Sales & marketing

Sturgeon, Scrooge and Electric Monks – why creatives should take A.I. with a pinch of salt

Apparently A.I. is rising up to destroy humanity and it’s going to start the coup by putting the creatives out of business. The way some people are talking about it, you would think an army of cybernetic assassins is hiding on the roof just waiting to pick us off as soon as we pop out for lunch. Quite what we all did to get what seems destined to be our artificial intelligence overlord so riled up is beyond me. If you listen to the doomsayers though it’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers out there, and everyone in the creative industries are being systematically replaced with a computer simulation.

A.I. is going to take us all down.

Is it though? I mean, really, when standing back and getting a little perspective, is it?

Sturgeon’s Law describes Artificial Intelligence

For those who are wondering what that sub-head means, it refers to something said by author Theodore Sturgeon. In the late 1950s he commented that “sure 90% of science fiction is crud, but 90% of everything is crud”. He makes a good point here. The truth is that 90% of most things in life are rather commonplace, forgettable, terrible or somewhere along that scale. If you want proof of this, how many times did you have an outstanding breakfast last month? You probably can’t even remember most of them. In short, Sturgeon’s law is that ‘good’ is relatively rare.

A.I. is currently consistently producing work in the 90% area and often at the bottom end of it. It’s sort of splashing around in the shallow end of the talent pool.

Artificial Intelligence based copywriting works. The problem is that what it produces is turgid, uninspired, mechanical crud that reads like a GCSE essay submitted by a student who probably cut and pasted most of it from Wikipedia. It’s readable, it’s about the subject matter, but it’s not good. Not always terrible just, as far as I have seen, never good.

“Ah, ha! You’ve been hoisted by your own petard there, mate” you may have just yelled but probably didn’t, “If it produces readable copy that isn’t terrible, why not use it”? Well, if you write out the core values for your business how often would you use a phrase like ‘we are not terrible all the time’ or ‘just about useable but not very good’ to describe your product or service? Perhaps your mission statement would be ‘striving for consistent levels of mediocrity’?

No? Well, then why would you accept that from a service provider human or otherwise?

As a further point to the above, the chances are that you are on Google and Google has a very simple rule about using A.I. copy. The rule can be paraphrased as ‘Don’t use A.I. copy’. Go look it up on Google if you like. They say they can detect it and they are very, very, clear about the consequences of using it.

So, to summarise: A.I. copy is pretty average and Google doesn’t want you to use it. That’s not a good combination.

Scrooge and Artificial Intelligence

When Scrooge is presented with the vision of his own death by the Ghost of Christmas future it changes his outlook. Seeing the spectre of his own wretched demise gives him the will to change his ways. Scrooge decides not to be the mournful spirit wandering the land of the living, bemoaning its fate, and remembered fondly by no living soul.

A.I. is presenting us with a vision of our own fate. It is offering us a world where, in line with Sturgeon’s law, the 90% production of mediocre and grey copy that is lacking in creativity and skill, is produced by machine.

Creatives need to heed the A.I. ghost of Christmas future.

Or to put it in less Dickensian terms If you don’t to be obsoleted, be part of the 10%. Until Artificial Intelligence can fully replace a talented creative, your skills will be in demand by those who don’t want to be subject to Sturgeon’s law. Which brings us to the question of Monks…

Electric Monks and Artificial Intelligence

Douglas Adams was a wildly creative writer who fountained wonderful ideas into the world. One of these was the labour-saving Electric Monk. It is the description of why it was invented though that is relevant here. Adams was also remarkably skilled at pointing out the reality of things, in the case of the Electric Monk, the purpose of technology.

The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.’

Douglas Adams – Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Technology advances to save us from tasks we don’t want to do or does them better and faster, but that doesn’t mean it is capable of fully replacing the task. Remember when word processors came along and that meant that all the authors were instantly out of work because everyone had tools to write a book? Or how the microwave revolutionised the kitchen and everyone no longer cooked? Or when online learning made all the lecturers and teachers… well, you probably get the point here. Technology is often a result of trying to free ourselves from tedious work or, in some cases, wanting to do a job better in less time. I mean, you can actually wash up faster than your dishwasher can, you just don’t want to.

For A.I. to decimate the creative industries as is being proposed by the Pronouncers of Doom (many of whom suspiciously tend to work for A.I. companies) it will need to be better than a good creative, easier to use than commissioning a creative professional and be cheaper in time and money than using a skilled producer. Right now, it simply isn’t. It’s hard to get it to produce anything good, it requires a learning curve to use it, it’s time-consuming and then you need to re-write it and fact check it all. It’s still an Electric Monk.

The end of creative industries?

Artificial Intelligence is going to affect the creative space. For some writers, photographers, designers and so on, the challenge of competing with A.I. could be too much. That seems inevitable. Judging from the current output of Artificial copywriting and from what I have seen the design and artwork it produces, we are still some way from long lines of creatives at the job centre though.

Someone recently said to me that if they wrote a blog and got A.I. to make one, I couldn’t tell the difference. I agreed but pointed out that they were not a copywriter. A decent writer will blow A.I. out of the water every time.

A.I. may well shake things up but because of Sturgeon, Scrooge and the Electric Monk, the good creatives will not only survive, but they will also be in more demand than ever when those businesses looking for difference vie for their services.

As a postscript to the above, I wanted to give you some comparisons from ChatGPT and my own writing… but it’s offline. Humans one, A.I. nil there then as well.

Originally posted 2023-01-15 15:15:38.

Kevin Robinson
The Business Bulletin

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Kevin Robinson

Kevin worked for over a decade in corporate marketing. During the late 90s, he trained as a video producer and television writer before moving into education where he taught screenwriting, film and video production for 20 years. He is a published author and has written 1000+ articles for a range of clients. Following the success of in 2021, new brand Walkround Media will launch in 2022 focusing on product photography and information video.

Sturgeon, Scrooge and Electric Monks – why creatives should take A.I. with a pinch of salt

by Kevin Robinson Time to read: 4 min