. If that can happen, then maybe tech’s pull isn’t as strong as we like to think it is.
Catch Los Angeles-based DJ Liz O. at one of her upcoming gigs.