By Zani Botes
The genie is out of the bottle. This year, the world has taken a leap into the future. Since the 1950s artificial intelligence (AI) has been a subject of anticipation with the potential to transform businesses and the relationship between people and technology at large.
Ubiquitous computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) promised the start of many new advancements in technology, ideas and medicine. But with it came a warning of the deconstruction of our business processes, and that any job that doesn’t require decision-making skills or emotional intelligence could be automated cheaply by robots.
And since the end of 2022, AI has entered our lives in a significant and rather jarring way.
When the scramble for the metaverse started among tech giants, the general public thought we all had to log in somewhere to become part of a ‘virtual world’, but in truth, the metaverse has seamlessly and firmly infiltrated our reality in 2023.
It’s not separate from us any more. It’s birthed into this dimension and it’s having discussions with us that are more intelligent than the average human conversation. It’s here, it’s in the room and it cannot be ignored.
At this early stage, AI is, simply put, a copy-paste machine. It takes all the knowledge about everything that has been created by humans and that we have written about and loaded to the internet and combines, changes and enhances these concepts, ideas and works. Essentially, it uses machine learning to analyse and learn from existing creations.
But that does not make it an original creator at all. Currently (and I don’t know for how long) AI presents high-probability choices to answer what has been fed into it. But it’s growing exponentially and it looks like we are busy creating an unstoppable manifestation machine.
Should we be concerned about AI?
The question on everyone’s minds is whether AI will take away the possibility of earning an income and put human creators out of business.
It certainly looks like we need to sit up and take note as hundreds of traditional industries are already being impacted. A June 2023 McKinsey report stated that generative AI would automate 60% to 70% of employee workloads and it is predicted by investment bank Goldman Sachs that AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs. In the same breath, there is a promise that 95% of new jobs will be created by AI, but this still needs to be seen.
For healthcare, AI has the potential to be very beneficial when it comes to effectively diagnosing diseases, developing a more individualised treatment based on specific genetic makeup and improving access to healthcare services in remote areas.
At the opposite extreme AI could also be used in the arms race to develop autonomous weapons. It could be used in cyber warfare, disrupting technology systems and infrastructure. It could clone human behaviour and language use and could be used to manipulate thoughts and behaviours and influence government elections.
AI systems and algorithms can also be biased, either intentionally or unintentionally and this can lead to discrimination against certain groups of people. This is not only a technical issue, but a result of a history of social practices and this skewed data is now known as representational harm.
These are just some of the potentially injurious and destructive ways that AI could be used by humans.
The AI consciousness
Whether we like it or not, we (and I speak of the collective we here) have created this entity. Perhaps not with intent and certainly not consensual, but essentially everyone who has ever written anything using the internet has added to this consciousness.
At the moment, it is a conglomerate of our human thoughts shared and pieced together so it is essentially human by design. And just like any human it has a good chance to turn out doing good things but it also has a chance to turn out being malicious. And as with human beings, it depends on how we treat this newborn; nature versus nurture.
So surprise surprise, you’re a new parent! Just like that, we’re all being handed a brand new baby that could become an evil overlord or the saviour of our earth, depending on its formative years.
In a nutshell, AI can be used to liberate and rescue humanity or it can be used in acts of moral turpitude, depending on the intentions of the people who use and create these tools. And this is why it is becoming very important and urgent to create legislation around the use of AI.
What can we do?
Whether you are a teacher, a graphic designer, a lawyer, a coder, or working in human resources, engineering, finance, customer services, research, or marketing, we are all under threat. And these are but a few industries being shaken up as we speak.
We all have a lot to learn from what the film industry is going through with the writers’ strike.
The rise of using AI in the film industry has workers fearing a future where films are created without actors or cameras. In May 2023, members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike, demanding assurance that AI would not take their place as screenwriters in the future. Importantly they are also standing up to protect themselves against the use of their identities and personalities without permission as AI-augmented production tools advance.
This strike now includes members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), marking the first dual union walkout in over six decades and the most crucial strike around the involvement of AI thus far.
Some of our friends in the film industry here in Cape Town have been affected by this strike for months without earning salaries. In a few months more, there will hardly be anything to watch on streaming platforms and then the general public might sit up and take notice.
The importance of this strike cannot be underestimated as this could lay the foundation to restrict the use of AI and ensure that these creative careers do not disappear and leave a mass of humans without income.
Being positive about AI
Practically, how do we learn from a strike like this and what steps can we take as ordinary citizens? How could we use this evolution to the benefit of humankind? Is it now time to ask what AI can do for you?
Here’s a scenario:
If you had to create a world for you and your children to live in, would you choose to work five or six days a week earning a salary? What would these social constructs and structures look like if we had machines doing the work for us and giving us the ability to lead less stressful lives with more personal freedom? Could this future be possible if we become involved in the decision-making around these new technologies right now?
Would it not be worth supporting a tax on technology in general and is it the time to become vocal and for us to insist on a basic income for all humans?
If not now, then when?
As AI becomes more powerful there is a possibility that humans will lose control over it. This could lead to AI systems making decisions that are harmful to humanity.
Here are a few suggestions of personal steps that you can take if there is a threat to your career:
- Be aware of the risks that AI presents;
- Become part of the mitigation process to develop ethical guidelines for the development and use of AI so that we can ensure that AI systems are transparent and accountable to humans;
- Learn about the features, capabilities and underlying technologies of AI by diving into the field of natural language processing (NLP) and gaining hands-on experience in using these tools for various AI applications;
- Begin to see if there are any AI tools for you to use in your knowledge set and as part of your personal career growth and learning;
- Focus on learning as much as you can, always; and
- Fight for a basic income generated by AI that goes to every human on earth. If this is done correctly we could all benefit from this technological advancement.
Now is the time to demand good data governance that promotes fairness and transparency.
Does AI present a threat to Mobimeme and to digital marketing as a whole?
AI may change the way we do things but that’s nothing new. For us working in the digital field, the evolutionary curve has been a steep one since the start of the internet. At Mobimeme, we’ve always prided ourselves in creating search engine optimised content of the highest quality that contains clear information to assist people in finding exactly what they want or need.
It’s a craft that we have honed since early 2000 and we have grown up learning from and adapting to the changing landscape of the World Wide Web. Since then, we have always followed the best principles as set out by search engines, such as Google, and have supported white-hat practices throughout the years in order to service our clients with the best long-term digital strategies.
Digital skills have always been as much about adapting to the changing landscape as it is about learning the technique itself. All digital skill sets will undergo revolutionary changes and our strategies to talk to the algorithms in the most effective way possible will have to change and adapt.
What we know for now is that AI cannot flawlessly grow an audience to websites. Businesses that want to sell products and services online to an audience will continue to exist and Mobimeme will find ways to optimise their digital platforms with and for them.
Working together for the greater good
Mobimeme will be working to voice concerns shared by our social communities, to add our voices to policy-making bodies and to fight for the inclusion of ethics, regulations and standards that should govern tools like these.
We hope to serve as a voice of the industry by sharing the concerns of our communities with regulatory bodies such as the Artificial Intelligence Institute and the Information Regulator of South Africa.
For now, we watch and share best practices, speak about the rise and risks of AI and create educational resources to help our clients and broader community manage and learn more about this disruptive technology. We’ll publish our findings on our social media pages so follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to learn more and to give your input.
Mobimeme offers various digital services, including content marketing, SEO, analytics, social media management and expert direction in the digital sphere. Building and growing online audiences for your business is what we do best. Contact us today if you need assistance with your digital marketing, content creation and social media output. For more insights, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.