April 12, 2023


In 1901, Melville Clark invented the player piano. 51 years later Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Player Piano depicts a dystopian future in which nearly all jobs have been automated and mechanized leading to a class-based society in which the engineers are at the top and the unemployed masses are disempowered and malcontent.

There’s also the old story, however true, of the origin of the word “sabotage” said to be based off of the French field worker’s anger at forced mechanization when they deliberately destroyed by kicking or throwing shoes (sabots) into the agricultural machines of their employers.

These two stories feel acutely relevant as the steady stream of AI related articles presents itself on news outlets and in media feeds. In the book, there’s a sub-story of a fairly insignificant character, a barber, who’s so fixated and racked with anxiety about mechanization that he needs to constantly prove to himself, and the world, that his profession could never be mechanized. In the end he’s the engineer of his own demise– his constant toiling leads him to developing the machine that wipes out his entire profession.

Social House experimented and wrote an article with Chat GPT in our last newsletter. To my relief- it was our poorest performing piece. In fact, engagement was so low it prompted this assignment for me, a human, to write about it and touch on the latest wave of the ‘obsolescence via automation’ conversation.

Revisiting the Vonnegut story facts for this piece I was reminded that in Player Piano the ‘great automation’ occurred as a result of a devastating war during which society needed to automate all the jobs at home while the humans went to war. Yes, you read that right. It immediately smacked of the similar sentiment I read over the last month on social media ‘why are we training robots to make art and write poetry while we out here breaking our backs.’ A worthwhile question.

AI and automation are everywhere. Robots in Hollywood are delivering food and modern fast food lobbies make it so you barely have to interact with another human on a Big Mac run. In these cases, most of the jobs replaced have been deemed “low level”: courier, retail attendant, fast food cashier, farm hand, etc. But, much like the barber, what are we writers, art directors, and creative-marketers to do? How are we to feel as Chat GPT and DALL-E are being used to create Superbowl commercials and co-opting classic works of art into ads?

Before I go throwing my Vans into the gears of AI art generators and chat bots, I’m interested to see how the courts weigh in on things like Intellectual property and copyrights. (You can read a bit about it here, here, and here.) New tools and technologies always bring waves of change for better or for worse (or for both). Marketing, advertising, and creativity are already feeling some of the anxieties and benefits of it. But, being a consumer-focused advertiser I’m curious to see how consumer’s demands and preferences evolve with the influx of AI in marketing. For every wave there is a counter-wave. We, as storytellers and cultural connectors between brands and their followers, need to meet those needs and expectations to really land and connect with audiences. For now I think cultural languages, norms, and trends might be moving a bit faster than AI can learn and react. I hope.

- Jessae Brown - Creative Director