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Griffin on Tech: The shadow of AI looms large over SXSW Sydney

Peter Griffin, Editor. 20 October 2023, 10:55 am

Sydney this week kicked off its first SXSW festival, an offshoot of the annual Austin, Texas-based that explores the intersection between music, media and technology.

Sydney has signed on to host SXSW for ten years and this year took over Sydney’s vast International Convention and Exhibitions Centre with a continuous line-up of gigs taking place in front of it.

I’ve been taking in SXSW all week and enjoying the energy of start-up founders, artists, advertisers, and academics all trying to figure out where technology is taking the world. Just about every session I attended featured discussion about generative AI, which was barely known as a term a year ago, but which is poised to disrupt the creative industries.

That was brought home to me when I attended a session featuring Robbie Ferguson, the co-founder of Sydney-based games company Immutable, which has raised US$200 million in funding. Ferguson explained how the company used to spend $1 million a year on artwork for one if its games, employing contractors to deliver the digital art.


AI-generated art

Now Immutable is using the Midjourney AI-generated art platform to create much of the artwork for its trading card game - at a cost of $10,000. The quality of the artwork produced with prompts is so good that it only requires minor tweaks by Immutable before being included in games.

That has huge implications for video game companies to speed up development and to cut costs. But for those artists who shelled out nearly $2,000 for a ticket to SXSW Sydney, it was no doubt a dispiriting wake-up call.

Another session looked at the future of the media, with academics and representatives of News Corp and Outbrain arguing over the extent to which AI will cut humans out of the loop in the news gathering and production process. 

At a sold-out talk, Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker pondered on the future of screenwriting but saw some hope for humanity in a world of AI-powered chatbots. He asked ChatGPT to create a script outline for a Black Mirror episode.

“And as it’s coming through in the first couple of sentences you feel a cold spike of fear, like animal terror,” he told the audience.

“Like I’m being f**king replaced. I’m not even gonna see what it does. I’m gonna jump out the f**king window.”

But as ChatGPT spat out lines of a story, his mood changed.

“Then as it carries on you go, ‘Oh this is boring. I was frightened a sec ago, now I’m bored because this is so derivative.’

AI + humans

Which is how I felt viewing various demos of generative AI at SXSW.

Brooker can’t see AI replacing “messy people”. GenAI assistants will increasingly help us create content and automate mundane tasks. But its output is essentially derivative.

The creativity of humans designing games, writing songs, or hunting down news stories, is more important than ever and is what will differentiate them and keep them in a job as AI advances.

The key theme at SXSW was that it's not a matter of AI replacing humans. Your competition is the savvy creative people who have embraced AI to augment their work and do it more efficiently. We will all need to become AI superusers to stay relevant and competitive as the technology disrupts every industry.


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