My grandma made it to the ripe old age of 99 — just a few months shy of her 100th birthday.
In the amazing century she was on the earth, the world changed in ways that, for most of us, would be unimaginable.
In her time, she saw cars and running water become a staple for every household, a world war, commercial flights take off, man walk on the moon, and so many other moments and innovations that were truly awe-inspiring.
In sitting with her one day, in one of her last years, I asked her what was the change that she felt had the most impact in her lifetime.
Her answer surprised me.
She didn’t say commercial flights, because she never took one, she didn’t say computers because she was ‘too old’ to bother using them, she didn’t even mention space exploration.
For Gram, electricity in her home was the innovation that changed everything. When she talked about it, her eyes wondered, and her face lit up as she told me about the shining lights that broke through the darkness every night, and all the various conveniences that ‘plugging in’ at home introduced to her life.
In my lifetime, there have been no conflicts to the scale of the world wars, and as far as I know, somehow, we haven’t managed to send anyone else back to the moon, despite Elon’s best efforts to revolutionise space travel.
Never-the-less the world has been changing.
When I was young, mobile phones were introduced and perhaps equally, or more importantly, the internet was commercialised, and we started carrying connection around in our pockets.
These changes, when I think about them, were huge. Despite this, for my peers and I – a generation who hadn’t really experienced much independent life before this technology – they didn’t feel particularly significant at the time.
If I look back now, it’s clear to see how much those two inventions have changed our lives; but were those changes as impactful as electricity was for Gram? Will the internet or smart phone be my answer to that same question years from now?
The truth is, I don’t know, but I also don’t think so. What I can increasingly see as a likely answer to that question, is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Perhaps, in contrast to phones and the web, this answer comes to me because I experienced many years of life without AI, so it feels different; or perhaps it’s because, as a writer and strategist, it’s both a big opportunity and a direct threat to me.
Either way, as new AI-driven tech takes hold, it's now ushering in change that can’t be overlooked, or taken for granted.
The rise of AI in marketing
Artificial Intelligence has actually been in the works for quite some time — decades, not just years or months.
It was a concept and a focus long before The Terminator or the Matrix hit screens, and its uses have --- perhaps surprising to some --- been supporting us for years in various parts of our lives; certainly in marketing and business.
The idea for AI is as old as the 1950s, with famous scientist Alan Turing (see Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game) writing about it way back then, and the term itself popping up for the first time that decade.
Even that long ago, as humans, we knew where computers were going!
In marketing, for quite some time, we have been using programmatic advertising, which draws on machine learning to analyse huge amounts of data in order to personalise digital ads and delivery, improving ROI while reducing effort.
Siri and Alexa have been supporting our searches for years; AI has been prevalent in online shopping, guiding journeys and recommending products; socials and emails have been shared at the most optimal times to the most receptive customers; and audience personas and insights driven by AI have become more multi-dimensional, dynamic and detailed.
Overall, AI has created a new level of personalisation in customer experience that doesn’t really require ‘a person’ to facilitate it.
So, why hasn’t AI felt like ‘life changing’ technology for most of us, so far?
Last year, I became aquatinted with ‘Julie’ for the first time. Most of you will know her as ChatGPT, but I communicate with her so much now, she apologises so frequently, I say ‘please’ so often when making requests of her, I thought she deserved a name — whether she accepts it or not.
In actual fact, I met Julie last year or even before (time gets away), but if she was then the T-800 (shout out to the Terminator nerds!), she now feels closer to the T-1000, which makes GPT-4 more like the T-3000.
And while that is definitely not fact — she’s not out there living her best life chasing down John Conner, and is actually a completely different type of AI application, her advancement and learning in a short time has been spellbinding for most of us.
When I first tried the application, her answers were crude and less structured, her rhythm a little off, and her capacity to ‘understand’ was quite hit and miss.
Less than a year later, and this Natural Language Processing (NPL) tool is already writing full blogs (admittedly with very little personality, minimal on-brand individuality, and some solid tweaking) and answering questions quicker than the speed of light (admittedly incorrectly a good portion of the time).
And despite her shortcomings, which seemingly continue to improve week-on-week, she, and others like her, have created a buzz; an hysteria that means very few in the developed world haven’t heard of ChatGPT and what she can do.
Where AI was simply technology that hummed along in the background for many of us over recent years, suddenly, through Julie (aka ChatGPT), it has been thrust into the ‘every day’ spotlight, and accessible, available and useful to every average Joe.
It’s true, AI may not have felt life-changing before, and maybe it wasn’t, but as we stare down the first really public barrel of a machine that could very well render thousands of humans redundant in mere years, I’d say we might finally have something truly life-changing on our hands.
AI in business: now and the future
As noted, when I saw the progress made so rapidly by AI NPLs alone, the writer and even the strategist in me had a bit of a moment.
It became very clear, very quickly — like in the blink of an eye — that my kind are likely not long for this world.
On one hand, there are a lot in my field who are seeing only the threat of this particular application of AI. For them, a quiet panic has taken over, spurred on by an abundance of articles with ‘prompt hacks that will render your paid writer redundant’ (or something like that).
But for the rest of us — especially those that have seen the seemingly simple, yet significant improvements introduced to advertising, email, web dev and many other related marketing applications of AI — this is incredibly exciting!
Not only will it likely be an opportunity to streamline our processes and output more for our businesses (clients in my case), without compromising on quality (the power of specialist expertise and technology combined is unquestionable); it is a unique challenge to us to further evolve our space. It is one of the first chances in quite a while to really turn what we do upside down, assess it more critically, and look at how we can improve, enhance, advance.
Beyond writing, strategy, and even more broadly, marketing, AI’s impact on business will continue to grow.
At Write Way Up, what that will look like and how clients can take advantage of it is a very regular source of conversation, debate and research, as we consider this innovation across the skillsets of our fantastic network of professionals.
And yet, it seems, as businesses readily jumping on this advancement with great interest, we are among the minority.
In Australia, in July 2022, the AFR called Aussie businesses laggards in relation to our uptake of AI, saying we are ‘less sophisticated than overseas counterparts when it comes to adopting AI’.
It goes on: “The Committee for Economic Development report says AI is still in the early phases of implementation in many Australian companies and industries, with only 34 per cent of firms using it across their operations.”
(But… isn’t publicly-available AI still in it’s relatively early phases? How could we be any further along?)
KPMG and the University of QLD reinforced our reluctance this year, saying their study found “only 40 percent of Australians trust the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) at work, such as tools like ChatGPT.”
Of course, it's important to note the companies included may be using ‘quieter’ AI elsewhere – that AI that hums along behind the scenes – without the survey respondent knowing or identifying it.
The report continues on to say Aussies, in fact, are among the least trusting of AI at work, across the whole world.
And in some ways, those that see AI more for it’s ‘Matrix’ or ‘iRobot’ potential than its ‘Bicentennial Man’ potential are probably right to have some caution.
When approaching any technology that could be as pervasive in every aspect of our lives as AI, as potentially invasive, impacting our privacy, our communication, relationships, work prospects, safety and so much more, a considered approach, is a good approach.
Their trepidation is reinforced even further by the ‘Godfather’ of AI himself, Geoffrey Hinton of Google, who was quoted as saying, “I’m just a scientist who suddenly realized that these things are getting smarter than us. I want to sort of blow the whistle and say we should worry seriously about how we stop these things getting control over us.”
Despite this, he did not suggest work be stopped on further advancing AI, as if some or one country continues to advance the space, this poses a notable threat to the rest of the world.
So, what’s the answer?
Hinton doesn’t know, and the same can be said for most us – though some of the world’s most powerful tech leaders have signed petitions to stop AI advancement.
At a business level, the answer is a lot simpler – AI is already changing the game, and will continue to do so.
For now, those changes are much more beneficial than they are threatening – it is streamlining, automating, accelerating, and both people and bottom lines are and will reap the rewards.
As a business that wants to grow rapidly and sustainably, ignoring this change, letting it slide by you, or waiting too long to embrace it, could be very much to your detriment.
Five quick tips for implementing AI in your SME business
Sell tech? Use tech! – So many tech start ups have created tech products and like to leverage the AI buzz, and talk about how it drives their offering… yet they don’t use it internally, in their own operations and marketing. Practice what you preach!
Tread carefully – Despite the last point, don’t just implement without consideration or caution. As with any investment or change, define problems, analyse needs, select the right solutions.
Experiment – When it comes to products like ChatGPT, you really can’t break it (not in a way that a page refresh won’t fix anyway!). Forget reading a million articles straight away, get in and have a play!
Don’t bogart the tech – Some departments in a business will always be a little more open than others, but don’t restrict AI to just marketing – it can also be useful in ops, finance, product and much more.
Healthy cynicism is ok – The fact is, ChatGPT gets it wrong… a lot. Hinton said he worries people will "not be able to know what the truth is anymore". Don’t take what AI gives you on face value, always fact check!
A note on AI and art
Last week, I saw a sea shanty written by ChatGPT, a few days later a poem and some stories. They weren’t amazing, but they also weren’t bad.
While I absolutely welcome the foreseeable opportunities and benefits AI will bring us, my one reservation sneaks in when it comes to art (and that includes photography, movies, written art).
Art is something that sets us apart as humans, that allows us to express ourselves, to convey beauty and story and history in a completely compelling and unique way. It has and always been a tremendous gift to us. So, what happens to out humanity if we ever lose that?
If the machines take over that part of our lives, where and what does it leave us?
These are the flix mentioned in this blog… if you haven’t already, you should watch them!