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How AI is disrupting one profession: ‘A lot of people will lose their jobs’

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Kelley Donner sees both the promise and the peril of artificial intelligence. But she’s seen a lot more of the latter recently — and now she fears for her profession.

“Amazing as AI is, it is wreaking havoc on the illustration industry, and illustrators have a lot to be angry about,” says Donner, a children’s book author and illustrator based in Munich, Germany. And AI is a problem that “could get much worse,” she says.

“A lot of people will lose their jobs,” Donner says. “Our industry is already flooded with wannabes who are presenting themselves as professionals and trying to push illustrations using AI.”

For book illustrators like Donner, AI is a growing source of disruption in a profession already struggling with low margins and tight competition.

In a statement, Association of Illustrators puts it bluntly: “The AOI does not currently intend to promote AI-generated artwork, and works produced using AI text-to-image generating software are not currently eligible to be entered into the World Illustration Awards.”

Anti-AI sentiment has been the No. 1 topic for months on a Facebook
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forum called Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators: Publishing, Marketing, and Selling, says Jay Miletsky, who runs the 65,000-member group.

“There is a tremendous amount of negative feedback. It’s almost overwhelming,” Miletsky says. “Artists want to ban any AI-related illustration or manuscript on the forum.”

He adds: “They are convinced it is going to ruin a low-margin industry and make it even harder to make a living. It is a legitimate concern.”

AI’s devastating impact on industries

Illustrators aren’t the only people who fear that AI has the potential to marginalize them. It’s a common refrain among white-collar professionals.

Kristin Tate, an analyst with Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian student activism organization, says that the so-called laptop class — including writers, human resource officers, lawyers, artists and even coders — will increasingly be replaced by AI. Conversely, she says, blue-collar workers will enjoy greater job security.

AI contributed to nearly 4,000 job losses in May, according to data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas released in June. That was the first time AI was included in the Challenger report.

The job cuts come as businesses waste no time adopting advanced AI technology to automate a range of tasks — including creative work, such as writing, as well as administrative and clerical work.

AI could eventually replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs, according to a Goldman Sachs report published in March.

Nearly a quarter of workers (24%) fear AI will make their job obsolete, led by workers of color, those who are younger and lower-salaried employees, according to a recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey. Among workers in advertising and marketing and in business support and logistics, 46% are worried about AI displacing them.  

Inevitably, all workers may have no choice but to learn to use AI as it grows into a more than $1 trillion industry fueled by technological advancements. That became apparent last fall with the launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT bot, as a report by Bloomberg Intelligence analysts shows.

The CNBC survey found that a majority of workers do not currently use ChatGPT.

Can creatives stay in control?

Some book illustrators are willing to weigh the good and the bad that AI will bring, with a nod toward history.

When digital cameras hit the market, many people felt photographers were cheating by using the new technology. But a human still needs to aim and click, says Tita Berredo, a freelance children’s book illustrator based in the British Isles. “There is a human behind the artwork. AI is like a digital slave,” she says.

“I don’t feel threatened yet,” Berredo says. “But the day a publisher decides not to hire me because they can use AI to reproduce something exactly like my artwork and style, I will.”

Adds illustrator Christian Darkin: “Clearly, fear is one justifiable instant reaction. The world is about to change forever and in ways we cannot predict. However, we should be excited, too. We are the creatives, and it is our job to shape the change.”

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