This morning, I watched an ad on TV for a new Master Vintner at a winery – IBM Watson, a super-computer – which will replace the people that make the wine now. Two days ago, Elon Musk was talking to a conference of US Governors about the dangers of unregulated Artificial Intelligence; which is more commonly called “Machine Learning.”
These made me realize that a new world of automated audio and video editing will soon be upon us. In fact, I’ve seen a variety of tests over the past 18 months that leads me to believe automated editing will be a common reality in two years or less.
Naturally, this new technology – like all technology – will be pitched as a “time-saving device” for today’s overworked editors. And, while that’s true, the Law of Unintended Consequences also says that this new automated editing technology will put lots of us out of work. Probably lots and lots of us. And that’s scary.
The Law of Unintended Consequences says that this new
automated editing technology will put lots of us out of work.
Because much of the editing that most of us do isn’t high-end story-telling requiring a high-degree of craft. It’s illustrating a talking head, creating a text video for social media, or editing highlights of a sporting event. And these tasks are easier to automate than story-telling.
Developers are rushing to create these new automated tools because this new technology is exciting and truly promises to revolutionize editing; and, like the rest of us, developers need to eat. But, as editors, we are on the other side of the coin. If we are not careful, we’ll find ourselves on the outside looking in.
Now, I’m not suggesting we rail against technology and burn our computers. First, because it’s pointless; complaining about technological change is as old as humanity and tech hasn’t slowed down yet. Second, because complaining misses the bigger point: if we know this tectonic shift is coming, then we need to start preparing for it today. The worst time to plan ahead is when you are out of work with a mortgage looming.
In the past, I’ve written that we need to improve our story-telling skills. But, I realized this morning that story-telling is not sufficient, because many of the videos we create are not, strictly-speaking, stories. Instead, they are illustrations. As I thought further about this, I realized that there are five things we can do to guard against becoming obsolete.
The worst time to plan ahead is when you are
out of work with a mortgage looming.
First, it is said that people skills are 50% of the skill set of an editor. That has never been more true that today. What will preserve our jobs going forward is not our story-telling, but our humanity. The one thing people will always do better than machines is build relationships. This means that we need to put a renewed focus on finding, keeping and growing our clients.
Second, take a close look at the finance side of your business. What’s profitable, what’s not profitable? What’s growing, what’s falling into disuse? Everyone is different, but if you don’t know, deep down, where your money is coming from, now is precisely the right time to figure this out. Lean days are coming – start thinking today about what you need to keep and what you need to let go.
Third, stay on top of technology – and not just the professional video space. The software that threatens us is coming from consumer software and mobile devices. Consumers want faster ways to edit their iPhone videos. At a certain level, video is video. If it works on a mobile device, it will fairly soon migrate up into the professional level. We only need to look back to 1999 – 2000 and track what the introduction of DV video did to our industry to see the impact of a “consumer” format on the “professional” industry.
Fourth, don’t be content with your current products and services. Talk with your clients and customers to discover what new products, new services, or new approaches they want. There is nothing scarier than asking a client: “What do you need that I’m not currently providing?” or “What can I do better?” But, out of that conversation will come ideas that you may not have thought about before. Our industry is in a constant state of re-invention. Have the courage to apply some of that reinvention to ourselves.
Fifth, when Apple introduced Final Cut Pro X to howls of dismay from many, the problem wasn’t simply how different FCP X was from FCP 7. The bigger problem was that we, as editors, were defining ourselves by the tools we use, not the results we created. We proudly walked around saying: “I’m an Avid editor,” or “I’m a Final Cut editor.” As those tools evolved, as they must, our view of who we are became threatened.
We can’t do this to ourselves again. Don’t define yourself by your tools. Don’t define yourself by your workflow. Define yourself by your results and the benefits you deliver for your clients. Tools change. Workflows change. We need to create the flexibility in our mind and our skills to change with them, without redefining who we are in the process.
Don’t define yourself by your tools. Don’t define yourself by your workflow. Define yourself by your results and the benefits you deliver for your clients.
I’m not saying the sky is falling. And I’m certainly not saying we are doomed. But I am saying we are about to undergo massive changes in what is already a complex and challenging industry. Consider yourself warned and start to become prepared:
The last fifteen years have been exciting, scary, challenging and fast-paced. The next five years will be worse. Don’t spend your time looking at your feet as you move forward. Look up and make sure the road you are on is the right one.
This is an important discussion, and, if you agree, please share it with your friends. And, as always, I’m interested in your opinions.
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