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career talk : we have nothing to fear but fear itself illustration: valeriy kachaev

In our last issue we looked at the impact that artificial intelligence might have on the illustration industry. We continue to witness an overwhelming sense of real fear about the prospect of AI replacing the jobs of illustrators. But is it fear, or is it anxiety?

Winston Churchill said it best, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt added, "...the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself— nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. Or as Yoda said, "Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering."

Fear is a natural and normal human experience as there are situations when we rely on fear to keep us out of trouble. But fear can also be debilitating, it can affect our physical health, our memory, our mental health. Fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and impacts our critical thinking and decision-making in negative ways. Fear also weakens our immune system and can cause multiple health issues; it can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death. Fear can impede the formation of long-term memories and cause damage to certain parts of the brain which makes it even more difficult to regulate fear, leaving a person anxious most of the time. To someone in chronic fear, the world looks scary, and their memories confirm it. The consequences of long-term fear include fatigue and clinical depression.

Experts break up fear into two different subtypes: conditioned fear and innate fear. Conditioned fear is the type we acquire through experience, i.e. we may fear water because we had an experience where we nearly drowned. Innate fear doesn’t require learning, no one needs to be taught to fear the sound of a rattlesnake.

“Fear has a clear object and target,” says Arash Javanbakht, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Stress, Trauma, and Anxiety Research Clinic at Wayne State University in Detroit. “So, if someone’s pointing a gun at me, I feel fear.”

There are distinct differences between fear and anxiety. Anxiety is when you’re worried that something bad could happen. As Dr. Javanbakht says, “You’re on high alert, but you’re not in immediate danger.” Anxiety is future-oriented, a concern about future events. Both anxiety and fear are forms of stress. When we feel fear, internal responses make us more likely to fight, freeze or flee—whatever can help neutralize the source of fear. Anxiety is more likely to trigger a state of alertness and risk-assessment. With fear you might feel an increase in heart rate, respiration rate or begin to perspire—this doesn’t have to be life-threatening; it could be as simple as a fear of speaking in front of an audience. Fear becomes unhealthy when it’s not proportional to the events or situations, the same goes for anxiety.

For decades, people have worried about new technology replacing jobs. The term “technological unemployment” was first used by the English economist and philosopher John Maynard Keynes as early as the 1930s. In the mid 1800s, tailors feared the new-fangled sewing machines ending their careers and in the early 1900s, lamplighters went on strike because they would be losing their jobs to the newest tech: electricity. Currently we are facing the most fundamental transformative technologies we’ve seen in the history of mankind. We are facing the unknown. In a recent Harris Poll study, 78% of respondents were concerned that AI can be used for malicious intent, and 82% support government regulation to reduce risks. In addition, 70% want the tech industry to do more to ensure the public is protected. People are anxious about the effects of AI both in their jobs and in their lives. While some of these fears may be unfounded, there are valid reasons why people are apprehensive about the rise of AI. Will it be a situation where it’s AI-gone-bad like HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey” or the more benign C-3PO, and the reliable and versatile R2-D2 from “Star Wars”?

At the same time, today, we seem to be seeking greater meaning from our livelihood and more flexibility in how we approach work. Much as with the advent of the computer we can, if we choose, reimagine the work experience in the new digital landscape. An antidote to anxiety is to realize that whenever humans have faced technological advances, we’ve developed and adapted along with it. When we can recognize what is and isn’t a real threat, relabel an experience and enjoy the thrill of that moment, we are ultimately at a place where we feel in control. That perception of control is vital to how we experience and respond to fear or anxiety.

We should be confident that the idea of original art will not go away. The idea that we can take any tool and create meaningful imagery will not change. We are creative individuals, designing something from nothing, imagining, exploring and wondering—we are the ones best asking the questions in the first place. Technology is a tool and a tool we continue to master. This is not the time to bury our heads in the sand, nor is it a time to be fearful as then we freeze up and lose access to our best thinking and creativity.

Will some illustrators lose their livelihood? Yes, but those at the top of their game will continue to thrive. The onus of AI will raise the bar on the quality of all the work being produced. Those lacking basic drawing skills will fall by the wayside. We’ll have a better educated audience, much like what we see today, where the masses understand what type fonts are, recognize what graphic design is—this was not the case just a few short years ago. Likewise with all the focus on AI-generated art there will be a greater appreciation by the same masses about art and its value. Will AI compete with artists? Yes, but it won’t replace artists. In fact, in some cases it may help solve problems faster or take care of menial tasks or help with more complex visual solutions allowing illustrators the luxury of time to develop the ever-important concept or storyline. Fear not.

Source: All About Fear: How It’s Connected to Health and How to Face the Ones You Have, Markham Heid, October 25, 2022

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