Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how AI will lead to a major reorganization of society.
Many people found the ideas in that post intriguing, and some of them also raised some interesting questions.
As a result, today I want to dive a bit deeper into this theme, with a real world example that helps to illustrate that this isn’t some utopian dream, it is already happening in certain fields.
It’s a perfect example of William Gibson’s famous quote:
The future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.
— William Gibson
I posit that, in the future, the economy will become a lot more fluid and dynamic as a result of constant disruption caused by accelerating developments in technology. The typically stable social hierarchies we are used to inhabiting will start to liquefy, making them look more like “liquid pyramids”.
I am calling this new type of social organization a liquid pyramid because it resembles the structure that forms in water when a rock or a hailstone falls into it. It looks more like a pyramid that has been stretched to the breaking point, forming a droplet or “bubble” on top.
Photo by Johnny Brown on Unsplash
One can think of each technological disruption as a rock or a hailstone, that, when splashed into such a fluid economy, creates such a liquid pyramid.
And when you have a constant barrage of such disruptions, the economy starts to resemble a lake in a hailstorm with tons of such liquid pyramids forming everywhere and dissipating.
How will people deal with living in such an economy?
I believe that the best way would be for everyone to become lifelong learners and constant tinkerers. They will have to keep adapting to each new disruption coming there way, taking advantage of any new opportunities that open up, and hopefully catching a ride to the top of the pyramid for a while before coming back down.
My guess is people involved in creative industries, particularly those creating content on social media platforms like TikTok or YouTube probably understand what I am saying because it is already happening to them.
But my guess is that it may sound a little too abstract to everyone else, so let us delve into a recent real world example that should help make things a lot more concrete and clear.
Get ready for some hail!
The First Hailstone
Just a few months back everyone was blown away when OpenAI, a leading AI company, revealed DALL-E 2.0, which generates incredibly beautiful images from detailed text prompts.
All you have to do is to enter a short text description of the image you want, and the system responds with multiple images that try to fit the description.
Only a small number of people were given access initially, but within literally hours after that, the internet was inundated with beautiful images created by those who got early access! It was truly groundbreaking.
Many of these people probably would probably not have thought of themselves as being “artists”. But now they were suddenly being incredibly creative in very interesting and new ways.
It almost felt like the internet became more interesting and even beautiful overnight.
Some images generated by DALL-E 2
At the same time, digital artists everywhere started to get worried. Their industry was about to be seriously disrupted.
The Second Hailstone
Getting access to DALL-E was difficult, so people who managed to get in became celebrities for a while — until the second hailstone dropped.
This second splash was caused by Midjourney, another AI-based image generation program. They opened their doors a bit wider than DALL-E, allowing more people to experiment with image generation.
And once again, another wave of surreal and edgy images flooded the ether.
Even I managed to get access quite quickly after signing up and created some art of my own — way better than anything I had ever managed with a pencil or a paintbrush! (My only foray into any kind of drawing until then had been an engineering drawing class I took in college, which I must say, I loved, but wasn’t “creative” in any sense of the word.)
Soon afterwards, Midjourney was opened even further, and DALL-E also followed. This allowed even more creativity to bloom everywhere.
Some images generated by Midjourney
The Third Hailstone
In the meantime, Google also announced its Imagen image generation system.
This program is still not public, so it hasn’t caused as many waves as the other two. Whatever we have seen of it, though, is impressive. And given the heft of a company like Google, whenever it does get released, it is bound to generate huge waves.
Some images generated by Google’s Imagen
(Ok, I am speaking about this as if years have passed! It’s only been a few months! But then again, this is happening at internet time, so maybe the feeling is quite appropriate.)
Anyway, as if to teach a lesson to all these disruptors (and maybe to make them empathize a little with the people they disrupted), the disruptors themselves have recently been disrupted. And this isn’t just a hailstone like the others, it is going to become a full-on hailstorm!
A Full-On Hailstorm!
Stable Diffusion is the latest entry in this saga, but it has taken a different approach.
Unlike the other programs mentioned above, Stable Diffusion is an open source project that anyone can download and install themselves on their own hardware and generate any images they want.
Essentially, it does what all the systems I have described above do, except it is not controlled by a single company. Moreover, anyone can take their source code and improve it any way they see fit.
To continue with the “liquid” analogy, I could say that this has opened the floodgates to competition in the image generation space.
The innovation in this space is only going to accelerate with more and more image generation services coming on line, each with some unique twist of its own on the main theme.
Some images created by Stable Diffusion
Storm After the Storm
Beyond this, people are already expecting image generation systems to further evolve into video generation systems, being used in interactive video games, and in VR environments.
Needless to say, this is already causing massive disruption in the affected markets, where artists, publishers, and marketers create and distribute art for various purposes. And, as I mentioned, even the image generation software space itself is getting disrupted.
Of course, this isn’t without precedent.
Just a couple of decades ago, many artists had to move from creating art with their hands to using computers. They had to learn new tools for creativity as well as for marketing and distribution. They will have to upgrade themselves once again.
The same thing has been true of the software vendors creating these tools — they have been evolving constantly.
Apart from software engineering, a whole new field of engineering and creativity has already opened up, called Prompt Engineering.
It essentially involves coming up with the best text prompt to generate the image you want. My guess is that it will evolve into something akin to programming, where you provide detailed stepwise instructions for the exact image you want.
Other artists are experimenting with larger or more complex or more advanced projects, or combining art with other forms of expression in innovative ways, or doing more collaborative efforts, and so on.
Human creativity knows no bounds, and we haven’t even scratched the surface.
New spaces have opened up where bland, merely functional designs are being replaced by more complex and creative designs. Just look at products from a couple of decades ago, such as cereal boxes or packaging for consumer items or magazine covers or automobiles and so on. They have become a lot more complex and interesting to look at. This sort of a thing will spread into all sorts of products and services.
People who had never taken up a paintbrush or pencil will suddenly experience their creative juices flowing and will take art in totally new directions and spaces that were not available to them earlier.
For example, here are some people drawing simple sketches and turning them into pieces of art using AI:
Anyone can become an artist, your imagination is the only limit
Each of these “hailstones” is creating its own “liquid pyramid” and people who are keeping track and learning quickly are capitalizing on them.
I imagine that this sort of a thing will occur in many fields in the future — not just art — expanding the scope and intensity of the hailstorm in many directions.
People will have to adjust by engaging in continuous learning and creativity, with occasional rides up the roller coaster of viral success.
(As an aside, the long period of learning and experimentation will probably have to be supported, at least partly, by some type of wealth redistribution from those who achieve viral success for short periods of time. That would be the only way to keep this type of economy going. Please see my related post in which I go into further details about various redistribution schemes, and discuss their costs and benefits.)
A New Life Experience Cycle
All of this serves illustrate a new “life experience cycle” that everyone will have a chance to go through, possibly even multiple times during their lifetimes.
The following picture quickly describes this Future Life Experience Cycle:
Future Life Experience Cycle (Image: Vin Bhalerao)
Most people can expect to spend most of their time engaging in “continuous learning and creativity” at the bottom of the pyramid. Instead of stable “jobs”, they would likely work on multiple “gigs” simultaneously.
This is what we call currently as “the gig economy”. It will end up becoming just “the economy”. (Again, people in the creative professions already probably understand this quite well.)
Occasionally, some of the gigs manage to get some traction, then get scaled up using AI or automation, and then go viral.
When that happens, they may reap outsized rewards. But in order to make such an economy effective and sustainable for the long term, some of those rewards will need to be redistributed or reinvested back into the bottom of the pyramid to keep the cycle going.
(Please see my related post for more details on this cycle and its potential impacts.)
In many ways, this is the future that is already here, at least in certain fields, and just waiting to be distributed evenly everywhere. Some fields may get disrupted in this manner sooner than others, but my guess is that eventually pretty much every field will.
But along with the disruption, new opportunities will open up and may even expand the scope of human creativity and industriousness into entirely new directions.
Let me end with another William Gibson quote that seems appropriate here:
Dreaming in public is an important part of our job description, as science writers, but there are bad dreams as well as good dreams. We’re dreamers, you see, but we’re also realists, of a sort.
— William Gibson