The recent technological advancements in generative AI over the last year were a genuine acceleration in innovation unlike anything we’ve seen in the last 20 years. They also stirred a firestorm of debate that grew more and more fierce as every day brought wild new breakthrough.
In that early days of the current AI hype cycle, everything was not only possible, but the future it promised was already here. From replacing human intelligence to making life-altering decisions, the new AI could do it all. In fact, it was coming for your jobs, your freedom, and even your sex life.
But with every hype bubble, there’s always an inevitable backlash. Critics started to question the technology, holding it up to its exaggerated promises and finding it lacking.
“Maybe AI can’t write a great movie script.”
“Maybe it won’t replace Michelangelo.”
Maybe, just maybe, the future of human creativity isn’t at risk just because Photoshop can change the dimensions of a photo with generative fill.
But condemning everything because it was initially overhyped is equally as foolish as the hype itself. The current backlash against AI stems from disappointment and fear that has come from the unrealistic expectations that were set at the beginning. The real opportunities coming from this new tech are tangible and useful and have been since the start.
Most critiques boil down to a quality vs. quantity issue: “If it can produce so much crap so quickly, that must be bad for us.” But this fear is only valid if we accept that censorship of AI output is our only tool for protection.
On the other hand, if it can be added into existing development pathways to make things faster and better, it doesn’t have to do everything to be worth using at all.
For those obsessed with battling a magical machine that can do anything from just a single prompt, their real challenge will come when trying to define the limits around qualitative output. How do we control something not only capable of generating intelligent language but also defining bias in a way that meets our ethical expectations?
Should they be satisfied with stopping our current exponential pace of development, or should they be holding out for something more refined, ethical, and wise?
In the mid-20th century, we made a journey from home cooking to “fast food” that had a profound effect on our society in ways we’re still learning to deal with. It changed our expectations around eating and flavor in ways that have impacted every level of dining. It has allowed us to create packaged meals that are insanely healthy and Happy Meals that aren’t.
All of this isn’t just the result of increased implementation of assembly line techniques. It’s the recognition that new technologies come with opportunities to both serve and exploit the customer.
With AI, it’s so early that we haven’t fully figured out who the customer even is yet. Or even what the creative dish is that we’re serving up. Or, to be honest, what eating looks like.
Humans bring an innate quality to their work that has yet to be replicated, but the reality is that transitioning an artisanal technique to mass production has always altered the quality of output. And eventually, if the tool is useful enough, the output comes to define the process.
To put it another way, you start out with hamburgers, but sooner or later you’re going to get chicken nuggets.
So, where do we go from here? To me, the path is clear. As the hype cycle slows down, the mass-market free riders and marketing hucksters will fall away. For them, AI will ultimately be something they access through a search tool in much the same way we use Google today.
Those left standing nearer to the cutting edge will improve their expertise and figure out ways to achieve more effective results. Not hype, but hard work will be what moves us forward.
Meanwhile, the fear mongers and critics, always more focused on finding flaws than on figuring out genuine processes for improvement, will declare victory and move on. That will leave it up to the rest of us to create a kinder, wiser AI. Or we won’t, and our society will discover what the intellectual equivalent of an obesity epidemic looks like.
So far, the journey of AI has been a tale of excitement, innovation, fear, along with a healthy dose of good old-fashioned marketing. Next comes disillusionment, and inevitably, evolution. We’ve reached the point where we need to focus on optimizing, integrating, and evaluating the tools at hand. This involves not only recognizing our current technological limitations but also embracing the potential for growth.
The new technologies that will continue to roll out may come with less raw excitement than we’ve had since the beginning of the year, but their utility will expand as well.
And we will also solve the larger qualitative issues like “wisdom” and “ethical filters.” That’s probably a good thing, but I can guarantee it will come with its own problems. Censorship, power, and control will all be part of the decisions we make about what our AIs can and can’t do.
But for now, let’s acknowledge the incredible innovation that’s already working and pave the way for a future where AI is not only a powerful tool but also a reflection of our values, ethics, and intelligence.
As this first phase of the hype cycle cools, are you still ready to help redefine the current landscape? Are you armed with the knowledge you need to embrace the challenges and opportunities coming over the next weeks, months, and years ahead? The exploration into the unknown territories of artificial thought and creation is only just beginning, and the potential for innovation is limitless. So too is its ability to improve, transform, and possibly annihilate the quality of our lives.
And despite the ability of AI to change the world, the ultimate choice of what it will do is up to us. And it always has been.