AI chat and AI art have dominated the tech news for the last six months. And in that short span of time, we've seen the six personalities that respond to most changes in technology. These six "people" are seen again and again. You probably know several of them. You probably are one of them.
And, of course, the world is a complicated place. So we are all some mixture of these.
Here are the personalities we see clearly today. My favorite is #5.
1. The Fearful
. These folks have a vague response to a vague threat, based primarily on a hundred years of science fiction books and movies.
People vs. Technology has been a solid basis for sci-fi since the very beginnings. The basic story line is that there's some kind of change just around the corner that's going to introduce a future threat and bring some horrible speculative thing into existence. The "thing" might be a creature, an event, or even a change in society or government. But it never would have happened without this technology advancement.
There's a significant slice of society that is always afraid of "the next" technology. These folks always love the technology we have right now, but they're afraid of whatever the new thing is. Then, the new technology becomes common and the fear moves on to the next big thing.
Sometimes, the fears come true - but almost never. As Mark Twain famously said, "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened." Fear of the unknown is a natural reaction, but we just need to keep it in perspective. Most of the things you worry about simply never happen.
2. The Apprehensive. These folks don't fear the future, per se, but worry about how it will affect them personally. The Apprehensive response is typified by the person what says, "I just saw AI Chat take my job away." The tiny bit of truth in this statement is that the most superficial parts of some jobs will become more automated. This happens to all industries over time. But, in reality, the jobs never go away; they just morph into something else.
In my short life (ahem), I've seen countless examples of people fearing that their jobs would disappear. Artists of all stripes are often fearful of photography, photocopying, electronic graphics, and so forth. But there's always a new, greater demand for creativity over time. Technology enables more creativity than it ever destroys. We've seen this since the earliest days of recorded history.
3. The Creatively Lazy. These people look at emerging technology and try to figure out how to get away with being paid the same to do less work. That's really just another side of the coin that says, "Be more efficient with the new technology." The only thing that really makes them cheaters is when they don't reveal their use of technology. And even that "cheating" is short lived.
The easiest example of this today is students getting AI to write term papers or copy writers using AI to write better headlines than they can create themselves. But there are two big things to consider on this front. First, any teacher that can't tell if a term paper was written by AI today is a pretty bad teacher and doesn't deserve their salary. It will get better, but today's AI writing is boring, repetitive, and quickly goes down the wrong rabbit hole, often expanding more and more on a fact it got wrong.
Second, it's not really cheating to use a tool that allows you to work faster. That really is the promise of technology. It's okay to use the tools of our trade.
In the world of technology, many people believe that you should never let a client see you using Google or online services from manufacturers. The logic is that clients could just do this themselves. But that's absurd. Whether a client sees you Google something or look it up in a Microsoft or Cisco forum, YOU have the skills to do that research. The client doesn't know how to isolate the terms that matter, or even know what the answers mean. They can't Google it because it takes experience and education to even know how to answer the question.
The same is true with AI writing. See more under "The Creator," below.
4. The Enforcer. These are the people who put guard rails on emerging technology. They insist that we look at ethics as well as advancement. They're normally not responding to the fearmongers above, but from a different perspective altogether.
I call these folks enforcers because they're motivated to make sure that the rules of civilized society remain enforced with regard to the emerging tech. For example, most technology is embraced by police departments before the courts or legislative branches of government have thought about it. The enforcers help to make sure that the technology is used in a way that's consistent with the rest of long-established rules around law enforcement. Here are a couple of specific examples.
With the evolution of the Internet, and the movement of data across "public" wires, government agencies have been able to tap into key routers across the Internet and basically listen on every single exchange of data. Someone needs to ask the questions: Is this legal? Is it constitutional? Is it right? Does it violate rights to privacy? Can it be used in court?
Most recently, all those questions and more have been raised about the use of AI and facial recognition. Your face is scanned constantly when you are in certain public places. The AI seems to be better at recognizing white faces than black or Asian faces. Should the police still rely on it? Is this a violation of privacy? And again, is it legal, moral, and usable in court?
Over time, all technology becomes better understood by courts and legislatures. But someone needs to be asking the hard questions early in the evolution so that. I have been VERY pleased to see that ethical guidelines have become a standard part of the discussion of technology evolution, in particular with regard to AI.
5. The Creator (or Artist). The Creator sees new technology as a way to spark new ideas. Unlike the apprehensive, the creator's first response is, "Oh, goodie-goodie. What can I do with this?" Instead of fearing that someone will slack on their job, the creator sends employees off to go play with new technology and see what they come up with.
Today, the most common use for AI is to prompt our own ideas. In many ways, this is highest level response. "Hey Chat, give me ten ideas . . .." Or create an outline. Or give me writing prompts for my blog posts. (Note: I don't do this. Yet. I might some day. Today, my ego keeps me from it.)
The latest Wired Magazine (April 2023) has a great example of a teacher (Kelly Gibson) embracing Chat AI to help students to be more creative. She has students write an original thesis statement about a book they are reading. Then the class works as a group to use Chat AI to write an essay based on the thesis. Then the students each have to write an analysis of the work created by the AI. This is a great exercise in critical analysis and the use of AI.
This approach is beautiful for a couple of reasons. First, it embraces the inevitable without trying to put the genie back in the bottle. While the school district's first response was to ban AI, that's approximately as effective as banning phones in school. Gibson likens this to calculators. You can't stop calculators, so don't try. Instead, embrace the future and create assignments that demonstrate how to best use this tool going forward.
Second, this kind of assignment shows students that technology is not "good" or "bad" without context. It's just technology. After all, students in school today will see so much amazing technology in the years ahead that they actually need training on how to approach the evolution of technology, and how to creatively embrace it. For some, that creativity will be related to art. For others it will be science, or architecture, or even historical research.
6. The Entrepreneur. The Entrepreneur takes the Creator bent and turns it to commerce. Without looking beyond the channels I'm already subscribed to, I've seen dozens of videos pop up on how to use AI tools to make money. The entrepreneur (in all things) is willing to try new things and see if there's a business model there. As with the creator, the Entrepreneur embraces the technology first and then looks for ways to bring something new into the world that is only possible with the new technology.
Ultimately, some entrepreneurs will create new lines of business or new business categories. And if you're thinking you've already missed the boat, keep this bit of information in mind: It is absolutely wrong that "first to market" makes the most money. Especially with new technology, first to market usually means that you lose the most money. Then, the Creator types swoop in, improve on your idea, buy your failed infrastructure for ten cents on the dollar, and make a boatload of cash.
Sadly for me, I tend to be more entrepreneur than creator. Sigh. It's my lot in life.
As the old saying goes, it takes all kinds. We need people to keep us from adopting things too fast. But they shouldn't be allowed to stop progress altogether. We need people to set down some rules. But those rules need to evolve along with the technology.
And, ultimately, we don't have any choice. Technology has always evolved and will always evolve. An amazing new world is evolving right now in our lifetimes. It would be silly to pretend we can stop it or even slow it. We all have to accept the future eventually. You get to choose whether acceptance comes begrudgingly or eagerly.
As for me, I have believed in the power of technology since I was a child. I believe the future will be better because of the evolution of AI. Yes, we need strong ethical component, but that doesn't need to slow us down much at all.
How do you react to this brave new world of AI? Comments welcome!