The modern artist must live by craft and violence. His gods are violent gods. Those artists, so called, whose work does not show this strife, are uninteresting. —Ezra Pound
All the career advice sites are wrong. There is only one group that grows through all the coming economic and political upheavals and they’re not computer engineers, stock market gurus, or the incredibly brainy astrophysicists; they are artists. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it, that after all these centuries of struggling that it would be artists that ultimately survive? But that may very well be what the future has in store.
First, though, here’s the bad news: Computers are going to take your jobs. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing rapidly and even though AI is still years from matching humans on every level, they are incrementally improving every day. There isn’t likely to be one giant robotic takeover. Instead, they’ll simply take a few jobs here, a few there, and a few more later until they have them all. We will wake up one morning and realize that no one is hiring because all the jobs are automated.
Robotic arms have been a reality on manufacturing floors for several years. There hasn’t been a new car roll off an assembly line in 20 years that hasn’t been touched at some point by a robot. Just last month, fast-food chain Wendy’s announced that they are beginning to test self-serve kiosks operated by robots in response to rising operational costs. McDonald’s has already expressed interest in similar technology. Eventually, there will be no need for either manufacturing line workers or food service employees at any level of operation.
Financial services don’t get off any better. Earlier this week BMO Harris Bank announced it is laying off four percent of its workforce due to a decline in branch transaction. Why the decline? Automation. As cash becomes less of a necessity, we don’t need branch bank employees to handle checks or withdrawals. Almost every branch transaction can be done on a smartphone, including deposits. Stock exchange operations have also been largely computer controlled for over 30 years and are at a point now where floor traders are already obsolete, but the industry just can’t imagine giving them up. The entire sector will eventually dissolve into digital and AI operations.
The picture doesn’t get any better. Almost anywhere one looks, AI is slowly taking over. Slowly. First, they start with the tasks no one likes doing, the little things that are easy, things that are repetitive, jobs that seem to take more effort than they’re worth. We buy into the concept that they are saving us time and money. Over time, we continue giving them more tasks, the programming develops to the point they gain “intelligence.” Then, someone realizes it is more efficient to just let the computers and robots and digital devices do everything. At that point, you’re out of a job.
What do we do if there are no jobs? Well, maybe a flat rate income from the government is the answer. Silicon Valley start-up incubator Y Combinator is looking at that possibility. Earlier this year, they began a five-year study to examine the impact of giving everyone, without exception, a flat, standard living wage. The prospects are monumental and the results could reach every aspect of society as we now know it.
Not everyone is waiting for the research. Citizens of Switzerland are voting on a referendum this Sunday that would give every person a guaranteed income of 30,000 Swiss francs, equivalent to just over $32,000 in US dollars. The move has plenty of critics, to be sure. Yet, it is a real-world experiment that every other country on the planet will be watching should it pass.
So, when all the jobs are gone and everyone is living on a fixed government-provided wage, what’s left? Who still has the ability to generate revenue on their own?
Probably not all artists, mind you. There are already computers doing impressive work composing music. And there’s a software in development that creates abstract digital art. Not everyone is going to succeed.
Still, artists are going to have a much better advantage than are those in more traditional fields of employment because what artists do is more difficult to interpret digitally. Artists don’t follow a specific set of rules or steps or procedures to produce a predictable and quantifiable outcome. Artists start from nothing, sometimes without even a clear idea, and create something from that nothing. All that abstract creative and emotional thinking is something AI is least likely to achieve.
Those in the practical arts, such as cosmetologists, estheticians, glassworks, fashion design, and the advanced elements of woodworking and ceramics, are not only going to survive this cataclysmic shift but they are best positioned to survive. The combination of creative artistry with the ability to fulfill a current and on-going demand puts these artists at the very top of the food chain. People who are not working are going to have more time to care about the aesthetics around them and are likely to invest more in looking good.
Fine artists aren’t left out of the equation, though. As the supply of all things AI-manufactured begins to grow, the demand for original, one-of-a-kind pieces is almost certain to grow as well. While AI may take away our jobs and our income, they won’t take away that basic human fallacy of wanting to have something that no one else has. In an economic society where everyone is paid exactly the same, social differentiation takes place along the lines of how one spends that money. Those who invest their money in things no one else has, or can have, become the new “upper class” in this aesthetically driven society.
Visual artists, those creating works that can be touched and possessed are likely to find high demand for their work. We are, after all, creatures of greed. That greed, for better or worse, has driven societies for over two millennia and isn’t going to stop just because the basic income is the same for everyone. Writers are likely to do very well, also, as the ability of AI to capture deep emotions through words is an aspect that may be impossible to duplicate. Actors are likely to do well, though they may find working with robots on the technical aspects of lighting and stage construction rather irritating.
Artificial Intelligence is coming. Combine that with the Internet of Things that looms on the very near horizon and the need for humans to do ordinary, everyday things diminishes dramatically. 2020 seems to be a year many are forecasting to be the first major turning point as driverless cars and fully automated services should be online and functional. Slowly, but surely, the day is coming when employment as we know it now no longer exists.
Unless you’re an artist. For the future, artists rule.
It’s about time.