We live in a very uneasy moment in history. The challenges we face each day often feel so existential. Whether its wars breaking out in some of the most delicate regions in the world, or the rapid adoption of AI threatening so many people’s livelihoods, it seems like uncertainty and potential calamity linger around every corner.
When ChatGPT exploded in popularity earlier this year, Saving Country Music attempted to explain how country and roots music, and other more organic music composed and played by humans will hopefully be more insulated from AI concerns since it’s the human touch and live aspect of the music that holds its appeal. It’s pop music, EDM, and hip-hop that already lean heavily on technology, formula, and the familiar to entertain that are likely to be more in trouble.
That hypothesis might still be true for the most part. But what seems to be evident is that AI is coming for the creative occupations first, whether that’s the songwriters who compose music, the artists that perform it, or even the journalists and critics who cover it. This is the conclusion of the man who is most responsible for ChatGPT, the CEO of Open AI, Sam Altman.
Recently Altman was on The Joe Rogan Experience, and spoke directly about how he felt creative jobs could be the first on the chopping block thanks to AI, and how this wasn’t what he would have predicted in the past.
“The way the technology goes has been so different than even my own intuitions,” Sam Altman said. “If you’d asked me 10 years ago, I would have said first AI is going to come for blue collar labor basically. It’s gonna drive trucks, and do factory work, and it will handle heavy machinery. Then maybe after that it will do some kinds of cognitive labor, but it won’t be off doing what I think of personally as the really hard stuff. And maybe, maybe last of all, and maybe never because human creativity is this magic special thing … last of all it will come for the creative jobs. That’s what I would have said.”
But of course that is not the way things have transpired. ChatGPT and other AI tools have shown surprising skill at composing songs both in written form, and creating new recordings from existing ones in an artist’s catalog, and even making collaborations between two or more artists that are difficult or impossible to discern from the other songs in an artist’s library.
“AI is much better at doing tasks than doing jobs. It can do these little pieces super well,” says Sam Altman. “It’s going in the exactly opposite direction. It can do the creative work first, stuff like coding second, it can do other kinds of cognitive labor third, and we’re the furthest away from humanoid robots.”
Of course, “creative” is a subjective label. One of the reasons ChatGPT is able to compose certain songs is by finding repeated patterns in music and emulating them. Nonetheless, this is already causing major calamities within the music industry. While auto workers are on strike and are worried about AI and automation, and actors recently went on strike to protect their likeness rights from being used in movies in the future without permission or a share of the revenue, musicians don’t really have a similar recourse to protect themselves and their work moving forward.
Sam Altman showed surprising honesty and seriousness about the concerns that AI could pose to society, openly admitting that it will not all be a good thing. There will be bad that comes with the good. But he also believes that ultimately, humans—including creative ones—will learn to use the technology as a new creative tool.
“I’m not a believer at all that there won’t be lots of new jobs. I think human creativity, desire for status, wanting different ways to compete, invent new things, feel part of a community, feel valued, that’s not going to go anywhere,” Altman says. “People have worried about that forever. What happens is we get better tools, and we just invent new things, and more amazing things to do. There’s a big universe out there. There’s just so much stuff we can all do if we get to this world of abundant intelligence where you can sort of just think of a new idea, and it gets created.”
But even Sam Altman admits that however hunky dory all of that might sound, it still doesn’t remove the existential concerns for the creative types like musicians, songwriters, journalists, and creative writers who’ve been placed on the front line of the AI revolution.
“That doesn’t provide great solace to people who are losing their jobs today,” says Altman. “So saying there’s going to be this great indefinite stuff in the future, people are like, ‘What are we doing today?'”
Unfortunately, the answer for what we’re doing to stem the tide or ensure a future for those who create in music at the moment is “nothing.”