When people argue that AI won’t replace human ingenuity, they usually point to the things they love that they regard as irreplaceable and profound. There exists, they argue, a level of quality so meaningful and true that AI will either never replicate it, or by the time it does, they’ll be six feet underground.
But like it or not, over the last year we have had to begin to recognize and accept that AI is going to replace all the “other” kind of things – the “mid”. Those mundane, repetitive tasks that involve language and art in their most basic and perfunctory form. Striking writers may be tormented by nightmares about robots taking over writers’ rooms, but there’s less concern when it comes to AI entering the board room.
Consider, for instance, the humble business report. Is it possible that any AI-generated report could ever be worse than its human-authored counterpart? The dry, formulaic documents produced by harried middle managers might even morph into something more engaging once they are disassociated from the pressure to write them as quickly and briefly as possible. We might witness a welcome shift from minimalistic bullet points to well-articulated ideas that communicate more effectively.
However, our inherent biases often blind us to the broader implications of AI. Consider the vast corpus of ‘mid’ creativity that fills our lives – the visual content in digital advertisements, product descriptions for e-commerce websites, or the scriptwriting for corporate videos. These are manufactured expressions of creativity that demand human ingenuity yet live in the shadow of dreariness.
Take greeting cards as an example. Essentially, they are manufactured expressions of affection, crafted from words, art, and paper. They require creativity to make, yet are so excruciatingly dull that Lou Reed and John Cale were compelled to form the Velvet Underground simply to escape the mind-numbing tedium of creating them. They are the purest form of ‘mid’ – perfunctory, disposable, and a transient experience that sits on a shelf until it is relegated to the past and discarded.
And ‘mid’ doesn’t stop there. Anonymous illustrations in corporate clip art, dry textbook text, unperused privacy policies – for all the numerous things we produce that only require a basic form of art or writing, the advent of AI could signal an absolute apocalypse.
This ‘mid’ creativity stretches far wider than most people would either accept or be comfortable with. It’s within this wide swath between the artisanal and the basic that AI excels. This realm is the creative equivalent of a production line – work that once required human ingenuity but can now be performed by an army of generative chatbots.
When people tell me they’re worried that AI is going to cost people their jobs, I understand that concern. It’s also worth pointing out that technology has disrupted jobs for centuries – from the water powered millstone grinding the wheat to the self-service checkout line at the grocery store. New tech empowers a single person to accomplish in seconds what used to take dozens of people days or even years of work.
Those who believed themselves to be safeguarded from that inevitable process by their unique niche of creativity and intelligence are suddenly under siege by the march of progress. They are now forced to confront their own mediocrity or ‘mid-ness,’ a revelation that is at the least, unsettling.
Even more daunting is the harsh truth that neither regulation or litigation will be coming to rescue them. The new job will be learning to coax and direct AI to deliver clear, effective solutions. The mid is dead. The first step is fully accepting it.
We’re entering a new wave of change where creativity is driven not just by human genius but magnified by the computational power of AI. Those who recognize what’s coming are already learning to swim with the current. Those who resist will inevitably be swept away by the rising tide.