“The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.”
- Sydney J. Harris, American Journalist
On 1 June 2016, Google Brain, an artificial intelligence research team published their first AI-generated composition, a 90-second piano melody (Conrad, D. 2016). Nothing fancy, even childish, the machine, with deep learning algorithm applied, is still far from becoming a musical genius. But I don’t feel that relieved, as a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, I find it a little disturbing, it’s not about a piece of music that the machine generated, it’s about the research itself: Can machine learn to create like human?
Human takes pride in his creativity, it is “the ultimate inexhaustible source of growth” (Menger, P.M. 2006). It has advanced civilization by improving human living conditions in the past decades. With the advance in technology, scientist have stepped in the field of mapping out how human brains work, and experienced breakthroughs in the development of Artificial Intelligence. So machines will learn to create, science fictions of robots may come true one day. I think this will be a major step forward for mankind. But, what would happen to the creative industry and the creative labours.
In this paper, I would like to focus on examining some research findings and observations to address my own worry: more and more tasks used to be performed by men would be taken over by digitalisation and automation, how would it affect the development of creativity industry in the future?
- Advances in Technology and Indication to Human Creativity
Nothing better describes the advance of technology in the modern world than the “Industrial Revolutions”.
“Fourth Industrial Revolution is the digital revolution… is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres (Schwab K. 2016) …With the ability to visualise brain activity, for example, through a consumer-based EEG device, it gives us access to ourselves in ways we have never before thought possible.” (Schwab K. 2016 Video)
It won’t be long before machines can learn just like people do, be able to create based on the scenarios we get them to experience, so called “Artificial Intelligence” has drawn so many top minds and efforts in the fields of research.
“Just as the industrial revolution freed up a lot of humanity from physical drudgery. I think AI has the potential to free up humanity from a lot of the mental drudgery.” – Andrew Ng, Founder of Google Brain Project (Hof. R. 2014)
It is happening all around us now, in the insurance industry, many of my co-workers and myself have started taking Artificial Intelligence class. AI is commonly used to assist people online with frequently asked questions by carrying out a human like conversation. This would save a human service center operator great level of mental stress for answering the same questions over and over again.
For every student in the AI course, the objective of learning was laid out very clearly upfront. It is “the study and design of intelligence agents, where an intelligence agent is a system that perceives its environment and takes actions that maximize its chances of success.” In other words, make machines that “act rationally”. (Russel and Norvig, 2014)
Not only do we create machines that think like human, but also we teach machines to do the right thing. It is the perfect extension of where we want the human creativity to develop, with the help of AI, people’s mind will be less confined and more creative.
As echoed by Schwab: The new technology age, if shaped in a responsible way, could catalyse a new cultural renaissance that will enable us to feel part of something much larger than ourselves – a true global civilization” (Schwab K. 2016)
- Then, how much of human creativity will be replaced by digitalisation and automation?
I found some recent studies done by organizations that shared my curiosity, specifically on the impact on occupations affected by digitisation and automation, but different emphases. In summary, their findings indicate that:
- Technological advances, particularly in machines that can perform complex tasks, has polarized labour market, and has created wage inequality. (Gibbs, M. 2017)
The study suggests that the “hollowing out” of middle skilled, routine jobs has a drastic impact on wage inequality. As middle-skill opportunities shrink, giving rise to high and low-skill jobs, wages also become either high or low. This disparity has already impacted the economy and will continue to change the labour market’s landscape. With technology and robotics that augment human creativity and cognition, the labour market polarization and wage inequality can only be further increased. (Gibbs, M. 2017)
This reminds me of Richard Florida’s observation back in 2002, related to the “Rise of Creative Class”…. “Growing alongside the Creative class is another social grouping I call the Service Class-which contains low-end, typically low-wage and low autonomy occupations in the so-called ‘service sector’ of the economy. The growth of this Service Class is in large measure a response to the demands of the Creative economy. Members of the Creative Class, because they are well compensated and work long and unpredictable hours, require a growing poll of low-end service workers to take care of them and do their chores. This class has thus been created out of economic necessity because of the way the Creative Economy operates. “(Florida R. 2002)
- Those “middle-skilled, routine jobs” that tend to be replaced are those with job activities focusing on “Data Collection”, “Processing Data”, “Predictable Physical Work” (Chui, M, Manyika, J. Miremadi, M. 2016)
Current technology could be used to automate 45% of individual activities, but only 5% of occupations can be completed automated. Almost every job has a significant percentage of its activities that can be automated.
According to the study, it’s more technically feasible to automate predictable physical activities than unpredictable ones. And if the activities involved in any occupation are broken down into “Managing others”, “Applying expertise”, “Stakeholder Interactions”, “Unpredictable Physical work”, “Data Collection”, “Processing Data”, “Predictable Physical Work”. The last three categories of activities have very high chance of being computerised and automated.
This will have a profound impact to the future labour market, those qualities involving interactions, expertise and creative problem solving with unpredictable challenges will be even more valued. This is definitely a positive reinforcement of one’s belief that in a “Creative economy”, in the scale of these activities involved, more people would be focused on the first three categories and create more ideas, and in the meantime, people would rather stay at routine activities will be replaced and have to change in order to survive.
- As technology progresses, creative skills will become more important, meaning that places that have specialised in creative work will most likely be the main beneficiaries of the digital age. (NESTA, 2015)
Despite the expanding scope of automation, Frey and Osborne (2013) shows that creativity remains a key bottleneck to computerisation. In line with these, NESTA study shows that creative jobs are the least susceptible to automation. By contrast, while the next wave of computer-related technologies is likely to displace a wide range of occupations, they are also likely to complement creative workers. The study findings suggest that many of the occupations that are intensive in creative tasks are jobs that are directly associated with the arrival of new technologies.
NESTA 2015 study concludes that while occupation creativity is inversely related to computerisability, the new technology has enabled a new level of creativity. More generally, the digitisation of the economy is likely to further increase the demand for creative skills.
These studies confirmed that human creativity is the driver behind the technology advance and the industrial revolution, but at the same time human creativity is also being challenged and shaped to reach to the highest level because of the advance in technology.
- Observations and Case studies in the Creative industry
- Digitalisation has challenged Hong Kong’s publishing industry, but also presents opportunities
There are 11 industries categories in Creative and Culture Industry in Hong Kong, despite the overall increase of value added and the employment number, the Publishing industry has demonstrated a rather moderate growth in both measures, and it showed decrease from 2013 to 2014. (Census and Statistics Department, 2016)
There is no doubt that digitalisation is the biggest cause of this decline. Hong Kong’s print media giant Next Media issued announcement in 2015 to downsize and layoff relevant employees, and to change its name to “Next Digital” reflecting a strategic move to align its business into the digital space and provide a clearer identity and image for company. (Tam I. 2015) As the end of 30 September 2016, stated in their Interim Report 2016, the revenue had a 24.8% decrease than same period last year. The reduced circulation caused the print advertising revenue. However, its digital business division has been increasing, its external revenue, which consists of subscription fees, online advertising revenue, content licensing payments, games and content sponsorship, and in-app purchase of virtual products, has reported 2.1% against the same month last year.
There is clear advantage to the digitalisation, it no longer confines the distribution to a local market. Next Digital opens its USA platform, and immediately it sees significant traffic from the overseas Chinese population. As of September 2016, Apple Daily has recorded over 1.5 million monthly unique visitors in USA, and 420,000s in Canada. (Next Digital Interim Report Sept 2016)
- “Open Collaboration” is on the rise, a new way of nurturing and stimulating creativity.
“Open source software” is booming, many of today’s ground breaking artists work with software, from data visualisations to interactive video projects. Open-source creative coding tools like Processing, Cinder, and openFrameworks (Von Baldegg, K.CM.V, 2013). They are ready for people to take away and make greater things. Anne Luther, our guest speaker from Unit One, also uses open source platform https://d3js.org/ to develop software for data visualisation.
Another kind of Open Collaboration is idea sharing. I’ve listened to numerous talks in Tedx events on YouTube, where speakers talk about their ideas worth spreading.
Wikipedia has become the new Encyclopaedia for free, and around the same time, Encyclopedia Britanniaca has ceased printing (Giles, J. 2005 quoted by Sheen S. Levine, Prietula, M.J 2015) after 244 years of circulation.
All these open collaborators rely on the free contributions of certain experts, and the contributors take their contributions as trophies. The strong motivation behind the contributors is “peer recognition”, i.e., being recognize as competent and successful (Florida, 2002). What a healthy way to nurture and stimulate creativity.
- In the case of Artistic creation, the automation happens during the collective efforts in <All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry> (2012)
Grayson Perry, the leading artist in the UK worked on tapestries that was filmed by a series called <All in the Best Possible Taste>. However, he didn’t “make tapestries” himself, only designed blueprints, machines made them.
Grayson interacted with people he wanted to describe, visited their homes, felt their emotions, attended dinner parties, drinks, sports events etc. He intentionally collected every detail that may reflect the people’s tastes, and then he made sketches, and worked with computer software to fine tune the compositions, and used a Belgium manufacturer to make the tapestry using machines. His creation was thus born, and presented back to the people who inspired him. During the whole process, with the help of director, producers, editors, and TV crew, the making of his arts was documented an Award winning series, broadcasted throughout the Nation, now also available in YouTube with worldwide reach.
The production of the series is truly a collective activity. Nobody can deny what Grayson has made is art, just that with the help of technology, his blueprint was efficiently made by computer software, and automated the production using machines. In the division of Labours, the craftsman skill, which could have been a time consuming piece back in the Louis XV era, was now automated, and it didn’t affect the Artist’s vision and expression of ideas.
Today’s economy is fundamentally a Creative Economy (Florida, 2002). I need to end the article here, but still with even heightened curiosity of looking further into the more concrete development of the making of creative machines.
The development of digitalisation and automation has a profound impact to the structure in the work force structure. People who create economic value through their creativity become highly valued, they are the exact type of people who are behind the scene of the creative machines. Activities that can be done by machines, let them be done by machines, as long as we use them to maximize our success. Whether or not the science fictions can come true one day, the tolerance for mediocrity, satisfying with a routine work will ultimately run out. Humans need to stay creative and keep finding ways to make lives better. Sharing and collaborations will spread the seeds for innovation. The future of us resides definitely in the infinite source of our creativity.
- Conrad, D. (2016) i-programmer, available at www.i-programmer.info/news/105-artificial-intelligence/9800-google-magenta-project.html Accessed: 15 May 2017
- Menger, P.M. (2006) Artistic labor markets: Contingent work, excess supply and occupational risk management.Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture,1, pp.765-811.
- Schwab, K. (2016)World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to-respond (Accessed: 13 May 2017).
- Schwab, K. (2016)World Economic Forum. Embedded Video featuring Nita Farahany, Duke University Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khjY5LWF3tg (Accessed: 13 May 2017).
- Hof. R. (2014) Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthof/2014/08/28/interview-inside-google-brain-founder-andrew-ngs-plans-to-transform-baidu/#54130af840a4 (Accessed: 22 May 2017)
- World Economic Forum (2016) The Fourth Industrial Revolution | Full Version (Subtitled). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khjY5LWF3tg (Accessed: 13 May 2017).
- Russell S. Norvig P. (2014) Artificial Intelligence, A Modern Approach Third Edition. Pearson Education.
- Gibbs, M (2017) “Machines and the modern day labor market.” University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Available at: https://newschicagobooth.uchicago.edu/newsroom/machines-and-modern-day-labor-market (Accessed: 15 May 2017)
- Florida, R. (2002) The Rise of The Creative Class. Basic books.
- Chui, M. Manyika, J. Miremadi, M. (2016) Where machines could replace humans – and where they can’t (yet), McKinsey Quarterly July 2016
- National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA), 2015 “Creativity vs. Robots. The Creative Economy and The Future of Employment”
- Census and Statistics Department, Hong KONG SAR (2016)Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics. Hong Kong “The Cultural and Creative Industries in Hong Kong”
- Tam I. (2015) “Next Media downsizes, intends to rename as Next Digital”, Marketing. Available at: www.marketing-interactive.com/next-media-intends-rename-next-digital/ (Accessed: 21 May 2017).
- NextDigital (2016) 2016/2017 Interim Report, Hong Kong. Aavailable at: http://www.nextdigital.com.hk/investor/index.php?route=investor/category/view_file&filename=e_0282_IR_29112016.pdf.0c639624978515eb53801e23ec56a5a0 (Accessed 21 May 2017)
- Von Baldegg, K. CM. 2013 “Open-Source Art and the Rise of ‘Creative Coding’, The Atlantic Available at https://www.theatlantic.com/video/archive/2013/01/open-source-art-and-the-rise-of-creative-coding/466476/ (Accessed: 23 May 2017)
- Giles, J. 2005. Internet Encyclopaedias Go Head to Head. Nature 438 (15 December 2005) 900-1.
- Levine, S.S. Prietula, M. J (2015) Open Collaboration for Innovation: Principles and Performance. Available at: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0be2/e2b2304b1813717b1a404fc6facd8a3ebbaf.pdf (Accessed: 22 May 2017)
- All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry (2012) Directed by Neil Crombie, UK: Channel 4 Television