Suzanne Guldimann is the editor of the Topanga New Times, and also TNT’s resident naturalist. She was recently asked to give a talk on being…
If merely hearing or reading the word ‘AI’ triggers you, you’re not alone; some of my closest friends feel the same. However, the fact that you are still reading tells me you may be willing to stay with me for a minute and hear why I think that if you are part of the workforce, ignoring AI comes at your own peril. Allow me to share some of my thinking on AI and why I advocate that you should, if not embrace it, at the least be very curious about it.
The genie’s out of the bottle, so to speak; therefore, wishing it away is unproductive. I come to AI as a creative person. Back in the day, I witnessed the advent of the personal computer for creative types and how software like Photoshop or Illustrator and a heap of other design programs have since transformed the creative industry to where we find ourselves today. However profound that transformation may have been, it has happened at a somewhat graspable pace.
As the founder and director of the Topanga Film Institute & Festival, I have long been curious about how emerging technologies have the potential to empower storytellers to elicit deeper empathy for the characters and subjects they bring to the screen. It’s in this context that I was first introduced to ‘generative AI’ tools last fall in the run-up to the film festival. Generative AI refers to tools that create images solely based on a text prompt typed into a form field. A friend and fellow Topangan, Paul O’Shea, a visual effects designer, showed me some frames he had been creating based on text describing specific scenes. In his case, he wrote text prompts about massive horses, humans, limbs, dirt, blood, sweat, steel, and armor, clashing, conjuring the epic guts and glory associated with medieval combat. He showed me hundreds of images in various amounts of detail, color, technique, mood, and time of day or night. He ‘created’ a few for me in real time; once he input the text prompts and hit send, it took mere seconds for another image to appear on screen, ‘developing’ before our eyes, not unlike a Polaroid picture (remember those?). My mind was blown. While somewhat crude in accuracy and detail, these images and the process by which they came to be, marked a clear departure from any technology I had encountered before.
While I was trying to grasp what I was witnessing, realizing that this was only a first-generation image creation engine, I remember being overcome by two distinct feelings. On one hand, sheer awe. It was immediately apparent that I had just seen the dawn of a new chapter for art and creative expression. On the other hand, I felt a deep, visceral fear. Fear of some threat not only to my profession as a visual artist but also of some profound change that I wasn’t able to formulate or even capable of fully comprehending. That was back in August of last year.
And then, in December of 2022, the company OpenAI released ChatGPT to the wider public. Within one week, it had over one million active users. Yes, there had been chatbots before, but none that could impress sufficiently or fool a significant number of us into believing that artificial intelligence was going to demand some urgent public discourse any time in the very near future. With the release of ChatGPT 4, their latest version, it has dawned on many, including myself, that not engaging with, not testing these tools, or not considering them as a potentially potent ally in any intellectual task we choose to perform is to our own disadvantage. So, while ChatGPT and other AI have the capability to become an unprecedented force for creativity and for doing good in and for this world, they also already crystallize as a clear and present challenge to our worldview, our livelihoods, and arguably to humanity itself.
In the few months since ChatGPT’s release, I have started to explore ways this technology may be transforming the process in which I approach creative and intellectual tasks, as I am aware that it has already become an indispensable tool for many, including writers, artists, educators, and engineers. ChatGPT has since assisted me in, composing emails, structuring proposals, acting as a vet giving me advice on my pet, drafting legal agreements, and I even found it surprisingly supportive as a therapist. It also seems clear that those who don’t experiment with AI will soon find themselves at a distinct disadvantage to those who do, and will find it harder to compete in their professional field.
While the rapid advance of these tools raises serious concerns about ethical implications, job displacement, interpersonal and social issues, they simultaneously present us with a unique opportunity to harness their power for good, to augment our abilities, and to achieve things we never thought possible.
I believe that by engaging with AI technologies, we can probe their capabilities and limitations, and in turn, contribute to an informed and urgent discourse—since it seems safe to predict that the unfettered development and adoption of AI technologies have the potential to significantly disrupt the trajectory of human evolution.
Whether AI triggers a sense of excitement or fear within us, we must acknowledge that it is here to stay. We have a responsibility to engage with it, learn from it, and work together to shape its future in a manner that benefits all of humanity. It’s our best bet in manifesting a future where AI serves as a powerful ally in our quest for innovation, empathy, and meaningful storytelling, rather than becoming a formidable adversary that threatens our very existence.
For those curious how I used ChatGPT for this story, I copy-and-pasted the story into the text to check for spelling and punctuation and asked the following:
Me: If you were a reader of this article and were easily triggered by hearing yet another article about Al, how do you think this article would make you feel?
(I guess here it was ‘’anticipating” how some humans may feel.)
ChatGPT: As a reader who is easily triggered by Al-related discussions, this article might elicit mixed emotions. On one hand, the author acknowledges the concerns and fears associated with Al, which could make the reader feel understood and validated. The article also delves into the potential benefits of Al and emphasizes the importance of engaging with it, which could spark curiosity and a willingness to reconsider one’s stance.
However, the article does highlight the rapid growth and potential threats posed by Al, which might exacerbate the reader’s anxiety or concerns. Despite this, the overall tone of the article leans towards a balanced and responsible approach to Al, encouraging readers to engage and learn more about the technology in order to help shape its future.
While the article might be initially uncomfortable for someone who is triggered by Al discussions, it could potentially foster a more nuanced understanding of the topic and encourage a reevaluation of one’s perspective on Al.
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