Chinese workers in the creative industry are facing stiff competition — not from colleagues, but the cutting-edge human-like generative artificial intelligence technology that has been creating a global buzz.
Some companies with jobs relating to creative design and copywriting have already started replacing their employees with machines in a bid to embrace the emerging technology. Last week, Blue Focus, one of the country’s largest marketing agencies, said in an internal email that it would “completely and indefinitely” stop outsourcing some of its creative jobs, aiming to integrate artificial intelligence-generated content into its operations.
The announcement from Blue Focus came just two days after the company gained access to Microsoft Azure OpenAI’s service license, claiming it would be able to use the Generative Pre-trained Transformer 4, or GPT-4, service in sync when the developer is ready. The Shenzhen-listed company’s plans to adopt AI boosted the common stock, raising its value by nearly 56% since early February, but it’s making those working in the creative industry nervous.
For Lin Keke, a 20-something illustrator in the southwestern city of Chengdu, those changes are already having an impact on her career. Earlier in April, she said her hiring manager told her and other colleagues that they were fired. The reason, she said, was clear: While it usually took three to four days for Lin to illustrate, artificial intelligence software generated a similar version in minutes.
“I never thought I would be replaced this quickly,” Lin told Sixth Tone, using a pseudonym for fear of being identified by her employer. “I was killed off by artificial intelligence.”
A new report by investment bank Goldman Sachs said that AI could replace some 300 million full-time jobs globally. In China, AI-related technologies could cut 20% of existing jobs in the next 20 years but could also create additional jobs by boosting productivity and income, according to the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Wu Dongmian, CEO at the Beijing-based marketing agency Goodidea, told Sixth Tone that the management decision to replace humans with machines can be seen as a strategy to increase efficiency and reduce costs amid increasing financial pressures. He added that it signals an AI-driven industrial transformation from a long-term perspective.
“It proves that the tool would be good at supporting or even replacing basic copywriting and illustrating,” Wu said. “It’s progress that people are empowered to spend more energy doing creative work, and more investment is being placed in this field.”
Recent breakthroughs in AI image generation, with the release of programs such as DALL-E 2, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion in 2022, have wowed users with their intelligence and efficiency in producing high-quality visuals. In recent months, applications such as ControlNet have enabled more precise and fine-grained control over images generated in AI programs, while Midjourney showed more promising results with its photorealistic images following its upgrade.
Meanwhile, intelligent chatbots have become public darlings with their incredibly convincing, almost human-like responses to queries and their ability to churn out useful text. Domestically, the surging popularity of OpenAI’s ChatGPT has prompted a number of players, ranging from big tech enterprises to academic departments, to develop or roll out similar language models.
However, the rapid growth of generative AI technologies has triggered widespread concerns among workers in the creative industries, who see it as a threat. On Chinese lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, some users have vented anger and frustration at job descriptions that require applicants to be proficient at using AI content software, while others claimed they’ve been laid off and urged to adjust their career path.
Ma Chi, a marketing communications expert who has over 20 years of experience and now runs his own brand consultancy in the eastern city of Nanjing, said he has been exploring different AI programs for several months and was impressed by their capability. And the technology is likely to take over some jobs.
“Replacements would no longer come solely from counterparts, but from anyone who’s mastered the tool,” Ma told Sixth Tone. “It is almost certain that those only capable of doing basic research, drawing, designing, and 3D modeling work in the advertising industry will be eliminated in the future.”
Amid advancing technologies, many employers are now encouraging their employees to embrace AI generated-content at work, multiple workers with content creation jobs told Sixth Tone. On Thursday, Blue Focus announced that the company would promote a “human plus AI assistant” strategy, adding it would frequently use AI content generation tools from senior management to lower positions.
Wu, the CEO, said that he has already assigned a chief AI officer to train his employees in the copywriting and arts department that accounts for almost two-thirds of the total workforce. He said that “some jobs would be replaced by AI, if it goes as planned.”
Liu Zeming, a Shenzhen-based social media executive, also said he was using the ChatGPT bot as a learning tool and an alternative to search engines. He also used it to generate comments and get recommendations for marketing campaigns, but is skeptical that it would ever come close to human intelligence.
“I’m not concerned about being replaced by those large language models, considering the flaws in their answers,” Liu said. “Their output doesn’t help much and even starts talking nonsense when the chatbot is asked to generate more professional knowledge.”
Ma, the marketing communications veteran, also thinks that, although AI software will eliminate certain jobs, machines would still fall short in hatching innovative ideas and insights, some of the core responsibilities of an advertising agency. But he added that the technology could empower humans in making more efficient decisions.
But for people like Lin, who lost her job to AI, the bots and other technological advances have come as a rude awakening. She first plans to go on a vacation to Yunnan in southwestern China and then start job hunting again. Meanwhile, she has already started learning how to use AI image generators.
“Life still goes on,” she said. “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Umnat Seebuaphan/Getty Creative/VCG)