It’s April 12, 2023. No newsletters for the rest of the month, as I’ll be on the road. I’m also going to be tinkering with the format of NPNR. I may focus on one topic rather than two or three — let’s face it, the writing can be better and more focused, and I’m time-strapped. As such, let’s focus on one thing at a time.
AI: The new metaverse?
AI is everywhere — just like the metaverse was a few months ago.
Remember 15 minutes ago when you were hearing about the metaverse everywhere you went? Seems like that…fizzled out? Obviously, people are still doing metaverse things. But it does seem to have lost some steam.
Even Mark Zuckerberg, who evidently has bet the farm on the metaverse, appears to be putting it on the backburner. Zuckerberg, and others who think like him, seem to think that the metaverse is the next iteration of the internet. They may be right. But for now, it seems that the masses, including yours truly, are largely unconvinced.
The issue, in my mind, is that the metavi(?) don’t seem to solve any problems. That’s not to say that it still won’t be the next big thing — we have all sorts of successful products and services that don’t solve any problems, just like at Facebook itself! — but anyone and everyone has pivoted to the new, new thing, to borrowing a phrase from Michael Lewis.
That’s artificial intelligence, or AI.
AI tools have been around for a while. You may use them without even realizing it. I, for instance, use a product called “Grammarly” to help me with spellchecking when I’m banging out text. I use a free version of it, and it’s often wrong, but it does help me catch typos and things like that.
But AI seems to really have taken off with the introduction of a tool called ChatGPT, which is a sort of chatbot. In effect, you give it a prompt and it produces some detailed text in response. One person explained it to me as being similar to Google’s ability to automatically or preemptively finish your search query.
This has big implications. It’s a tool that can be used to produce written content, produce summaries or explanations, and more. There’s definitely use for it in the market. It, along with some other tools that are finding their way to the market, are spurring a big new conversation around the uses of AI, too.
Which brings me to the big question: Is they hype around AI real? Or is this just the latest thing that’s going to dominate the news cycle for a while, like the metaverse?
I can only go off of what I think — as you all know, I’m not very bright or insightful — and I think that AI is different from the metaverse. I don’t just mean ChatGPT, which will, likely, be upstaged by some other AI upstart sooner or later. And I think AI is the actual new new thing, unlike the metaverse, for a few key reasons.
The first is one that I’ve already touched on: AI has actual use. Companies can use tools like ChatGPT to create blog content (although it won’t be particularly good blog content). They can use AI programs to automate tedious tasks, like data entry. It can be used for myriad other things, too, most of which I’m not sophisticated enough to understand.
Suffice it to say that where the metaverse was looking for a reason to exist, AI is being developed and put into use immediately. Every day. All around us.
Second, AI is a tool. It’s one that’s already being utilized in untold ways, too. That’s how we should think of it — think about trying to hammer nails before a hammer was ever conceived; once the hammer become available, building structures and breaking your fingers became easier than ever. I see a similar sort of productivity increase being born from the adoption of AI.
If you want to tap into your inner-Adam Smith, we can think about how AI will likely replace a lot of jobs. That may be alarming, and maybe not necessarily a good thing, but the idea is that AI can take on tasks that people don’t necessarily need to do, freeing us up to do more complicated, important work. Now, I don’t think that’s how this is going to be framed at all going forward, but on a broad scale, that’s what AI is going to do.
Why send coal miners into dangers conditions when an AI-powered robot can do the digging? Why spend five hours writing an SEO-optimized blog post about pest control in Orange County when ChatGPT can do it in three seconds? Why have an army of people plugging numbers into spreadsheets when a tech tool can handle it all, with fewer errors and lower costs?
It’s too promising to ignore. When it comes down to it, if an AI solution becomes available to do almost anything, there’s often no reason it shouldn’t do it. Of course, we’ll need to see how things evolve, but again, broadly speaking, offloading different types of work could open up different avenues for economic growth. It’ll be a weird, painful transition, but who knows?
Finally, I think we’ll see workers themselves take to AI tools. While some workers are evidently being forced to enter the metaverse for their jobs, AI tools, in the right hands, can make workers a lot more productive, and potentially, earn them more money. Again, this assumes that we think of AI as a tool, rather than a replacement.
Consider this, from a recent story from “Tech Brew:”
As breakthroughs in generative machine learning have spawned a flurry of cutting-edge AI tools, a new report finds that workers at higher levels of companies are starting to see the effects.
The survey, from automation platform Kizen, found that nine in 10 workers who made at least $100,000 a year reported using AI in their work life.
Meanwhile, just 15% of those making between $50,000 and $99,000 per year reported using the technology, while a quarter of respondents who made less than $50,000 per year said the same. The company said it surveyed around 1,500 workers overall.
So, high-income workers are realizing that they can use AI tools to help them create more value, and ultimately, make more money. The key, in all likelihood, is finding ways that AI can be used to automate tasks — think, if there were an AI bot that could somehow respond to all of your emails for you and how much time that might free up, depending on your job — which can then allow you to do other things.
And getting some hands-on experience and familiarity with AI tools can help you in the job market, too. Stanford publishes an AI Index Report, and the latest one shows that employers are looking for employees who can work with AI:
Across every sector in the United States for which there is data (with the exception of agriculture, forestry, fishery and hunting), the number of AI-related job postings has increased on average from 1.7% in 2021 to 1.9% in 2022. Employers in the United States are increasingly looking for workers with AI-related skills.
It’s hard to imagine how, in the short term, those numbers are going to decrease.
Accordingly, and with all of this in mind, I don’t really see how or why AI is going to slip quietly away into the ether like the metaverse has seemingly done. It’s possible, and the AI hype will surely slow down in the coming months. But the thing is, AI is infiltrating every conceivable industry we have, and I don’t see how the toothpaste gets put back in the tube.
AI could fly airplanes. It can write books. It can be used on farms to plan efficient planting patterns. It can be used to diagnose medical conditions. It can answer your most pressing questions about the plot of “Interstellar” as you chop carrots in your kitchen. It can, and probably will, be used in combat.
It’s everywhere. Like the metaverse was supposed to be, but isn’t.
Numbers and links
$600,000: The price tag for the new Lamborghini plug-in EV. (Insider)
500: The number of home runs hit during Major League Baseball games since 2010 that can be attributed to climate change. (ScienceDaily)
“There are kids who are so anxious they are not going to school”: An interesting conversation about how much pressure is on kids these days. (The Ringer)
This guy…is problematic. (ProPublica)
I think one of the biggest impediments to both is still technology.
The metaverse requires clunky headsets and the avatars “don’t have legs.” Not to mention there doesn’t seem to be many compelling uses for consumers other than creepy guys harassing the (few) women who show up.
AI really does have a much stronger case in terms of augmenting the skills of human workers.
I use an AI powered transcription service for interviews. It’s a time saver over transcribing it myself or paying someone. Of course the results are far from perfect and so I have to manually compare the transcript with the audio file as the AI produces quite a few mistakes—some quite hilarious.
I am in my 60s and don't want to get left behind by technology so I have jumped on board AI, not to do a lot for me, rather to develop my critical thinking, the skill which will be most in demand going forward. I wrote about how I am using it on my Substack AgewithAttitude https://robyneveringham.substack.com/p/building-cognitive-resilience
I also love Freddie Deboerr's article on the difference between AI and Consciousness thinking