Ghost-busters in the machine? 👻

What does artificial intelligence mean for communications?

It is a question as evident and compelling to pose as it is impossible to answer with confidence let alone certainty.

It is hard to gauge the magnitude of where we might be in historical terms.

When the printing press arrived, it was impossible to predict the changes Johannes Gutenberg’s breakthrough would fuel in the very way we live.

When the steam engine arrived, it was impossible to foresee the rolling revolution that has been unleashed.

What can we say today at what might be another turning point in human history?

Change is crackling around us, driven by the combination of exponentially expanding computing power and a database so massive as to contain pretty much the sum total of human knowledge.

It might carry the promise of interrogating this knowledge to create new knowledge that could, say, end poverty, cure cancer and solve problems that sully existence and thwart its exploration.

It might, too, lead to a new form of sentience, referred to as artificial general intelligence (AGI), which, if its goals do not align with humanity’s, could herald the end of our species. Yes.

This would be associated with what’s long been referred to as the singularity – basically when intelligent machines and robotics break the bounds of human control and evolve on their own.

In such a scenario, AGI would be capable of creating ideas beyond human comprehension, perform tasks beyond our capabilities, and evolve independently.

These enticing and chilling prospects co-exist, and there is much debate as to the extent to which humanity will ultimately control its future.

The pace of change is enormous, perhaps as menacing as it is promising.

Within a single generation the number of human-generated existential threats has the grown from one to three. Nuclear Armageddon has been joined by climate change and now AGI.

Artificial intelligence has been brewing for several decades. But in the past several months, a tipping point has been reached and it has surged into circulation. The notion of an emerging, artificial form of consciousness has captured our natural consciousness.

As we wait and watch, with the emerging revolution chronicled in the surging daily outpouring of discussion and debate, much of it riveting and thoughtful, spurred by the urgency and the stakes, we should ponder how to respond and engage the existing power of AI to boost our creativity and productivity.

AI, at this stage, is a magnificent tool. It is not our enemy. Humans created it. It might evolve in a way humans neither control nor fully comprehend, but there is reason for optimism.

Ignoring AI is not an option. To embrace the status quo would be to self-harm. Communication, strategy, design, storytelling, interviewing, advocacy, planning, research, all these core elements of what we do in this human industry are aided by AI, not fundamentally threatened. At least, not yet.

The amount of time spent on perfunctory tasks can be crimped, expanding the space for creativity and ideas. It is in this space that humans excel and can be helped by these powerful emerging tools.

AI is designed to mimic the neural networks of the human brain. It has the capacity to have denser circuitry, as it were, but those ineffable, emotional, intuitive, instinctive elements of humanity remain, at least for now, our domain. They are the essence of human communication.

Every organisation, government, sector, industry, community – everyone – will need to consider the ethical, practical, social, and economic implications of AI.

The combination of agility and stability will be more crucial than ever. People will be looking to each other, seeking a path. Professional communicators should help illuminate the route, if for no other reason than enlightened self-interest.

There is potential to buttress and amplify advocacy. We look to be heading into a fertile time for evidence-based public policy progress driven by the intelligent use of data.

Creating and executing multiplatform campaigns becomes faster and easier, obviously.

Much of the creative potential lies in how humans interrogate AI. We could perhaps call it the art of the prompt. Look up ‘promptography’.

The more precise, smart, and creative the question or command, the most interesting and valuable the answers, images, and graphics tend to be. And it is in this iterative way that we help teach AI to work better for us.

How much of all this ultimately works for humanity is still probably up to us, although some think it is already too late to control AI. Might Elon Musk be right that with AI we have unleashed the demon?

Impossible yet to say. But it looks like we are going to have to, well, hack our way through at least part of this real-time sci-fi digital jungle. Sharpen your tech tools.