Hope and Fear: the New Industrial Revolution of Generative AI is here

Richard W. DeVaul
11 min readMay 16, 2023

Three years ago I wrote an essay on the future of AI — I warned that huge changes were coming and that nobody was ready. Now, those changes (and a lot more) are here. And despite all of the hype, I believe we are still drastically underestimating the impact of generative AI; Nothing less than a second industrial revolution is at hand, with all of the promise and disruption that entails.

Introduction

In 2020, I wrote an essay titled “Deepfakes Mean the End of Shared Reality, and Nobody is Ready,” highlighting some of the scary and (at that time) largely unanticipated threats posed by advanced AI. The essay didn't get much traction, I think because at the time it was seen as too far-fetched.

Boy, what a difference a few years make. That “far-fetched” future is here with a vengeance. In case you’ve been asleep for the last six months, here are some examples:

Midjourney and stable diffusion enable the creation of promptographs (text-prompted, AI-created images) that are indistinguishable from real photographs. AI music tools are being used to create hits (e.g., AI-generated Drake and The Weekend’s “Heart on my Sleeve”) that copy the vocal style and production of real artists. LLMs (Large Language Models) and Generative Pretrained Transformers (GPTs) are writing code and content that rival skilled human experts.

And as I predicted, this is already creating real economic disruption as well as raising larger philosophical, ethical, and legal questions.

We are just at the beginning of something huge and scary and amazing — a second Industrial Revolution powered by artificial intelligence. What does it mean, and what should we do now?

The Dawn of Creative Empowerment and Amplified Production

A baroque-style painting depicting an epic struggle between Jesus, a Jedi, and Darth Vader, as generated in collaboration with Stable Diffusion

Let’s start with some positives: The explosion of generative AI, represented by technologies like GPT, has democratized the creative process like nothing that has come before. Want to create an image of an epic lightsaber battle between Jesus and Darth Vader in the style of a Baroque religious painting?

In the past, you could become a skilled artist — that takes a decade — and do…

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Richard W. DeVaul

Founder, mad scientist, moonshot launcher. Writes on innovation, entrepreneurship, and social/queer issues. ex-CTO of Google X. @rdevaul on twitter