Those with the best tools win. This has been demonstrated over and over throughout human history. It applies to the tools of war, of agriculture, of medicine, of economics and finance. And it applies equally to the tools of communication.
The introduction of writing, the alphabet and the printing press; the telegraph, telephone, radio and TV; the internet and social media have all boosted our ability to spread knowledge and understanding. And for better or worse, these tools have also amplified the power of a small number of people to influence the thinking and behavior of many others.
We like to think that tools are values-neutral. After all, creating a tool for a constructive purpose automatically enables its use for a destructive one. The same knife that we use to prepare a family meal can be used to slit someone’s throat. It’s not the knife, but the wielder who determines what’s good and bad.
The trouble with the values-neutral argument is this. The reason we create tools is to enhance our ability to achieve our goals. But as soon as we start using them, those tools reshape our goals. Search engines were created to help us find information online. They got pretty good at that, but then it was discovered they were also good at something else – a discovery that fueled Google’s monumental growth. The original goal – helping people find information – was supplanted by a new one – getting people to buy stuff. The result is that Google has become really good at the latter and pretty mediocre at the former. We make our tools, and our tools make us.
“Now, with the introduction of ChatGPT, Bard, DALL-E and a growing number of other generative AI tools, we’re on the verge of another leap forward in virtually every area of human endeavor, including our ability to communicate.”
Now, with the introduction of ChatGPT, Bard, DALL-E and a growing number of other generative AI tools, we’re on the verge of another leap forward in virtually every area of human endeavor, including our ability to communicate. Unfortunately, while the promises and perils of AI are being debated everywhere from San Francisco coffee shops to the U.S. Congress, progress in our understanding is sluggish compared to generative AI’s explosive development and adoption. By the time we figure out what AI means for us, it’ll be too late to do anything about it.
What can we do? Let’s start by recognizing that we’re changed by the tools we use. We have a responsibility to reflect upon those changes and ask ourselves whether they make us better people, better organizations and better societies. If the only change we detect is that we’ve become more efficient, we need to look harder.
Click here for more thoughts on artificial intelligence from iQ 360 principal, Steve Astle.