Authenticity in the face of AI: adapting to disruption

As our creative works can now be truly auto-generated and auto-corrected, what will it take to rise above the new baseline? Now more than ever, we must strive to be authentic

The AI revolution that we’ve been simultaneously anxious and excited about for around the last 30 years may finally be here. The availability of ChatGPT is starting to change things, and while some fellow techies are eager to remind us that this is ‘nothing new’, the end result brought about by its widespread availability does feel revolutionary.

As with all great technological leaps, it has the potential to bring with it huge disruptions. Faced with this new reality, we must either adapt or suffer an early expiration. This is a case of history repeating itself; just like our recent ancestors had to adapt with the advent of sewing machines, the printing press and computers.

For those that may not have heard yet, here’s a quick update. A computer program called ChatGPT is able to behave very much like a human being would over an instant messaging conversation - think of having a whatsapp chat with a robot. You can send it a message and it will reply in a conversational manner. It is not "scripted" and it is capable of coming up with new and original answers to your questions on-the-fly. It has been trained on a vast amount of knowledge and can be used to answer just about any question. Like humans, it might not always have the right answer, but for the most part it gives very detailed and valid answers. It can be used by anyone, right now, simply by visiting a website and starting a conversation with it.

Many protested the disruption brought about by the sewing machine. The way people worked was entirely changed through the industrial revolution
Many protested the disruption brought about by the sewing machine. The way people worked was entirely changed through the industrial revolution

Unless you consider the automatic correction of spelling mistakes as a non-human intervention, this article is 100% human generated, but the next one you read may very well not be. If you are a teacher, the next home assignment you correct may very well have been produced using the help of Artificial Intelligence - and no one can realistically expect you to realise. The presentation that a candidate brings to an interview may be completely attributed to the same AI bot. The next song you hear may have had its lyrics beautifully written by a robot. And it doesn’t stop with text; AI is now also getting very good at creating Art. Nothing is out of reach.

It is easy to see these disruptions as the ‘beginning of the end’ - a slippery slope of educational degradation from which society can never recover. Science fiction literature has prepared us for such an end at the hands of intelligent machines; a world in which humans have made themselves obsolete. This form of Apocalyptic thinking, which has ever been present in the story of humanity, now finds new fertile grounds.

As a technophile, I am mildly concerned but mostly excited by this long new stretch on our ever expanding horizon. I think artificial intelligence will set a "baseline quality" for all content. And that’s a good thing. A knee-jerk reaction could be to try and block access or restrict its use only to specific groups of people - I think such an approach would yield undesirable inequalities, and as history has proven time and time again, is doomed to fail. However hard you try to hit the brakes on progress, technology will inevitably keep propelling us forward.

As we try to navigate this new reality, it is probably a good idea to thread carefully and build some guardrails around artificial intelligence. Unfortunately, people will always find ways to break those rules - as happened recently with the ChatGPT ‘jailbreak’. Ultimately attempts to control the use of AI may prove to be futile and simply delay the inevitable.

I believe that AI needs to remain within everyone’s reach - restricting availability only to the people who can afford it is a recipe for disaster. We will need to democratise AI and its use. Just like the calculator allows anyone to find the result to a mathematical question, word processors improved everyone’s ability to auto-correct spelling mistakes, and Google allows anyone to find the answer to any question, Artificial Intelligence gives us all the ability to raise the bar of our starting point with all forms of content.

We are now close to a future where we can each have our own AI assistant; a virtual companion that helps us bounce off our ideas, assist us in considering the pros and cons of any single decision and ultimately enable us to make better contributions. Yes, some of us will get lazier, just like we got lazier when we no longer needed to visit the library to do any research.

Ironically, history shows us that every technological advancement has always brought about increased productivity, rather than reduced it. Instead of settling with the “good-enough” work produced by AI in our stead - most people will find creative ways to improve their abilities and outcomes thanks to this technology. You will probably spend less time getting your ideas out of your head and onto a document, and with some newly found free-time you will be able to do more, do better or simply to do something different.

The possibilities are endless, even in fields where we may have the most concerns. Think of education - as a teacher you could now use AI to create a completely new mode of learning; what if your students could have a chat with Sir Isaac Newton at this very moment and ask a virtual version of the man all about his achievements - rather than read it in a book? This is possible, right now - just go ahead and ask ChatGPT to roleplay into whomever you’d like it to be. My attempt at this proved to be quite entertaining and insightful.

Am I being too optimistic in thinking that students actually want to learn stuff and that people will want to do more with their time? Maybe so, but it will only take a few people to push the envelope and the others will simply need to follow or risk lagging behind. In the age of AI generated content, the added value you bring with your authenticity will be a key advantage.

As with every generation, it falls upon us to inspire the next generation to remain hungry for knowledge. The role of the educator will no longer focus on ranking students and grading them based on the output of their work. Instead we can finally move on to inspiring and fostering a sense of wonder. Instilling strong positive values, including the value of being authentic, is necessary to remind people to take pride in their own work, to not surrender their ability to think and to choose to spend a good portion of their time thinking, ideating and expanding our understanding of the natural world.

Educational programmes must now focus on refining critical and analytical skills. All this can now be achieved more than ever as we discover new tools which so abruptly seem to have given us all a new array of creative superpowers.

Like it or hate it, the disruption is well underway. How fast can we adapt?