Since the beginning of 2023, we’re all riding the AI wave. Things are changing at an unprecedented pace and technology is evolving practically every day. Before one could even make sense of what’s in front of them, something new and even better comes up. I’ve personally felt my bar for ‘amazing’ rising to new heights in last few weeks. There’s no looking back.
With an aim to take the drudgery out of work, entire suites of products are being introduced or revived powered by AI. All of these offerings promise to fill in the gaps formed by human limitation, push boundaries of what we can achieve and make us more efficient. We already have AI chatbots in search engines, prompt to image creator, email writers, summary generators and there’s no stopping anytime soon.
Basically, with the options available today, the saying — “you are limited by your imagination” stands true quite literally. One can make apps without knowing how to code, can get a picture of something that doesn’t exist and write a poem in a language he/she doesn’t even understand. While all these capabilities are world changing, it has also intensified decades old debate around will AI take my job or not. But this blog is not about that. I am observing all this from slightly different angle.
My point being, is peak efficiency what we actually want? Don’t get me wrong on this as I have been a lifetime advocate to minimise redundancy in work and automate whatever’s possible. I hated doing same twice. If you ask my mom, she’ll narrate you an incident where I complained to her against my nursery class teacher who would give us the same homework every single day. I was not cool writing same A,B,C,D… daily, then, and I’m definitely not okay doing same thing over and over or performing tasks which can be automated, now. So, if anything, for me this should be a dream come true. But now that we’re here, something seems off.
Yes, drudgery in work is not something we humans should put ourselves in. In today’s world, a big chunk of workforce globally is involved in kind of work they shouldn’t be doing (copy-pasting stuff, filling up forms, etc. to name a few). However, there is a joy in process of doing certain things which simply cannot or should not be automated. I can always get a wall in my room painted but painting it by myself is what I enjoy doing. A digital equivalent for that could be writing a blog like this. It involves a lot of work which includes me jotting my thoughts down, reading about related topics and what other people have to say, structuring, composing, writing and refining in multiple iterations before calling it publish ready. Can some of this be automated? definitely. In fact, entire writeup can be generated as a response to a prompt on ChatGPT. But is that my voice? No. Will I enjoy writing like that? Not sure.
We all have seen mesmerising videos of artisans and craft-persons putting their heart and soul in their work and doing amazing things. We keep on hearing stories about people who have spent their entire lives mastering their craft — ikigai. It’s not that they needed a lifetime to hone their skills, but it was an unwavering passion and a pursuit of perfection which kept them going. I’ve at times found solace in moving pixels to perfection, experimenting with colours, shadows and typefaces. Even as a student, I remember rendering my architectural project presentations manually, adding that texture, creating perfect shade for tree. Did it matter — maybe not, was it repetitive — yes, but did I enjoy doing that, sometimes yes. Not just for enjoyment, this was important to hone the craft and get into depth of it. Once you’re really immersed in details is when you understand the actual picture and question yourself if we can do it better.
In past few weeks, I’m trying not to overthink what does this relentless pursuit of efficiency means for all of us. Moment I start to draw, I get reminded that there’s an AI tool which can do it way better than me in time I need to make my first stroke. I wrote a prose for someone and got asked if this was AI generated or not.
I get it that we want AI to take up boring, mundane and repetitive tasks so we as humans get more time to do what we enjoy doing. But a world where AI seems to be competing against real skills and craft developed over years of efforts, we need to stop and ask if in pursuit of efficiency, are we killing the joy out of work.