When AI Draws the Owl

If you have worked in tech for any period of time, you have probably seen this image:


It is also likely that you have been asked to do this in one form or another. At some point, we all have to draw the owl. We start with a vague idea or set of instructions and have to get to a complete, compelling outcome. It can be hard. It's uncomfortable. And it doesn't always end in a piece of art you want to share with others. But if you find drawing the owl to be too challenging you're in luck! Because we live in a day and age where AI can draw the owl for you.

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Or at least many hope that AI will draw the owl for them. There is novelty and time savings in this, but there is also risk.Sure, AI drew the owl. But it didn't get it 100% right. And we have no idea how it did what it did. We gained some things by automating the task with AI, but we lost some things along the way.

This is not an anti-AI post (I use AI every day for tons of things), but it is a cautious AI post. The world is rushing to put AI into everything. A lot of these areas will be better with AI. But AI everywhere isn't the answer. This strategy risks us losing much of what makes ideas, products, and businesses great. All the messy, hard stuff between Step 1 and Step 2 is what makes things worth doing.

Draw the owl is such an important concept that Twilio holds it as one of their company values. Jeff Lawson, the Founder of Twilio explains, “Yes, it was a meme, but it’s a great representation of our job. There is no instruction book and no one is going to tell us how to do our work,” says Lawson. “It’s now woven into our culture and used as a cheeky, but encouraging reply to those who email colleagues at Twilio asking how to do something. It reminds them that they have — or are empowered to find — the answer. Plus, part of the opportunity and the fun of a startup is figuring it out yourself."

We live in a time where AI can draw the owl. We should be testing it and trying it. Finding the places where it can make things easier for us. And automate away the mundane work we shouldn't be doing. But we shouldn't overdo it. We should be leaving space for us to create and innovate. To discover the steps between Step 1 and Step 2. We need to preserve the opportunity for us to discover and engage, to create things that no machine can do.