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Helen Todd is co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared and the human behind Creativity Squared.
John du Pre Gauntt is the founder and host of Culture & Code, a B2B podcast and newsletter focused on Generative Artificial Intelligence for Creative Professionals.

E30. John du Pre Gauntt: ChatGPT 1-Year Anniversary

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E30. The A.I. Rollercoaster Ride: ChatGPT 1-Year Anniversary, OpenAI Chaos & the Magic of GenAI with Culture & Code Host John du Pre Gauntt

On the thirtieth episode of Creativity Squared, we look back at the rollercoaster inaugural year of wide-scale generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) and imagine what next year might bring us with audio sci-fi director, podcaster, and technology analyst John du Pre Gauntt. 

John is the founder and host of Culture & Code, a B2B podcast and newsletter focused on generative artificial intelligence for creative professionals. He is also the creator of Burner Face, an award-winning sci-fi audio narrative in the subgenre of design fiction. 

John dove head-first into the A.I. conversation in 2016 by launching the podcast, Augmented Cities, a non-fiction show exploring emerging technology such as A.I. and self-driving cars through the lens of urban living. Augmented Cities has been featured at SXSW, The Infinity Festival, and LA CoMotion. 

This isn’t John’s first ride over a wave of transformative technology. Over the past two decades, his analysis of emerging tech such as cloud computing and social media has earned him bylines with the Economist Intelligence Unit, GigaOm, and eMarketer.

Our conversation in this episode is a time capsule marking where we are on the one-year anniversary of ChatGPT. John expands on  his takeaways from year one of GenAI models fully out in the wild, what developers are getting wrong, how content and creators will need to adapt to the new paradigm, and creatives’ delicate position along the path to widespread A.I. adoption. 


John says he got into podcasting because of where he comes from and where he thinks the world is going. 

“I come from East Tennessee, we grew up around people that we call characters, people who could spin a good yarn. And I realized, oral storytelling might actually be having a renaissance.”

John du Pre Gauntt

He expects within the near future that audio content will be more compatible with a “heads-up, hands-free” lifestyle, which seems to be the direction that human-computer interaction is headed. John attributes that to us being natural storytellers and the history of culture evolving through oral narratives. 

Through his work on Augmented Cities, John reached the conclusion that, whether the topic is transportation or healthcare, the throughline is storytelling. Just as importantly, John realized that A.I. will dramatically change how we tell stories and interact with them. The inspiration to launch Culture and Code grew out of his desire to communicate those two conclusions to audiences in a way that’s tangible, but more importantly, actionable. 

Not only did John start a podcast to help creative professionals navigate the uncharted waters of working with A.I., he also produced, directed, and narrated a 5-episode sci-fi audio narrative series called Burner Face to show how it might be done. The series is set in what remains of Seattle circa 2121, where humans live with the severe consequences of long term climate change. Existing tech such as facial recognition (Burner Face is a play on “burner phone”), A.I., and synthetically augmented humans are part of the story, but aren’t the focus. John says that he wrote the story deliberately to center human challenges against the backdrop of the natural and synthetic realities they  create. 

Burner Face is an audio experience featuring 25 voice actors and eight A.I.-generated voices. John produced the story in 2021, without the benefit of life-like voice clones. But the limits of the technology factored into the substance of the storyline. John edited the script so that the characters voiced by A.I. were explicitly written as synthetic entities. 

“All the synthetic text-to-voice sounded kind of like the Cylons from old Battlestar Galactica. And we decided to turn that into a virtue and say, well, then we have to dramatically depict the character as synthetic. Ah, okay, look at how we’re making editorial decisions.”

 John du Pre Gauntt

And as A.I. becomes a more consistent contributor, John says that the world should be watching the creator economy for early signs of how A.I. may eventually impact other industries. 

Canaries in the Coal Mine

Earlier this month, OpenAI held its first DevDay conference to unveil new products including customizable GPTs. When applications for attendance went live, John told the organizers that they needed him there. 

“I just simply wrote, ‘I am a podcaster trying to humanize A.I. through the power of storytelling and you NEED people like me at this meeting.”

 John du Pre Gauntt

John got the opportunity to attend, and shared his takeaways on Creativity Squared. Among them, he was surprised at the lack of content creators in attendance — it was him alongside Creativity Squared guest Chad Nelson, and disappointed that presenters spent more time on the technical specifications of their products instead of imaginative new use cases. 

Among throngs of professional journalists, John said he and only a handful of others in attendance were there because they use A.I. to make content. Yet, he says creators are the ones who ultimately transform new technology into part of everyday life. On the other hand, creative professionals are also among the first to go when production technology becomes more efficient. 

“We’re the canaries in the coal mine for what’s going to happen to the rest of the service economy as A.I. ripples across.” 

 John du Pre Gauntt

Listening to presentations at the conference, John tells us he was also struck by the amount of time spent on highlighting the scale and efficiency of their model. He says those might not be the right questions to ask. He says that’s like a person with a shovel worrying about how they’ll retrain to be able to compete with the steam shovel; there is no competition. So instead of thinking about how A.I. changes the rules of the game, we need to spend more time thinking about how the game itself has changed. 

Stumbling Backwards into the Future

John shared his thoughts and reactions with Creativity Squared about how A.I. will impact our cultural and civil institutions. 

Regardless of the deal’s specifics, John says that Hollywood actors’ and writers’ battles against studios to limit the use of A.I. in film production was a fight that needed to take place in the open. He credited the U.S. Copyright Office’s decision earlier this year for helping break the strike by making it clear to studios that they would get no intellectual property rights (which means no profits) from works produced entirely by machine. Still, John says that those working in Hollywood should be prepared to adapt to the inevitable changes coming. 

“It’s not time to declare victory and just go back to work. Hollywood’s changed. There’s no going back. It’s a new normal. Well, not even normal. It’s just new.”

 John du Pre Gauntt

Like many, John also expresses concern about how A.I. and social media will impact civic life. He predicts that voters next year will experience campaign targeting at a level of granularity never seen before. Instead of customizing messaging by age group, gender, or geographic region, A.I. will enable campaign marketers to tailor a hyper-individualized message for everyone on their list. 

“Now it’s not going to be so much like Big Brother, as it’s going to be like Boss Tweed. You can create a true political machine around A.I. Why? Because you’re able to tell that story in a way that resonates at the individual level.”

 John du Pre Gauntt

However, John points out that the same capability could be a force for good in education by tailoring instruction to address each student’s unique needs.

John thinks A.I. will be a disruptive force in the music industry, benefitting musicians by expanding access for those who have an idea but lack the technical skill to bring it to life. Despite the walls of complexity and exclusivity that the recording industry has built around itself, John reminds us that it’s only as old as the 20th Century. Since the dawn of humanity, humans have been making music.  

Returning to the art of storytelling, John says that he’ll be excited to see A.I.-generated images and videos get better than the “fashion magazine cover” pictures and short animations we’ve seen from A.I. models so far. But more so, he’s excited to see if A.I. can move the needle on how humans share stories at a fundamental level. 

“What I’m looking for, especially next year, are people who can use artificial intelligence to actually improve a narrative arc, because storytelling is much of the way that we program our culture.”

 John du Pre Gauntt

John sees Burner Face as an early entrant in the canon of throwing A.I.-enhanced art at the wall and seeing what sticks, like radio broadcasters looking into a motion picture camera for the first time. He teased a possible continuation of that theme at South by Southwest 2024, sharing that he’s working on a unique visual layer that makes sense accompanying a podcast. 

Channeling our Inner Cave Painter

While A.I. caught the spotlight this year, augmented reality made big leaps as well this year with the Meta Quest 3 and the announcement of Apple’s Vision Pro. 

John says that he thinks that A.I. in combination with the internet of things will bring us back in touch with our distant ancestors who, some experts believe, left behind many more expressive symbols of culture than survived the ages. The way that modern computing is playing out, there is no monolithic A.I. superbrain. Rather, we have distributed computer chips throughout our entire world so we now live in a “planet-sized” computer. In that world, where A.I. allows us to practically cast spells to conjure content, John says humans will reconnect with the urge to express an idea artistically at any given moment. 

“With these tools, we have a much higher fidelity way of taking what’s in our head and giving it some kind of tangible form at a much closer level. We can communicate so much more richly now, and I can’t help but think that’s an improvement.”

 John du Pre Gauntt

And as we strap in for another year on the A.I. rollercoaster, John’s parting advice is to keep an eye on what’s happening in the creative space for signs of how A.I. might affect you. 

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Thank you, John, for being our guest on Creativity Squared. 

This show is produced and made possible by the team at PLAY Audio Agency: https://playaudioagency.com.  

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