Monday, August 6, 2012

Writers and Robots

A few months ago I worked on a 4 minute trailer for a proposed documentary on Raoul Walsh, a director who started in silent movies and continued until the late 1960's. I shot some interviews with the few remaining actors who worked with him and then edited the entire piece for the producer. 

To do this, I work in Final Cut Pro (FCP) which is a Mac-based editing software, one of the top 3 professional editing systems. It took me a year or two just to get the basics but I can manage it fairly well now.

After I finished, I showed it to my director friend who quickly noted something interesting; I had filmed interviews, edited clips of movies, did "pan and scan effects" (zooming and panning within a photo) added music I composed on my iMac and put the titles in. All by myself.

And that's when he broke the bubble.

"You know that you've taken away the jobs from at least 8 people".

It didn't take long to get the message. I had, in fact, taken away those jobs be doing it myself. This would never have happened, even in the 1990's but technology shot ahead and now everyone can edit and play with images.

And what about those people who did the jobs I did alone. They lost their jobs. A company called Lightning Dubs made copies of dvds, videos, everything. They had 3 offices. When I had to make a PAL dub (European standard for DVDs) for a festival in Italy I was surprised to find that they now had one office.

Because of guys like me?

Well, yes.  But I couldn't afford to pay them what I can do for nothing. 

It's a difficult thing to consider, and another example of something that our society doesn't want to deal with; there will never be as many jobs as there used to be, between technology and outsourcing, a lot of jobs will never return. And a lot more are going to be robots.

Except for writers.

There's a lot of things robots can do but there's one thing they can't do. Be original. Robots have to be programmed otherwise they can't do anything. There's a great example of the robot built to compete in Jeopardy, the TV game show. It won over the humans but not because it knew a lot.

Rather because it was fed the information. The difference is like this; If you ask a robot/computer and a human the same question, what ocean is on the west coast, the robot will answer faster but the human will answer with an image in their mind, maybe a holiday on the Pacific, or an evening on a boat. A computer only answers what's fed into it, it doesn't extend it's memory.

The same thing goes for content, meaning material, meaning words and thoughts. The famed Quantum Phsyics author Michio Kaku, said that now and in the future, there is an insatiable appetite for creative art, meaning writing or images or almost anything that is created. In his book, Physics of the Future he says this:

"Novelists, scriptwriters and playwrights will always have jobs since they have to convey human conflicts and triumphs and defeats"

So, as Bill Murray says in Caddyshack, "I got that going for me".

And what's the biggest flaw in computers and robots? Kaku says "common sense". A GPS unit can tell you where to go and how far it is, but it can't tell you how you feel when you see a rainbow on the horizon or a sunset on Pacific Coast Highway or having that great apple pit at a lonely truckstop.

So I guess this means I and all the other writers have some job security. At least for the moment.

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