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The Art of Work: Valuing Time in the Age of AI

As artificial intelligence goes mainstream, what happens to human dignity, time, and value?

By Addison HornerPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 5 min read
Top Story - June 2024
The Art of Work: Valuing Time in the Age of AI
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

Artificial intelligence isn't going away.

You might be excited about that. You might be anxious. Whatever you're feeling, though, AI has become a permanent fixture in our society. As long as there's profit to be made, advancements in AI will shape the next wave of technology.

As a fiction author and editor, I have a front-row seat to the creative community's collective despair over AI. When algorithms can fix grammar, edit story structure, and even craft whole novels in a matter of hours, writers and artists can become leery about the future of creative work.

Not everyone feels that way, however. Some creators are heralding AI as a valuable tool to assist them in their art, while others are leaning wholeheartedly into AI replacements for human efforts.

In reading about authors who use AI for cover/character art, I have somewhat of a hot take that comes with a side of nuance:

“The act of spending time on artwork doesn’t qualify you to get paid for it.”

I probably don’t mean what you think I mean. Hear me out.

The Backstory and The Backlash

Recently, an author posted on Threads about spending several hours of her time to generate AI images for a book cover. Her reasoning was twofold: she needed a quick turnaround, and she didn’t expect the profits from the upcoming promotion to cover new artwork.

She mentioned that her time was an investment: “my time does have value, no?”

Because this is the Internet, many of the responses were downright caustic. How dare this author use AI for creative purposes? My feed was flooded with bold statements about how these authors would never use something as despicable as AI.

Other users scried the original poster's screenshots with the dedication of a biblical scholar or a Taylor Swift fan. They noticed a ChatGPT tab open on the poster's Internet browser and immediately assumed she was using AI to write her novel. One Threads user went so far as to say something to this effect: "If you use AI to make your book's cover, I'll assume you used AI to write your entire book."

(There's a saying about assumptions, but I can't quite remember how it goes. Maybe ChatGPT can find it for me.)

The battle lines on responsible use of AI have been drawn (roughly, in sidewalk chalk, half an hour before a summer rainstorm) along the border of techies and artists. The tech world generally supports the development and spread of AI, while the creative world tends to decry the dangers of intellectual theft and devaluation of art. (Like I said—very rough lines here, with lots of gray in the intersection.)

So, who's right?

If you're looking for a straightforward answer . . . keep looking.

The Art of Work

Let's get back to that hot take; maybe it's cooled enough to touch by now.

“The act of spending time on artwork doesn’t qualify you to get paid for it.”

Nope, still toasty.

I'll start with a few simple statements.

  1. Art is valuable.
  2. Time is valuable.
  3. Humans are valuable.

If we can agree on those ideas, we can have this conversation.

The unfortunate author who posted about her AI experience argued that her time spent training an image generator was valuable. And I agree!

Time is valuable. But in a money-driven society, our minds can associate "value" with "compensation" as if they're synonyms. They're not, and they shouldn't be.

Do artists deserve to be compensated for their work? Yes-ish. Here's what I mean.

I wrote a fantasy novel. I'm pretty proud of it. It's garnered a few hundred purchases and a few dozen reviews across the Internet, and I'm getting ready to launch the sequel.

But if I write and self-publish a book that no one reads, do I deserve to get paid? No.

Does that mean I'm an awful writer? Does that mean the book is trash? Does that mean my time and work had no value? No, no, and no.

The act of spending time on something doesn’t merit getting paid, and that’s a good thing. Because human value and worth aren’t tied to what we do or how much money we make. That’s capitalistic thinking.

If I put a book up for sale and someone buys it, do I deserve to get paid? Yes!

When I work with writing clients or sell eBooks online or sell paperbacks at author events, I'm exchanging a good or service for payment. The customer and I agree on the terms and part ways as satisfied individuals.

The problem with AI art creation programs, to use the present example, is that the humans behind them don't pay for the art they're scraping for inspiration.

That's theft. And using those art creation programs is supporting and enabling that theft to a certain degree.

Thanks to Amazon, Canva, and free word processors, anyone who wants to can write a novel and publish it with a cover for free. The barrier is lower than it's ever been.

And yes, that novel might not have the spit-and-polish of a professionally designed cover or a certified editor, which means it may have a hard time competing with other books. It will likely never reach a bestseller's list or sell a million copies.

That's okay.

Putting in the time doesn't merit commercial success. That's a big, chunky pill that tastes like chalk dust, but we gotta swallow it.

Stealing because you can’t or won’t pay for something is wrong. There are lots of broader societal implications for what I’m saying, but for now, I’ll stick to the topic at hand.

“Because I want to make money” is not a valid reason to justify theft.

Humans are worth so much more than that.

The Other Shoe

You may be leaning toward one of two extreme reactions as you read this:

  1. "Great. Another AI naysayer who wants online validation for his self-righteous ranting."
  2. "He's so right. AI is going to be the death of human flourishing."

In the online spaces I occupy, I see much more of the latter than the former. But, as in all things, the truth is more complicated than that.

Artificial intelligence is not evil. Yeah, we've all seen Terminator. Yeah, we've all seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day. And yeah, we all faintly remember hearing about Terminator: Dark Fate.

But, like the wheel and the World Wide Web, AI is a tool created by humans, for humans. And it will always be defined by how we use it.

I'm no tech expert. ("Really?" you say, sarcastically. "Could've fooled me.") But I have seen people discussing the ways AI can improve society. And there's hope for implementing AI as something more than a bot who writes pizza recipes featuring an eighth-cup of glue.

Art is valuable. Time is valuable. And, above both of those things, humans are valuable. As AI develops in sophistication and usability, our challenge is to use it in a way that honors human dignity, human work, and human art.

If you want to read more, I posted about this on Threads. You can also follow me on Instagram and check out my newsletter, where I write about being a debut author and debut dad most Fridays.

And no, I didn't use AI to write this article. But it was a heck of a lot easier thanks to the Internet and the laptop computer. Today, I'm thankful someone decided to invent those tools.

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About the Creator

Addison Horner

I love fantasy epics, action thrillers, and those blurbs about farmers on boxes of organic mac and cheese. MARROW AND SOUL (YA fantasy) available February 5, 2024.

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Comments (8)

  • Mike Singleton 🌜 Mikeydred 🌛14 days ago

    Hi we are featuring your excellent Top Story in our Community Adventure Thread in The Vocal Social Society on Facebook and would love for you to join us there

  • Congratulations on having your story featured as a top story on Vocal! This is a remarkable achievement, and it's clear why your work has received such recognition. Your storytelling is truly exceptional. The narrative was not only compelling but also beautifully crafted, holding my attention from start to finish. The way you developed the characters and plot was masterful, making the story both engaging and thought-provoking. Your unique voice and perspective shine through, setting your work apart. It’s evident that you poured a lot of passion and effort into this piece, and it has certainly paid off. I look forward to reading more of your incredible stories in the future. Keep up the fantastic work! Best regards, Dr. Jay

  • Isaac Shapiabout a month ago

    Wow awesome content, I like the flow of the story.

  • Kathy Tsoukalasabout a month ago

    I feel like AI can be a great time saver and really help enhance our creativity. However, the technology is new and we need to be careful how we use it. To inspire ideas, brainstorm, etc I think it's wonderful.

  • Nathal Nortanabout a month ago

    AI I believe has come to stay, for us to really maintain the genuine way of creativity in the realm where we use our mind in creating content online, the internet must have a way of deciphering Ai content from content created genuinely by natural human creativity. Until then, value will be passed on to bot created content as against content created by real humans. If we choose to tow on the route where everything is accepted and accorded the same value, whether Ai generated or humans, then the value of spending time and effort to create real content will be a thing of the past.

  • Sarah Glassabout a month ago

    I love the way you write, Addison! And I remember seeing that post on Threads. It certainly created quite a stir in the community. While I tend to wince at the use of AI art, I do utilize AI like Chatgpt when I'm struggling with phrasing something my mind has gone blank on. It's saved me a lot of time and frustration! I certianly could never see myself using it to write a full length novel haha Like you said, it's a tool defined by how we use it to honor human work.

  • TahimaAniabout a month ago

    good

  • Caroline Cravenabout a month ago

    Such a great article Addison. I think I would rather not sell anything knowing that I’d written it myself rather relying on machines and AI to produce my work.

Addison HornerWritten by Addison Horner

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