Art and The Singularity (aka Durka DERRR!!!!!!)

by Eric Fortune

While reading through a WIRED article I found an interesting video below.  Take a few minutes to check it out.


(note* the above video has been removed.  You can view it here )
So does anyone feel threatened by this type of technology?  I'm going to assume no.  I don't really feel that threatened by this specific set up.

So what if there was software that allowed an Art Director to plug in various scenarios, character descriptions, art techniques, color schemes, and even several specific artist's styles, and after taking in all these influences, data, stylistic patterns etc it produced a novel image incorporating said inputs?  And it looked like crap.  Five years later it looked a bit less like crap.  Then it started looking kind of badass 15 years later.  On top of all that it's a fraction of the cost required to hire an artist for the job.  Even if the Art Director loves you what if the publishing company has to do what it can to cut corners and save money.  It's bad enough the field is as competitive as it is already.

So let's wrap our head around what seems to be happening with our technology.  In a phrase, it's getting better.  The first cars broke down often leaving the owner's of the car on the side of the road constantly cranking their cars and changing it's tires not unlike an newborn baby.  I'm sure people on horse drawn carriages would roll by shaking their heads.  And then cars got better.  They grew up.  Then the methodology for building better cars got better, more stream lined and fully automated. A "Lights Out" factory.

Well, it takes a long time for things to improve right?  And besides technology often destroys jobs but technology also creates jobs maintaining a balance in employment.  This appears to be true.  However, that kind of depends on the rate that technology is creating and destroying jobs.  If emerging technologies are making jobs obsolete at a faster rate than they are being created then eventually there's is going to be an imbalance in unemployment due to technology.


"We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come--namely, technological unemployment.  This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour."  ~John Maynard Keynes 

So how fast is computing power and technology advancing?  I'd like to introduce you to Exponential Growth.  Exponential growth can be a hard concept to grasp if you're hearing about it for the first time.  Even if you are familiar with it it's highly unpredictable.  Not only is it advancing at an exponential rate, but the rate at which technology is doubling is also accelerating.  So what used to double every other year is now doubling every year and a half.


"When something doubles at a regular pace, we say that it grows geometrically, or exponentially.* To illustrate the extraordinary acceleration that this implies, imagine starting with a penny and then doubling the amount you have every day for a month. You begin with one cent; on the second day you have two cents and then four cents on the third day, and so on. 

The first chart on the next page shows the first fifteen days as our penny doubles. You can see that we start out very slowly and then begin to accelerate. On day fifteen, we have about $164—which is not bad at all since we started with only a penny! 

 In our next chart, we look at days 15-30. Now we’ve had to greatly expand the scale of our bar chart so we can accommodate some very big numbers toward the end. You can see that we start where we left off with $164, but now this amount is so tiny against our new scale that we don’t even see a visible bar. We have to wait until day 22 before we see a hint of progress—but still that amount represents nearly 21 thousand dollars.


"I'm rich bitch!!!"~ Dave Chapelle Show

Things really start to fly from there. We pass the million-dollar mark at day 28 and end up on day 30 with over five million dollars. Not bad for a month’s work. If we had been lucky enough to choose a month with 31 days for our experiment, we would have nearly eleven million dollars to show for it. If we could continue the process for another thirty days, we would have an astonishing $5,764,607,523,034,235—or nearly six quadrillion dollars!"
~ Martin Ford's "The Lights in the Tunnel"

Another comparison is taking 30 linear steps. Equaling...30 steps. There you are. I see you. 30 steps. So far so good. So what about 30 exponential steps? How far does that take us?
"To the Moon. And back. And I still have enough steps to circle the Earth...eight times over."~Federico Pistono TEDx Talk "Robots Will Steal Your Job, But that's ok"

Or if you're into Jason Silva "take 30 exponential steps 2,4,8,16, thirty steps later and your at a Billion!" Ehh, close enough Jason. We know what you mean. I do like his energy though. So where are we now? How many doublings have already happened?

"It's in the second half of the chessboard that that constant doubling yields numbers so big that our intuition falls apart, that prior experience falls apart.

So when we were writing our book, we did just a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. The U.S. started tracking computers as an investment category in 1958, and the standard period for doubling of computer power is 18 months. You do a little bit of math, and that quick estimate tells you that we entered the second half of the chessboard in about 2006 with computers, which helps me understand why we've got Google cars and Siri and Watson and all these robots coming at us just in the past few years. If this analogy holds up at all, the only real conclusion is we ain't seen nothing yet."
~ Adrew McAffee, author of "Race Against the Machine" on NPR

So will advanced AI and automation make artists obsolete? That still seems highly unlikely doesn't it? Even if they could do everything we could and better there seems to be something inherently fulfilling about being creative and getting better at artistic endeavors and expressing ourselves. But we're all artists here. And in order for us to make a living other people have to buy our products and pay for our services. In order for other people to buy the book with our image on the cover, our calender, prints, original artwork, everything that we have to sell in order to make a living, they too need jobs.


How is exponential growth and increasing automation affecting all the people who surround and support us?  The people with manufacturing jobs, writers, taxi/truck driversfruit pickers, doctors, Jeopardy Champs, educators, lawyers, pathologists, pharmacists, etc etc etc.  Notice that it's not just cashiers and bank tellers anymore.  And of course the farmers before them of which 80% of the population used to be employed as.  Now a mere 2% provide more than enough food for everyone else.  The technologies are moving deeper into the job market and becoming increasingly more sufficient at more complex jobs.  And as technology advances prices tend to drop dramatically as well.  That's why many people have a phone in their pocket that is a million times smaller and a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful than the first computers which could fill up a room and would cost millions of dollars.

"Can you hear me now?  This doesn't quite fit in my pocket." 

So when it becomes more profitable and more efficient and more productive not to mention more safe (Mars is cool. But I do not want to be in the first ship there. Thank you Curiosity) to use automation than humans that appears to be exactly what happens.

 For job security we could quit making art and all be robotics and automation engineers. But wouldn't that just exacerbate the problem? As more jobs and career paths become obsolete will that funnel upcoming students to enter the field robotics and AI? What I am curious about is at what point of amazingly high productivity and perhaps increasing unemployment is a major conversation going to be had about our relationship to our "jobs". If automation ends up doing most of what people used to do should we continue to force people to try and find jobs and work eight hour days and more to survive? Without jobs who's going to buy all of the things that the robots are producing? What will the labor market look like as exponential growth continues to move beyond the 30th step? At one point people working 16 hours was the norm. Over time, and with much effort, it was reduced to twelve hours, then ten, now we have an eight hour work day. What may this trend imply? I recently learned that:

"Much to the surprise of the country, The Senate passed the Black Bill on April 6, 1933, by a vote of 53 to 30, mandating a 30-hour week for businesses engaged in interstate and foreign commerce. ...Roosevelt later "voiced regret that he did not get behind the Black-Connery 30 Hour Week Bill and push it through Congress." ~ "The End of Work" by Jeremy Rifkin

I can only imagine what it might've been like if for the passed 80 years 30 hours a week was the norm. Even if a 30 hour work week was reached to redistribute the available work load what's after that? Where does it stop? So again, where does that leave us? Not just the creative industry obviously, but society as a whole. What are the goals of our society? If you asked Arthur C. Clarke he would've answered “The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play.” Hmmm, that's interesting. If you asked Buckminster Fuller his thoughts on jobs you would've heard.


Are there any other great thinkers who had an opinion on how technology is changing or could change our world? You might recognize these guys:



I know what everyone is thinking. Skynet, H.A.L... SkAL(my new band name). Perhaps we could refer back to Arthur C. Clarke for his thoughts on Arnold, I mean a robot uprising.


"The popular idea, fostered by comic strips and the cheaper forms of science fiction, that intelligent machines must be malevolent entities hostile to man, is so absurd that it is hardly worth wasting energy to refute it. Those who picture machines as active enemies are merely projecting their own aggressiveness. The higher the intelligence, the greater the degree of cooperativeness. If there is ever a war between men and machines, it is easy to guess who will start it." ~ Arthur C. Clarke

If you happened to be watching "60 Minutes" on CBS Jan 13th you would've heard the authors of "Race Against the Machine" comment on the robot overlord take over.


"One thing that Andy and I agree on is that we're not super worried about robots becoming self aware and challenging our authority. That part of science fiction I think, is not very likely to happen." ~ Erik Brynjolfsson

At a recent meeting Robert Reich comments on technological disruption and asked X Prize Chairman and CEO Peter Diamandis "most economists looking at it find that it's no longer Globalization that's causing the median wage to drop. It's actually Technological Change. Now, if we really are on the cusp of the kind of disruptive technology you are talking about we could presumably see a lot of people not only out of work, but the median wage continue to drop. Now the question is 'Who's gonna buy the stuff?"


Let's look at Peter Diamandis' response again. " ...we're going to be fundamentally changing the society and the question is 'maybe people don't have jobs'".

Are jobs becoming obsolete?

Who knows? Maybe there isn't anything to be concerned about. Perhaps we could try looking at it from a different point of view. "If you believe the assumption we made is incorrect, then you must believe that: Technology will never advance to the point where the bulk of jobs performed by typical people will be automated. The economy will always create jobs that are within the capabilities of the vast majority of the human population." ~ Martin Ford

"Never is a really long time" ~ me ;)

I'd love to hear your thoughts.