Opportunity or threat? Why we need to move beyond AI scaremongering

Posted by Lauren Harris in News

4 months ago

“Don’t bring kids into this world” is advice we’re used to hearing from eco-activists. But when artificial intelligence (AI) expert Mo Gawdat issued this warning on an “emergency” episode of The Diary Of A CEO with Steven Bartlett podcast last week, he wasn’t talking about climate change. He was talking about technology and, specifically, AI.

Gawdat, formerly chief business officer at Google X and author of Solve For Happy and Scary Smart, is now chief AI officer at Steven Bartlett’s marketing and communications company Flight Story, showing the entrepreneur has recognised AI’s significance and scope.

Speaking of the appointment, Bartlett said: “Artificial intelligence embodies the greatest existential risk to life as we currently know it, while simultaneously offering the most significant opportunity for positive enhancement.

“As the founder of a global marketing agency which advises brands on implementing this technology, it is my responsibility to ensure we have industry leading experts at the very top of our team.”

Key takeaways

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t a new concept but has become a hot topic in recent years
  • The term relates to using computers to do things that traditionally require human intelligence – its main strength lies in processing large amounts of data in ways that humans cannot
  • AI-driven marketing is set to drive 45% of the total global economy by 2030
  • Concerns abound about what it means for people’s safety and content’s authenticity, especially with the ability for information to be shared so quickly and globally on the internet
  • Entrepreneur Steven Bartlett recently hired a chief AI officer, Mo Gawdat
  • Gawdat acknowledges the scope and significance of the technology but importantly advises people to be optimistic
  • In marketing, AI can be used to speed up workflows and learn more about customers
  • Visual assistance app Be My Eyes tells CORQ the technology is crucial for improving accessibility for the disabled community

AI, already a hot media topic, has dominated conversations at London Tech Week in recent days, with discussions of its implications for everything from politics to artists and internet safety.

Politically, AI is a cross-party issue. Both prime minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer turned up to talk on it, while former Commons opponents Tony Blair and William Hague have co-published a report on the subject, warning that AI will lead to a “fundamental change in how we plan for the future”.

It’s easy to hear only the scaremongering. But what has been missed in the tumult of headlines about Gawdat’s advice was that he also – crucially – told us not to panic.

“By the year 2029, the smartest being on planet Earth is going to be a machine,” he told Bartlett.

“I am 100% optimistic [about AI]. It’s our limited intelligence that is the hindrance of humanity. AI is never going to get to the point of what we saw in Robocop or iRobot.

“Just like you can use AI to find solutions for climate change, you can also use it to develop advanced viruses.

“AI will happen, it will be smarter than us, but we could influence it as good parents.”

The year AI hit the mainstream

Neither AI (nor our fear of it) is new but it has become a huge talking point this year, especially on social media. ChatGPT 4, OpenAI’s free tool that allows anyone to generate text on a topic of their choice, launched in March 2023 and took the internet by storm.

Then came several attention-grabbing viral posts such as Pope Francis apparently sporting a white puffer jacket (made using the AI art tool Midjourney) and fake images of former US president Donald Trump being arrested in New York (created and circulated by investigative journalism website Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins).

These instances captured public imagination, while also widening concerns about the potential harm of such realistic “deepfakes”, how they might be used and what the consequences could be: from scoring political points to destroying someone’s reputation and seriously complicating both criminal and civil legal cases.

In response, Twitter has expanded its user-generated fact-checking programme Community Notes, which was introduced to add context to potentially misleading content on the platform, and was key to debunking Pope Francis’ new style.

Risks and rewards of AI in marketing

In marketing, AI presents a whole other conversation – one that is more constructive and entirely business-led.

A 2023 survey from software firm Sitecore found that 72% of marketers in the UK plan to use AI in their strategies and would allocate as much as 30% of their advertising budget for AI tools.

About 63% of UK marketers have already trialled AI, according to the survey, with 68% believing it is time to invest in the technology, and 92% think it will help fill skill gaps within their businesses.

According to social media management platform Sprout Social, opportunities for using AI in marketing include: social media listening, content generation, automation, audience segmentation and personalisation, data analysis for customer insights, reputation management, competitive intelligence and a multilingual advantage.

These elements combined provide a more efficient workflow and highly precise insights into the customer journey and market trends.

Looking ahead, future opportunities include computer vision (allows AI marketing tools to derive insights from non-text digital data available in the form of raw images – in retail this could be used to identify imperfections in products in a manufacturing assembly line or to ensure shelves are always full), AI chatbots, predictive and prescriptive AI and responsible AI.

The UK’s competition watchdog is launching a review of foundation AI models, the technology behind advanced tools like ChatGPT, to gain a better understanding of the market’s opportunities and risks.

Key areas of focus for the Competition and Markets Authority’s preliminary investigation are AI’s implications on safety, security, copyright, privacy and human rights, and its report is due to be published in September.

How brands and platforms are using AI

Social media giants such as Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram have already jumped aboard the AI chatbot bandwagon.

Snapchat’s My AI has received criticism, with Evan Spiegel, Snap Inc. chief executive officer, himself admitting it is “far from perfect”. However, at its Partner Summit in April, the company announced plans to commit to increased augmented reality and AI experiences.

As well as gathering customer intel and improving communication, brands are utilising AI for creative campaigns and innovative designs, particularly in the fashion sphere.

But perhaps most importantly, it opens up a more accessible and enjoyable world for the disabled community.

Earlier this year, the Estée Lauder Companies launched a Voice-Enabled Makeup Assistant app, to help visually impaired users more easily and confidently apply makeup.

More recently, YouTuber Lucy Edwards collaborated with visual assistance company Be My Eyes to promote its AI-powered Virtual Volunteer app, which she has used to navigate around the gym, select her outfits and buy food from the supermarket.

“Our mission is to make the world more accessible for 253 million people who are blind or have low vision,” a Be My Eyes spokesman tells CORQ.

“This is not only a natural extension of that mission – but also necessary to advance the interests and independence of our community.

“Imagine navigating a train system in an unfamiliar place, traveling in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, browsing websites and social media platforms, online shopping, and a host of other ways we know our community will help us identify – the possibilities are limitless, and we’re just getting started.”

By Lauren Harris, CORQ editor. Picture credit: Lucy Edwards via Instagram