Our brains are, and have been for millions of years, search engines first. We search from the time we wake up to when we go to sleep. Our brains search engine helps us make sense of the world around us and aids in defining our reality. And we all have different realities.
Searching then combines with our ability and need, to communicate with one another. The basic reason we communicate is to find common ground between our reality and others realities. One reason social media has become so integral to our modern world is that it’s a means of finding commonalities in our varied realities. It can also be a stark reminder of how different our realities can be.
Our brain’s search function is fundamental to human survival and existence. It helped us avoid being on the menu of other animals a very long time ago. And into today.
As the internet grew into a massive, complex information landscape, essentially millions of databases, we needed a way to search the digital world in the same way we search our physical world. Google figured out how to do this the best and leveraged A.I. tools such as Natural Language Processing, Neural Networks and Machine Learning and being very smart at algorithms.
Internet search engines became steady in use, but were only effective up to a point. Until recently, they may have served up many sources of information, but they didn’t deliver context. We still had to do a fair bit of work to gain context, to understand. It’s why the concept of “going down a rabbit hole” became so popular.
Now, Generative AI, such as Large Language Models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT, Bard and others, can serve as an augmentation to our natural behaviour of searching the world around us. GAI tools are essentially a digital search upgrade to help our brains find context faster, reducing the time it takes to gain an understanding and take action.
We know right now however, that they are not perfect. The risks are that many LLMs have a tendency to make up their own facts. They can be manipulated to create disinformation. They also tend to repeat themselves using different words to say the same thing. Additionally, while they’re getting better, a researcher, marketer or content creator, still needs to do a fair bit of editing and reviewing. But they are beginning to be of value to augmenting our lives.
For now, GAI tools are still not quite the productivity boosters that the hype would have us believe. For a while, they may even hamper productivity. As Information Technologies became more pervasive in business, it was expected there would be a massive improvement in productivity. Instead, the opposite happened and we remain locked in a productivity paradox.
But LLMs will evolve and improve. Their value will increase as we set societal rules around their use and culture figures out the role of GAI in our sociocultural systems.
When GAI companies talk about how their A.I. tool can change the world, we often see that in economic terms only; job losses, new jobs, changing business models. This is a narrow viewpoint. The more significant game change is how GAI augments our ability to understand one another and make sense of our increasingly complex societies that are ever more reliant and impacted by, digital technologies.
One significant area of opportunity for LLMs and Generative A.I. may well be enterprise information and knowledge management because most organisations are absolutely horrible at this. Some researchers state that the average worker spends upwards of a full workday a week looking for information inside company information systems. LLMs could provide a huge boost and require less time to be spent searching and then building context.
GAI needs to improve a lot before we truly unlock the potential and understand the value. As new evolutions of LLMs and GAI tools come into being, especially as they are mixed in with other A.I. tools like Neural Networks and Natural Language Processing and move beyond just prediction, more value will be unlocked.
Too, we know we need guardrails. Not just to protect against more weaponisation and crime, but to also more deeply respect and assist human behaviours through culture and society. An area ethicists have been working on but companies putting A.I. into the world are largely disregarding for now. They’re focused on economic value, not human value.
The most significant benefit of GAI tools, when we figure it out, may be that we can start to understand each other better and gain a more improved understanding of the world around us. GAI could be of enormous value to understanding the human condition, something we anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists have long been working on and likely will still be for a long time yet, even with A.I.