Om Malik is a partner at True Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based early-stage venture capital group. Prior to joining True, he was the founder of Gigaom, a pioneering technology blog and media company.
I have spent most of my past week playing around with Adobe’s new “Generative Fill” technology, which is very much like AI programs such as Dall-E and Midjourney that can create pictures based on written text, except that it works within the confines of Adobe’s Photoshop. You can type a phrase, such as “place a tree in the background,” and the program does it quickly and accurately.
As a photographer, I primarily use Photoshop to eliminate objects like out-of-focus grass clumps or tree stumps from my images. Even using tools like an editing tablet, drawing careful selections could take as long as an hour. Now, using the “Generative Fill” technology, all I have to do is select what I need to remove and tell Photoshop to erase it. The results are astonishing: fast, accurate, and natural. It is hard to distinguish between the edit and the real image.
Large language models, natural language processing, machine learning, this disparate set of technologies is quickly becoming part of my daily life — they’re my augmented intelligence. Stable Diffusion manipulates images, while the Midjourney server open in the Discord app and helps me create artwork for my blog posts. MacWhisper window takes my voice memos and transcribes them, then Lex. Page, powered by GPT4, turns that disjointed string of text into notes. These open windows on my laptop are a glimpse of what is to come: As the world has become more complex, we desperately need a way to wrangle all the data, streams, and tasks.
Some of the smartest people in technology say they are worried that AI is worse than pandemics and nuclear weapons. What I worry about is not AI extinguishing humans, but our humanity.
Look at how we use navigation apps: We now blindly follow wherever they us, having lost our ability to make independent decisions. No one who has grown up with GPS knows how to get where they’re going without it. And that’s the real risk of this new wave of “AI” — we become more reliant on machines than ourselves.
With machines taking more control over my life, I have taken a few steps to remind myself that I am a person. I have turned to things made by hand. When I look up from the many open windows of my laptop, from the corner of my eyes, I see a leather mousepad, a handmade notebook, a manual wind watch, a bottle of hand-crafted pigment ink to be used with a dip pen with a brass nib. The results of my day are recorded in the notebook. Conversations are succinctly transcribed on paper. And when I am distracted, I take a Q-tip, dip it in ink, and doodle.
Still, I know that despite my efforts, these new augmentation tools will only become an even larger part of my life, and that this digital Hotel California of convenience will be an unavoidable reality for everyone. I already don’t know how not to use Adobe’s Generative Fill, even if it will cost me more money on top of whatever I am paying Adobe already.