Artificial intelligence is, by its very definition, inauthentic. Although this technology can perform basic tasks much faster than any human ever could, it can never overtake us in terms of creativity.
There are benefits to using chatbots to help customers navigate a large and complex website, for example, or to make the process of booking services more efficient. There are also benefits to using AI tools to handle repetitive tasks such as processing invoices or producing tons of search engine optimized marketing copy.
But it’s easy to see why many people find these developments baffling, especially when they pose a plausible threat to their job security. Those of us who worried about the rise of robots, as envisioned in dystopian sci-fi movies such as The Terminator, were promised that roles requiring creative flair, strategic insight and emotional intelligence would be spared automation. But advanced AI systems like ChatGPT seem to have belied those assurances recently by showing an ability to pass exams, write poems, compose music, and even make movies.
This is murky territory. BuzzFeed’s stock price may have skyrocketed when the beleaguered media company shared plans to publish AI-written stories, but companies that have tried it have run into trouble before. The story of tech publisher CNET is a cautionary tale about the ethics of blurring the line between journalistic production and cookie-cutter bot-generated content.
‘Humanmade’ is a quality mark
There is a certain prestige attached to products with a “handmade” label. The implication is that they require more skill and effort to produce, which justifies the higher price. Some people are willing to spend £5 on an artisan sourdough bread versus £1.50 for a machine-produced supermarket equivalent.
What about products that require artistic creativity as well as technical skills? Even if the AI can write a poem, a human is unlikely to be moved by it, so what’s the point? Even if a robot can be “creative”, it is only thanks to what man has taught it. Google may be developing a tool that can convert text to music, but who would really prefer that to, say, Adele’s expressive writing about her experiences of loss and grief?
We humans also crave social interaction. A recent survey by Computer Generated Solutions found that when it comes to customer service, 86% of consumers would rather deal with a human agent than a bot. It also revealed that 71% would actively avoid a brand if it didn’t give them access to human customer service representatives.
The problem is that the robots are not related. They have never been in your place. They lack lived experience and cannot provide reassuring anecdotes based on this. Even if they can be programmed to offer the kind of small talk and banter that helps strangers establish rapport, why would you bother to respond?
AI will undoubtedly have a bigger – and very constructive – role to play in many industries. In science, medicine and manufacturing in particular, human-powered “cobots” are already pushing performance boundaries in terms of speed, accuracy and range.
But other industries need to be careful to find the right applications for AI. Using automation to improve efficiency makes sense, but going much further on the creative side comes with risks. CNET articles, written using an unspecified “AI engine”, are riddled with errors and examples of plagiarism. AI-generated content cannot be truly original; it can only rely on what exists.
Businesses need to be aware of the message their adoption of AI sends to consumers and employees. Some companies are already taking a stand on this issue. For example, the American news site Axios promises readers that “every article will be…produced by a real person with a real identity. There will be no Stories written by AI.
This makes “man-made” the next battleground in the fight for people’s attention – and money. I would go so far as to suggest that the responsible use of AI may well become the next big environmental, social and governance issue.
Just as people value companies with a low carbon footprint or a strong track record of inclusivity, so do companies that understand the value of the human touch. Robots cannot replace us.