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The only option is assimilation, Pt 1 of 3
“Well it’s very hip to be on the internet right now...” - Bill Gates, 1995
A new way to envision the future…
I have a little secret for you... 9/10 of the guesses you read anywhere on the internet about AI are bullshit. Granted, they may be well-informed bullshit. As a chronic guesser, I’ve positioned myself next to some really incredible builders and thinkers in the AI space to help de-bullshitize my opinions, but still they remain just that: opinions. An educated guess is still a guess, and to that end, I’ve decided to draw a through line from the guessing games of yesterday to those of today.
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Do you remember when the internet first came around? I don’t... but, one of my favorite things in the entire world is seeing old clips of people speculating about what it would do to society back when it first hit the scene. Watch this video with clips of TODAY’s early internet coverage to learn more about how people envisioned the impact the internet would have at its inception:
Most of this is pretty funny, but I really found myself latching onto a line that Katie Couric says towards the end of the video: “I feel like I’m so inundated with information all the time, that I don’t want more.” keep in mind, she was saying this back in 1994. Oh Katie, why didn’t we listen?
I think we can all relate to Katie's sentiment today nearly 30 years later, living in an age where just about all of the information that has ever existed is at our fingertips. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has created a certain chronic mental overload that’s become a hallmark of our digital age - the age of everything... the age of too much. It's a testament to how little we truly understood about the impending transformation that the internet would bring that only a select few voices anticipated where we were heading, while the majority feverishly debated the meaning of the @ symbol and made wildly uninformed guesses about the impact that eliminating the phone book would have on society.
Similarly, when we look at the fervor surrounding AI, we're reminded that history has a funny way of repeating itself. Speculation, predictions, and educated guesses are flying around, many of them as outlandish as those early opinions on the internet. I’ve talked enough times about big tech’s habit of catastrophizing the threat of AI for their own purposes (that article’s linked here for anyone who isn’t familiar), but it’s not just the gatekeepers of tech who are talking this way...
Obviously, Google results are tailored to the user and therefore your autocomplete suggestions will differ from mine, but to see just how widespread the belief that AI will wipe us all out is, simply type “will AI...” into your search bar and see how many entries come up before you get one like my first result “will AI take over the world?”. Generally speaking, one of the guiding rules of the internet is that there will always be a greater volume of opinions than there is factual information to support them, and AI seems to be the topic for which this truism rings the most loudly.
It's tempting (and easy) to latch on to grand proclamations about AI, to make bold statements about how it will revolutionize our world, or conversely, how it might lead to our doom. But what most people leave out in these discussions is that we must maintain our ability to separate fact from speculation, especially when the majority of people commenting on a topic are simply not educated well enough on it to produce a well-informed opinion in the first place.
The builders and thinkers in the AI space are doing incredible things, no doubt. Yet, the truth is that we're still in the early days of this technology. There's a vast frontier of potential applications, challenges, and consequences that we cannot fully comprehend yet. What happens tomorrow is anyone’s guess today...
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t signs. Call them canaries in the coal mine for the future that AI technologies will bring about, or false signals in a sea of noise, but more than a year into the AI revolution, a hazy picture is beginning to form. We’re seeing the systems of the old world clash with the possibilities of the next in the form of heated labor disputes like those currently pressing pause on Hollywood, employees and students secretly using AI tools to get a leg up on the competition, and regulators jockeying for their stab at the prized whale that is AI. We’re watching the AI-powered future of warfare play out in front of us in Ukraine, and witnessing the AI-enabled surveillance states of China and other autocratic countries go mainstream throughout the world. We’re learning more than we ever have about our environment with new data analysis methods and breaking new medical ground daily - creating new antibodies, proteins, medications and more that would have been impossible before the AI revolution.
Professions and whole industries will and already are being made obsolete by AI. Take copywriting for instance... when I first entered the marketing industry, it was on the back of my long writing history. Having written editorial and opinion for my school newspaper, I was experienced with connecting the dots between disparate data points and threading them together with a coherent narrative. I’ve always prided myself on my abilities as a writer and throughout my life it’s probably been the skill that I’ve leaned the heaviest on to advance my career. So, to say that the news of ChatGPT’s success was a mixed bag for me is a bit of an understatement.
On one hand, a major part of being an effective writer for a business is quantity, and boy oh boy are LLMs good at cranking out quantity - so much so that every business under the sun is currently or about to start cranking out as many blogs as humanly possible to try and capitalize on the wave of synthetic content that’s currently building out on the open oceans in preparation for the tsunami to come. On the other... didn’t it mean something that humans created our content before? I mean, you probably wouldn’t be reading this if it was written by a robot right? Humans seek and crave human perspective, and I had always been taught that a disingenuous facsimile of such perspective was the antithesis of good writing. But I suppose in the end it’s never really taste that wins out is it?
Besides, while it’s all well and good for someone like me to pontificate on the philosophical implications of synthetic content, what’s more prescient is the impact that this deluge will have on the writers of tomorrow - if they are to exist at all. And it’s not just copywriters... but screenwriters, reporters, technical writers, columnists, even bloggers. In the case of screenwriters, the damage is apparent. Screenwriter Billy Ray said it best for Mercury News:
““Every other strike was about corporate greed, this is about extinction, We are fighting against our extinction as a class of craftsmen.”
While the fears and voices of professionals like Billy Ray are genuine, and the encroachment of AI on traditional professions is real, the question remains: are we approaching the conversation around AI with the right perspective and enough information?
AI is a tool just as much as it’s a terminator
It's easy to paint AI as a technological villain, wiping out professions and erasing the need for human creativity - eliminating those aspects of human thought that have always set us apart and made us dream. But as we've seen with countless other technological advances, the truth is a lot more nuanced.
AI can indeed automate tasks that were previously time-consuming or impossible for humans to accomplish. It’s destabilizing the established norms of industries as disparate as Hollywood screenwriting and trauma nursing, and it’s undeniable that there’s much it’s replacing. Yet, automation doesn't necessarily have to equate to eradication. Let’s take a look back at the dawn of the internet to get a glimpse of what’s come to pass and what’s to come for the writing profession and for other fields that’ll soon feel the seismic shifts caused by AI.
The Lessons of the Past and the Ghost of McLuhan
When the internet first arrived, it brought with it a wave of change that few were able to predict accurately. There were naysayers and doomsday predictors, just as there are now with AI. People who thought the “information superhighway” would bring about the apocalypse, alongside plenty of proto-tech bros espousing its virtues. Yet, within a societal blink of an eye, the internet had created new industries, new ways of communicating, and opened up possibilities that were beyond the imagination of nearly anyone at the time - shaping society just as much as society shaped it. “Nearly” being the operant word in that sentence.
Enter Marshall McLuhan, a visionary thinker who offered insights that resonate with our current situation, despite living in an era long before AI and even before the internet that he so famously predicted. Marshall McLuhan was a philosopher and media theorist now most famous for coining the term "the medium is the message" all the way back in 1962 - effectively predicting both the internet and the impact that it would have on media and its audience in his novel “The Gutenberg Galaxy”.
McLuhan observed that every new technology retrieves something from the past while simultaneously rendering certain aspects of it obsolete. He saw technology as an extension of human faculties, whether it be the wheel extending the foot or the internet extending our communication capabilities. This formulates a unique vantage point on AI - where we can consider it as a detached brain, an extension of our own intellectual capacities.
One of McLuhan's fundamental ideas is that technology shapes not just the content it conveys, but also the way in which people think and interact with one another. He famously said, "We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us." This thinking offers a profound lens through which to view the AI revolution. Rather than simply viewing AI as a replacement for human labor and creativity, we should consider the ways in which AI might reshape our thinking, our relationships, and our society at large.
Looking at it through this angle, it’s pretty clear to see that in the case of the striking screenwriters, AI was never really the issue. Rather, the issue is the lack of value that’s been placed on the role of the writer by the production companies that control the dynamics of the industry for a long time. AI may have brought the issue to a breaking point, but the view of Hollywood executives that writers are little more than interchangeable parts ready to be swapped out in favor of cheaper stock is the root of the problem.
So, given this new vantage point - viewing AI as an accelerant rather than a catalyst for change - where might the AI revolution really take us? We’ll explore further next week... 😉
3 unique AI tools to check out
🔎 ContentShake from Semrush
The product - ContentShake is an AI-powered content creation platform designed to boost your brand's reach without breaking a sweat. You can use the platform to gather content ideas, craft articles swiftly, optimize copy using competitive market insights, and even publish directly to your WordPress blog. ContentShake takes content marketing to the next level, handling the heavy lifting to let your brand shine.
The use case - if you're a business owner, content marketer, or writer looking to streamline content creation without compromising quality, ContentShake is your tool. By simplifying the process of building engaging content with AI-driven features like one-click outlines and real-time optimization, you save time and effort while aligning with current market trends. ContentShake enables a stress-free and efficient way to grow your brand through strategic content. I’ve been expecting one of the major SEO tools to pop up with something like this for quite some time, I’m interested to see how this one plays out.
The product - say goodbye to the tedious task of building a web scraper. MrScraper is your hassle-free, visual web scraping tool that ensures you get the data you need without being blocked. Features include a no-code builder, real browsers, high-quality proxy rotations, integrated data parsing, and API integrations.
The use case - whether you're a developer assigned to monitor information from websites, a business analyst in need of specific data, or a product person looking to learn more about the competitive environment, MrScraper could save you hours of complex coding and setup (or even worse, manual web scraping). With its human-like scraping, flexible scheduler, and the ability to format data just the way you want, MrScraper empowers you to focus on utilizing the information rather than grappling with the extraction process.
The product - transform your website's user experience with SiteGPT. Offering a personalized chatbot trained on your website's content, SiteGPT enables instant answers to visitors' questions. Creating a chatbot tailored to your website is as simple as entering your URL, selecting the pages, and hitting Start Training. Now, you have a chatbot capable of responding to anything related to your site.
The use case - for webmasters, business owners, and customer support teams who wish to enhance their website's user interaction, SiteGPT or something like it could be an invaluable asset. Its ease of creation and training ensures that your visitors' inquiries are addressed promptly and accurately, reflecting your site's specific content. A solution of this kind could not only elevate user satisfaction but also free up human resources to focus on more complex tasks.
Chronicles of the circuit circus
AI Is Building Highly Effective Antibodies That Humans Can’t Even Imagine - by Amit Katwala for Wired. The big pull quote:
“Human scientists start by identifying a search space of potential antibodies for tackling a particular disease: They need proteins that can differentiate between healthy and diseased cells, stick to the diseased cells, and then recruit an immune cell to finish the job. But these proteins could sit anywhere in the infinite search space of potential options. LabGenius has developed a machine learning model that can explore that space much more quickly and effectively. “The only input you give the system as a human is, here’s an example of a healthy cell, here’s an example of a diseased cell,” says Field. “And then you let the system explore the different [antibody] designs that can differentiate between them.””
Majority of Americans are concerned about rapidly developing AI: poll - by Sarah Fortinsky for The Hill. The big pull quote:
“Survey results also showed broad policy consensus in favor of regulating the AI industry. The vast majority of respondents, 82 percent, said they don’t trust tech company executives to self-regulate, and 56 percent of voters said they would support having a federal agency regulate the use of AI — compared to 14 percent who would oppose a federal agency and 30 percent who were unsure.”
Google and Universal Music working on licensing voices for AI-generated songs - by Hibaq Farah for The Guardian. The big pull quote:
“Google and Universal Music are negotiating a deal on how to license the voices and melodies of artists for artificial intelligence-generated songs.
The talks are expected to include the potential development of a tool for fans where individuals could make AI-generated songs but the relevant copyright owners would be paid. The artists would have a choice to opt in to the process.
According to the Financial Times, the talks are at an early stage and there are no plans for an immediate product launch.”
Thanks so much for joining me on another Future of Product! Be sure to check back next week (same time, same place) for part 2 of my “The only option is assimilation” series, and keep an eye out for a very special podcast episode dropping on Tuesday featuring a well-known face in tech 👀.
See you next week!
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