Historically, automation has created more jobs than it has ended. Will AI be different?

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Historically, automation has created more jobs than it has ended. Will AI be different? What about for musicians?

Graphic designers used to literally “cut” and “paste” things with their bare hands (“Graphic Means” / Briar Levit )


In the 1500s, all labor was manual. Then, an enterprising English inventor devised up a way to make stockings, faster.

The new machine was inspired by the loom —a big piece of manual equipment that was used in the middle ages to make tapestries and rugs. It made a huge, rug-sized sheet of stocking material, one that could then be cut and stitched to make a bunch of individual stockings much quicker and cheaper than before.

But trouble was coming.


Centuries later, the Industrial Revolution would streamline and mechanize the production of, well, everything, from goods to crops.

Some people revolted. And you’ve probably heard of them.

Many people still use the word luddite today, usually to describe themselves or others as computer or technology illiterate. But the Luddites were a real group of real people —and they actually have a Hollywood-worthy story.

It was a secret organization. And the 19th century English textile workers who wanted to join had to swear an oath, because the Luddites were radicals, committed to destroying textile machinery.

They were afraid that all the new technologies in factories would make their decades of workshop experience go up in smoke.

So they set fire to the machines.

The Luddites spent five years fighting mechanization, mostly in the English Midlands, before eventually being suppressed by military force. Some Luddites were executed.


And the Luddites actually kept losing for centuries, as industry after industry became more mechanized and automated. Even within industries, machines got better —and smarter.

Carmaking, for instance, really embraced robots in the second half of the 20th century.

First, they did the hard, boring, or dangerous stuff, like welding and spray-painting sheetmetal. Later, robots started doing much more complex, almost artisanal, procedures —like gracefully fitting windshields into car frames.


It may seem hard to believe, but until about 35 years ago, signage, restaurant menus, posters, magazine covers, billboards, and, actually, anything visual, was all designed by hand.

“Cut.” “Copy.” “Paste.” Bruh, those aren’t just another way to say “command C” and “command V.” Cutting, copying and pasting is literally what designers did back in the day. Manually. With their bare hands, using a fine, small blade called an “X-Acto knife,” and an aerosol-ized glue called “Spray Mount.”

In the three decades since then, these tools have all been computerized, simplified, and made more accessible.


But, here’s the thing. Those innovations didn’t end graphic design as a profession. They exploded it outwards, making design generally much more accessible, and more prevalent in our lives.

Nothing illustrates this three decade phenomenon better than Canva, a consumer-level online graphic design app that is thought to have well over a 100m monthly users.

And not only do lot of people use Canva, but Canva also employs a lot of people itself: the company has several thousand employees all over the world.

Meanwhile, the professional design software maker Adobe has tens of thousands of employees, to go along with its tens of millions of professional grade users.

Moral: modern economies are nimble and adaptable.


You ever spend a shift working in an early 19th century factory? No. No one alive has, obviously. But I’m pretty sure it was worse than even the worst information-based job today.

In other words, by and large, the new jobs created off the back of mechanization and automation have been far better than the ones they replaced.

What was once quaintly called “desktop publishing” didn’t end graphic design, it democratized it, making many different levels of output available to many more people and companies. And by the way, high quality, world class design studios also obviously still exist.


There’s a lot of fear and panic around generative AI, especially in the creative industries.

But while they can clearly make art and write copy, all of these AI tools will still need prompters of some kind. And the outputs will still need some sort of collating, ranking, editing, fine tuning, placing, packaging up, and —yep— selling on to other human beings.

I believe that AI will bifurcate knowledge work, not shred it. Today’s coders, copywriters, and content creators will end up having to decide whether they want to be (a) sitting at the controls of an assembly line (ie., making things with generative AI), or (b) sitting at a workbench in an atelier (ie., making things with minimal or even no AI help).

There is room in the market for both types of output.

AI DRAKE HAS entered the chat

I’ve written a lot over the past few weeks about how AI is rewriting the rules of music game, practically daily. Fake Drake and Kanye “soundalikes” are all over the Internet, and labels are powerless because copyright doesn’t seem to explicitly protect an artist’s “sound” or “flow.” Meanwhile, Grimes is working hard to officially monetize the AI generated version of her own voice.

But an intriguing new development this week may be the most significant bit of news on this subject yet.


TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is working on a new app intended “to significantly lower the music creation barrier.”

Clearly, popular AI music making tools already exist. They are what gave us fake AI Drake to begin with.

But none of those tools are seamlessly integrated into the world’s fastest growing app.

ByteDance’s “vision is ‘to significantly lower the music creation barrier and inspire musical creativity and expression.’”

Thing is, amateur music makers are already marveling at how easy AI creation tools make everything: a current app called BandLab says that creators on its service are making an astonishing 500,000 new tracks per day.

Just wait ‘til this tech is embedded into TikTok.


With the coming over abundance of music, today’s professional music makers might have to reinvent themselves as trusted, human, music curators, to help the rest of us make sense of the crush of content, and separate the platinum from the noise.

These pro curators may make money by covering these AI generated songs themselves, or simply playing them, live, in front of a crowd.

In other words, our future musicians might all be cover bands and DJs.

But at least there will be a lot of them.


A short history of jobs and automation »»

TikTok’s parent is working on an AI music app that ‘significantly lowers the music creation barrier’ »»

William Lee devised the first stocking frame knitting machine in 1589, the only one in use for centuries. Its principle of operation remains in use »»

Written by Jon Kallus. Any feedback? Simply reply. Like this? Share it!👇

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