AI is the current ‘disruption’ poster child and its looming arrival has been met with reactions ranging from extreme fear to incredible optimism. On the pessimistic side, Elon Musk has issued stark warnings that AI – if left unchecked – will destroy the human race. On the optimistic side, Mark Zuckerberg downplays this doomsday narrative and advocates for AI to help us cure disease, make driverless cars safe (and save lives) and to deliver the best content to Facebook users. He doesn't mention advertising, although I’m sure he sees at least a few use cases for how AI can help.
According to Bullhound, AI continued its rapid growth in 2017 through increased fundraising, acquisitions and widespread adoption. The first half of 2017 saw total investment in AI firms hit a record $22.9bn. Key deals included Cisco’s acquisition of MindMeld for $125m, and Facebook’s acquisition of Masquerade and Zurich Eye, and Microsoft’s acquisition of conversational AI startup Maluuba. AI-powered Virtual Personal Assistants also continued to develop. Nuance Communications released a virtual assistant targeted at patients and healthcare providers in September of this year. Furthermore, big players Amazon and Microsoft partnered to allow communication between Alexa and Cortana.
This trajectory is expected to continue in 2018, with AI becoming a core component of digital services offered across industries and adding a competitive edge to businesses ready to embrace this technology. Thought has turned to how this technology might be used in almost every industry from medicine, to industrial design, to psychology or the sex industry. One industry which is fearful of this disruption is author publishing, and it serves nicely to illustrate of how AI can be perceived – as a threat or an asset.
Over the last six months, there have been a few articles about AI robots writing their own movie scripts and novels. This script was produced as a short movie; it’s largely nonsensical garbage but is oddly fascinating.
We’ve also seen an AI robot write a short novel in Japanese. It nearly won a literary award (kinda). Developments like this have created understandable angst in the creative industry. Will writers be put out of business by AI competitors cranking out the next Great American Novel, or titillating 50 Shades of Grey?
On the surface, yes – this all sounds terrifying for struggling authors. Stories like these will cause inevitable concern about the viability of their career. However, if we can shift the perception of AI to be seen more as a tool than a competitor, negativity can be replaced by optimism. This shift means thinking about AI as Artificial Assistance, rather than Artificial Intelligence.
Big tech changes have already changed the way authors create and distribute their work, and a big one has been the emergence of self-publishing platforms such as Kindle or Lulu. AI can, in similar ways, become an intergral part of the publishing world, with authors gaining assistants to improve the quality of their work. Companies from startups like Fast Forward Labs to Salesforce are creating AI summarisation technology and related services.
The combination of human and artificial intelligence is seeing results in other fields. Human-computer hybrid teams, or ‘centaurs’, have recently been beating both human-only and computer-only chess opponents, proving that the combination of humans with technology can gain a competitive edge.
Returning to the author example, the Bullhound report argues that "as machine learning perfects language recognition, translation technology will see a boost in user adoption in 2018. Using neural networking, computers will be able to understand not just words but also grammar, resulting in a more natural, flowing translation and booming consumer usage."
The opportunity is there for all industries, not just publishing, to think in this way: recognise where AI appears to threaten, and find ways to work with it. Human endeavours can be augmented with artificial assistance, not merely replaced by artificial intelligence.