Luddites were determinedly afraid of progress. Their main fear? The knitting machine. This contraption was the start of the Rise of the Machines, the end of the world as they knew it.
While the knitting machine is something we’ve learned to love, there’s another threat on the horizon, making space for a new generation of Luddite. Artificial Intelligence. As communicators we can’t see far enough into the future to know if it will elevate or eliminate us as a species, but it’s enough to cause heated debate.
My youngest son introduced me to ChatGPT. The App was still in nappies, but all his mates were playing with it in the same way I used to see how many words I could create on my first digital calculator. ESSO was as far as I got (BOOB would have seen me expelled).
“It’s going to be awesome for my Uni work,” he says. (Let’s not get into that debate here). My oldest son sees trouble ahead: “What’s going to happen to all the jobs for us graduates.”
And that sums up the debate about AI. Those who fear it is the ‘end of our world’ (again), and those who hail it as a great time and brain saving opportunity.
I completely understand that, used for evil, AI could be a wicked tool, but that conversation could take us into the wee small hours, so let’s focus on using AI for ‘good’.
It’s a bit like the debate over Electric Vehicles. Despite change being inevitable, a lot of us are stubbornly clinging to the internal combustion engine. There are all sorts of reasons why we’re not making the switch: range anxiety, cost, are they really green? What most of us ignore, or are ignorant of, is that the electric vehicle predated the combustion engine by about 30 years.
We’ve been teaching computers to think like humans since Charles Babbage said ‘there must be a better way to do this’ (Google it). But computers are man-made, not organic. Just like knitting machines and electric vehicles, we wanted to build them and have them do our work, so we’d have more time to do more meaningful things.
That, in a nutshell, is AI.
AI is not creating new knowledge; it is simply mining existing knowledge that we put there. Without human intelligence, there can be no artificial intelligence. Yes, I know: the time will come when the machine has a mind of its own, but let’s stick to the here and now.
There is always a risk with new technology that jobs will be lost, but that’s a statistic. People are resilient and adaptive – history has proven that time and again. Knitting machines still need operators; computers need mathematicians; and electric vehicles need drivers.
AI and PR
Public Relations is also evolving, and AI offers communicators exciting opportunities borne out of the time savings it creates. But here’s the thing, just like knitting, computing, and driving, our industry still needs human intervention.
I’m a seeker of knowledge, digging for creative ideas. I am a prospector of golden words and wisdom. I could spend all afternoon with a tiny trowel scraping away at the surface of the internet (or even a book – remember those?) or I can use a ten-tonne digger with a six-foot shovel on the front to get the job done quickly but crudely.
AI has no finesse, no…independent thought. It needs someone, a human, to tell it where to dig and what it is digging for. If I give it the right inputs, it will scoop up great big chunks of (mostly) relevant data, but I still need to sift it, grade it, and polish it. The machine does the graft, I do the craft.
Clients may be happy to benefit from the efficiency of a machine, but they don’t want to talk to one. Public Relations relies on human empathy, psychology and above all relatability: we take a brand and help people understand and relate to it – no machine can do that.
So, for me AI is not the end of my world as I know it; rather it’s the beginning of something exciting and I want to embrace it, which means I absolutely should not be called a Luddite.
Would you like our top tips for making the best of AI? Drop us a line firstname.lastname@example.org.
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