fwd: Generative AI: skip the debate & get to work
Welcome to Forward. Our unfiltered take on the world of digital products & strategy. Every two weeks, we're committed to providing you with highly opinionated content that will broaden your perspective and help you stay ahead of the curve.
This week, Jeroen writes about the current debate on Generative AI and how it is getting in the way of making actual, meaningful progress with this incredible technology.
Generative AI is going to change the world and that’s about the only thing we know for sure on the topic. The rest is speculation and marketing. With this week’s release of GPT-4, we’re probably at peak hype, so this is the worst time to add to the pile of opinions, but I’m going to try anyway (and leave the last word to David Bowie).
GPT-4 is mind-blowing, as expected. Is it safe to say that we can leave the hype of Web3 and the Metaverse behind us and label Generative AI the biggest thing since mobile? I believe so.
But first, let’s state what generative AI is not: it is not a step towards algorithms becoming intelligent in any human way. There is no ghost in the machine. Chat-GPT is a language model that guesses what sequence of words will be a satisfactory reply to a given prompt.
So, generative AI is not conscious, but it is extremely creative. It can create all kinds of imaginable content or alter existing content. You know this, because you too have been playing around with Midjourney to create a “Viking warrior princess on a flying horse” or with Chat-GPT to write “a country song about bitcoin”. And you have wondered: ”Will we still need illustrators? Poets? Web developers? Journalists?” You have marvelled at the sheer power of the technology and you have fallen into one of 4 categories:
- Scepticism: “The AI makes mistakes and only rehashes existing content, I’m not impressed.” You hold AI to a higher standard than Stephen Hawking and Claude Monet, who both made mistakes and built upon earlier creations.
- Pessimism: “This technology will have all kinds of negative effects.” Pessimism has an old tradition of people renouncing video games, factories, cars and rock ‘n roll.
- Panic: “What about our privacy? Cyber security? What if it is used as a weapon?”. There is always a good reason to panic, especially when a new technology starts making waves". Go buy toilet paper, before it’s too late.
- Optimism: “This will improve the quality of my life”. You can rejoice in a future of working less for better results and innovations that make you happier and healthier.
Whenever a new tech gets the spotlight, the exact same 4 categories of argumentation appear. Groundhog day. The current debate on generative AI is the same debate as the ones we had when the internet, social media and mobile started booming. Maybe we can skip the pleasantries and get to work? Just like any other tech, it won’t be stopped, it will have both positive and negative effects and needs regulation to avert disaster.
"The current debate on generative AI is the same debate as the ones we had when the internet, social media and mobile started booming. Maybe we can skip the pleasantries and get to work?"
So let’s focus on the incredible potential of generative AI. Only by putting the tech to work in a responsible way, can we make AI into a gift rather than a threat. And when we think about what’s possible, we’re only limited by our imagination, not by technology.
Will generative AI destroy our children's ability to write? Will Avatar 4 be generated by AI? Will Google be replaced by your personal AI companion? Frankly, we don’t know. I don’t believe any of these predictions, but I’m probably wrong s well. What I do believe, is that the most profound innovations are the ones we’re unable to imagine today.
A wave of GPT apps will flood the market. Only a few of them will stick and become actual businesses. Some of them will change the world. And then, in that changing world, new opportunities will arise on which even bigger businesses will be built.
But David Bowie said it better than anyone could in an interview in ‘99, where he talked about the internet:
"I don't think we've even seen the tip of the iceberg. I think the potential of what the Internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we're actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying."
Spot on, David. Just like the internet in its early days, we do not know where generative AI will take us. Let’s explore it and embrace it, fear it and love it. Let’s ride the tiger.