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  • Writer's pictureGraham

Why is it so hard to get our heads around AI?

Revolution or hype? Threat or liberator? After years (decades) of talk and numerous science-fiction movies, artificial intelligence finally seems to have caught enough people's attention that it is now officially a thing.

But the exact nature of this "thing" is the question, and not everyone likes what they see.

In a survey conducted just before OpenAI granted everyone hands-on access to what will soon seem like a very backward and clunky chatbot, opinions on the relative benefits of AI were mixed, to say the least. Nearly 80 percent of Chinese respondents thought AI was a net positive, while only a third of skeptical French respondents thought it would be any good.

In the meantime, we've had forecasts ranging from utopia to apocalypse.

So, what is it about the current situation that is causing all this confusion?

It appears to have happened suddenly, and things seem to be moving quickly.

Of course, it didn't actually happen suddenly at all, but what occurred was a significant shift in the availability and applicability of AI with the release of ChatGPT. Nevertheless, things certainly are moving quickly. Competitors are rushing to get their solutions out the door, entrepreneurial types are finding ingenious ways to utilize what's available, and a lot of money is flowing into the sector. All of this is creating a lot of noise, making it hard for outsiders to keep up. Even insiders find it challenging to stay on top of things.

AI is difficult to understand.

You might have tried reading a bit about how AI works, but quickly got lost in the weeds of neural network layers and weightings. Don't feel bad. Even the people who created these models can't fully explain the details, which is why the European Union is attempting to legislate a framework of accountability around it.

The future implications are hard to imagine.

I asked ChatGPT how artificial intelligence might impact legal services for Human Resources. It first came up with a reasonably predictable idea: "How might you leverage AI technology to streamline routine tasks, allowing more time for strategic legal counsel?" I then prodded it for something more... visionary: "What if AI evolves to the point where it develops its own legal system, independent of human laws?"

That's a good question. And, of course, we're not there yet. But we're heading in multiple directions simultaneously, and connecting all these aspects into something meaningful is challenging for brains with limited working memory, supposedly capable of holding only seven things at once.

Consequently, trying to contemplate something that's hard to understand, rapidly evolving, and has countless tentacles leading into the future creates uncertainty.

Questions outnumber the answers. Should I be doing something differently? Will something bad happen? Am I missing out on an opportunity?

So, the trick is to regain a sense of control so that you can make decisions with confidence.

  1. Educate yourself, but don't aim to be an expert. Your brain is lazy and prefers to consign new, complex things to the trash can of things it doesn't need to worry about. It would rather think about what you're going to have for dinner. However, to feel confident about something, you need to understand it, which means being a student of it. Yet, you shouldn't strive for expertise – you should aim to be an expert in your own field and grasp just enough of the tools to get you where you need to be. You can't be an expert in everything.

  2. Determine what's important to you. The world is vast, and AI is making it even bigger. It's impossible to consider EVERYTHING that will happen, so focus on the aspects that matter most to you and concentrate on those. If you're a lawyer, AI will have an impact on your clients, the nature of your work, and how you do it. There's no need to worry about the latest plug-in, cool prompt, or doomsday scenario.

  3. Decide what you want. To achieve something meaningful, you need to have an opinion about the future. So, once you've educated yourself and focused on what's important to you, all that's left is to set a direction and keep adjusting it as you progress. If you have a clear idea of what you want for yourself and your job/career/business, that establishes the framework for how you move forward and monitor developments. And there will undoubtedly be developments.

Technological change and its implications can feel overwhelming. Yet, it's precisely during these times that you need to lean in to the challenge rather than shy away from it. Despite the noise, artificial intelligence is already having profound effects, particularly in education. So the bottom line is: Act now, because the future doesn't wait to see what will happen.

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