Thoughts on the current AI narrative

As I reflect on the past year, there are a few topics that I’m unpacking and trying to make sense of. And since my brain is processing and sense-making a little slower these days (the first snow has me shifting back a gear), I’m sharing my observations and train of thought rough-draft-style.

No escaping AI

What the metaverse was for 2022, AI is for 2023. On the surface, it’s strange how both are so similar in their development: The metaverse, or more precisely Meta’s metaverse, was quickly dominating conversations back in 2021, climaxing in 2022 before coming to an abrupt halt end of 2022.

AI, or at least OpenAI, seems to be following that hype trajectory. The debacle around Altman’s firing and re-hiring as CEO is troublesome. It’s a symptom of the Silicon Valley tech bubble that is impacting economies, business ethics, and the importance we assign to technologies (and the companies driving them).

But even more, it’s proof that the business-first mindset, or technologies for that matter, should not become a religion. In essence, it seems to have been an internal political power struggle, and most likely had more to do with business strategy than with business ethics. I also sense that that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is so much we cannot know.

Here’s an interesting read that looks at Altman’s business portfolio, among other things: The Case Against Sam Altman.

I feel we’re too pre-occupied by the political plays (aka Silicon Valley reality TV) to realize we’re caught in yet another tech-eats-jobs narrative that often accompanies break-through technologies.

Skill evolution

New technologies always come with fear of change. It’s always the same narrative, and it goes something like this:

[New technology] is out to take my job. I’ll be obsolete in 3 years!”

“All major companies are now using [new technology]. They are hiring experts, favorably with 10+ years experience.” ← biggest red flag for business resilience: unrealistic over-compensation.

“Don’t worry: [new technology] can’t replace humans. Ever.”

“We need the best of both worlds.”

And this is exactly what we need to be thinking about: How can technology optimize our jobs?

A common myth is that technological disruptions and innovations are out to get us and will be a benefit for the business’ bottom line, not its workers. History has shown us time and time again that technology eventually blends into and supports human labor.

As industrialization matured in the 20th century, job fulfillment emerged for the first time. Our modern work standards of fulfillment, passion, even work-life-balance stem from a massive technological revolution.

Granted, it’s hard to acknowledge the bigger picture when yours might be one of the jobs that is going to profoundly change through AI. But if there’s one thing that we, as humans, are exceptionally great at, it’s quickly evolving with the times.

Don’t mistake optimization for replacement

I believe AI is an opportunity to leverage expertise in novel ways. ChatGPT is already a great prompt for igniting new ideas, finding out what the general public is talking, writing, or thinking about (via the machine’s already learned inputs), or putting finishing touches on something.

All technology is essentially an optimization, some more than others. AI can’t give direction, purpose, or help you nurture deeper relationships — the very things we rely on to thrive. It’s one of our most fundamental needs.

Our advantage: Change is slow

As an example, let’s remember that the first wider mention of digital transformation was almost 20 years ago. And it’s still a change process that many companies are undergoing, or yet to begin.

Then there was Artificial and Virtual Reality a decade ago. Apple was buying up start-ups and their R&D, one of which I was working with in Munich at the time, Metaio. They only launched Vision this year.

Maybe you’ve been pondering the impact of artificial intelligence, or any similar technological innovation, on your job in the past year. Maybe AI is already part of your daily work routine, from writing emails to creating images.

To counter the pervasive narrative, it’s crucial to look at new technologies through the lens of “How might…” this new technology be an opportunity instead of a threat. Or finding something that is more fun and exciting? Or making more time for the really fun stuff in your job?

What do I need to explore or be open to today in order to ensure that my job is relevant down the road?

Nice little read to get you inspired: 7 In-Demand Job Skills for Tomorrow’s Marketing Professionals.

We, as humans, don’t have the best feeling for time passing, let’s be honest.

It always feels fast to us, though. Rapid news cycles are probably partly to blame for that. But technology is exciting because it helps us use our time in better, smarter ways.

For the more cautious among us, it’s wise to keep an eye on the discourse of AI, or any new development for that matter. It’s also smart to practice connecting the dots between technologies and where they might have an impact, even if only to prepare or plan for the future.

And for the very ambitious among us, new technologies could mean opportunities to help our organizations experiment and shape new business ideas early on, cementing our role in the company. Or even creating completely new jobs descriptions.

Personally, I find the discourse around AI fascinating from a business perspective — and partly worrisome because it highlights the many extremes of Silicon Valley and modern capitalist business practices.

But I also find it exciting for its possibilities to make marketing technologies more accessible. In a way, ChatGPT, DALL-E, Figma AI, or even the new Linkedin AI function (for premium) might be considered democratic, in that they are available for everyone, not just big legacy organizations who can afford expensive licenses. I’m already curious what new processes or start-ups may spring forward from this technology.

AI and its many business, social, and psychological implications will continue to impact us into 2024+. And I look forward to the use cases as organizations begin successfully using it in one way or another. As you’ve read though, I’m especially curious about the implications on us as professionals, the narratives we subscribe to, and our workplaces.

As we progress in our careers, it’s important to stay interested and curious. I’ve found that exploring and learning new fields feeds that in very rewarding ways. Let’s see where this journey takes us as individuals and as a global work collective.

About the featured image

An artist’s illustration of artificial intelligence (AI). This image depicts how AI can help humans to understand the complexity of biology. It was created by artist Khyati Trehan as part of the Visualising AI project launched by Google DeepMind.