If you haven’t been living under a rock in the past couple of weeks you must have caught a glimpse of a groundbreaking piece of technology that seems to generate any kind of text, on demand, and to astoundingly high levels of accuracy and precision.
This caused a massive wave of posts on the possible impacts on our work as educators and, especially, writers. To that, I would like to add a ripple. How can we thrive in a world where AI can write excellent texts that closely follow the input, or briefing, given by a human? I’d like to call upon the works of Hannah Arendt to help us analyze this further.
According to Arendt, human labor can be subdivided into two main categories. Work that is done for survival and often in a relatively de-personalized way and work that is done as an extension of its author.
These two works take different words in Portuguese: Trabalho and Obra, whereas in English we use work for both of them. For example, This is where I work as an editor and This is a work of art by Anita Malfatti. In Portguese, we would use Aqui é onde eu trabalho como editor and Essa é uma obra de arte da Anita Malfatti.
Trabalho can be seen here as a somewhat repetitive action, with little to no personality of its doer. The word trabalho comes from the Latin word Tripalium, an instrument used to punish and torture, oftentimes used by the individual as self-flagellation to make sure the carnal desires of the body did not interfere with the purity of the soul. This is the work that might as well be done by anyone capable of performing it and the consumers of this wouldn’t mind nor notice the difference. I’ll be using work in this article to describe this kind of human activity.
Obra is the Work that is done that is unique and dependent on its author. When we talk about famous Works of art, for example, the author is as important as the Work itself. The lyrics and melody of Bejeweled are equally important to the listeners as knowing that Taylor Swift wrote it. The Work is valued for having the author’s personality, style, and life. This is the Work one does as an extension of the self. It allows the author to export themselves to other people. In this article, Work.
Alright, but what does that have to do with ChatGPT?
My point is that I believe ChatGPT poses a threat to work, but not to Work. The way I see it, ghostwriters and writers who perform work that does not allow them to personalize their production and go from work to Work might face a shortage of demand in a near future. Unfortunately, these seem to be the majority of writers, those who are yet to make a name in the market and create demand for themselves.
On the other hand, authors who have managed to rise and make a name for themselves might see an increase in demand. When the hullabaloo of ChatGPT is gone and the dust settles, I believe we might see a strong comeback of humanized authoring. Speaking from my very own perspective, most of the time I buy books I go for authors, not only content. I love everything that Penny Ur, Isabela Villas Boas, Vinnie Nobre, and Scott Thornbury have written, and I’m buying their new Works as soon as they publish them. It’s not about the content, it’s about who wrote it.
The future, as I see it as a poorly developed fortune teller, seems to be one where AI will be doing the work, and we, the Work. Think about it. 20 works of art by Lensa AI can be bought for 20 bucks.
How much is a single piece by Kahlo?