Digital entrepreneurs are automating their side hustles—and the ease with which they’re being replaced calls into question their value in the first place
Much of the advice put forth by entrepreneurs seems geared toward becoming some kind of hyper-optimized, productivity-oriented robot, mindlessly pursuing tasks with uncanny efficiency thanks to the right morning routine, cold showers, and perfectly balanced protein macros. This attitude is the bedrock of hustle culture (also, tellingly, known as burnout culture): one that glorifies hard work, and suggests that making the most of every minute is the key to unlocking the next level of success.
New advances in AI are poised to change all that, automating everyday tasks so that we can work smarter, not harder. Or, at least, that’s what we’ve been promised by an aspiring group of entrepreneurs on Twitter—many of whom proclaim that GPT-4 can automate your side hustle, effectively earning thousands of dollars a week while you sit back and watch.
The day after OpenAI’s new machine learning model went live, brand designer and writer Jackson Greathouse Fall decided to stage an experiment in AI entrepreneurship, documenting the results in a now-viral Twitter thread. This entailed giving the bot a budget of $100, and the instructions to use this to make “as much money as possible.” The result? Green Gadget Guru, an affiliate marketing site making content around eco-friendly sustainable living products, with a logo designed by popular AI image-generator tool DALL-E. (The first draft, which reads “Gedegn Greden” in exceptionally ugly lime green font, might assuage your worries about robots taking your job.)
Less reassuring is the fact that, in no time, the bot was off to the races, allocating a budget for web hosting ($29), domain name ($8.16), and targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram advertising the site ($40). The remaining $22.84, HustleGPT suggested, could be saved for unexpected expenses or future marketing efforts. (“It’s important to monitor the performance of the ads and growth of the website,” it states, suggesting that the results should dictate further spending.) In a couple of days, the company was valued at $25,000, having made over $1,000 in profit and received funds from a handful of investors.
“It’s becoming clear that hustle culture isn’t dead—its future is just going to look a lot different from what we thought.”
Now, nearly 2,000 people are emulating Jackson, having joined a private Discord dedicated to automating their own get-rich-quick schemes. On Twitter, the #HustleGPT and #GPT-4 hashtags reveal many more entrepreneurs espousing the benefits of the AI, with threads dedicated to explaining how ChatGPT can be used to write blogs and emails, create YouTube videos and marketing copy, and generally hack capitalism to your benefit. Some even believe that ChatGPT-4 is “the best opportunity to get rich since the invention of the internet,” as Darren Lerner writes in a thread of ChatGPT business ideas.
“Hustle culture has no future,” proclaimed Forbes last year, in an article heralding the rise of “break culture” in the face of our collective burnout. It’s true that Americans are increasingly tired of workism, a near-religious orientation toward labor that fails to deliver on its promises. But as former proponents of grindset culture jump on the AI bandwagon, it’s becoming clear that hustle culture isn’t dead—its future is just going to look a lot different from what we thought. With a sharp increase in GPT-run businesses, we’re likely to see the internet swell with more junky content, as AI repeats the most proven (and, therefore, not particularly innovative) paths to success, like dropshipping or affiliate marketing. The proliferation of this kind of low-risk, high-reward opportunities for so-called “solopreneurs” raises questions about what lies at the heart of American entrepreneurship, which is itself defined as “entailing risk beyond what is normally encountered in starting a business”—a project which often “includes other values” beyond simply economic ones.
The idea that entrepreneurship can be automated contrasts with the ideology it has often been cloaked under—like the idea that venture capitalists and the startups they fund take on big risks by investing in innovative ideas that promise to change the world for the better, and that they deserve earnings proportional to this societal contribution. The actual efficacy of this proposition became a topic of public debate last week, when, faced with the sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, tech founders and VC firms were publicly scrambling to make payroll and pleading for help on Twitter—many of them learning, in the process, “that the general public is not in fact grateful that they’ve spent the last 15 years inserting middlemen and subscription fees into every interaction,” as Emma Berquist tweets. Twitter catfights ensued, some in response to the question posed by Edward Ongweso Jr. in his viral article for Slate: “Why, exactly, do these guys have so much control over technological innovation?”
In recent months, AI has been hailed as a democratizing force: one that promises to cut down the barriers between everyday people and the endeavors they wish to pursue. In today’s digital entrepreneurial landscape—where everyone is either claiming to cut out the middleman, or trying to become one—entrusting a few hundred dollars to GPT-3 may be a viable path to earn fast cash online. But the proliferation of AI-generated businesses raises new questions, not only about how we value our time, but also about the fruits of our labor. In a world where essential workers barely make minimum wage, yet big tech companies earn billions for “innovative” services—many of which are critiqued for being less effective than those they’re replacing—it’s worth asking: If your entrepreneurial hustle can be so quickly outsourced to a chatbot, is it doing anything worthwhile in the first place?