When ChatGPT Hits Culture, What Happens?

Image by un-perfekt from Pixabay

ChatGPT, DALL-E 2 and other tools like Midjourney and Synthesia are the first Artificial Intelligence tools to run headlong into our global sociocultural systems. As a result, we might say this is the “Big Bang” moment for AI. Prior to these tools, AI was out there, but largely behind the scenes. It was hard to see how Ai was impacting our daily lives beyond using voice assistants.

Throughout history, whenever a potentially game changing technology hits society, our primal reaction is usually to reject it. Sound alarms. Froth at the mouth and collapse into despair at the loss of traditions and the good ol’ days.

So now that ChatGPT et al have come into mainstream society, what does this mean? What happens? Is the threat real? What do we do next? Is it really going to upend entire societies?

Not too much probably. Maybe a little. While on the surface, it certainly seems that artists, writers, perhaps lawyers and other knowledge workers, might as well pack up their kit, watch some off-grid living videos, disconnect, and go build a cabin the woods or start a commune. This would actually be counter-productive.

Yes, ChatGPT is a powerful AI tool. No, it has not passed the Turing test (which may not really be an applicable test to this tool anyway.) No, it is not sentient in any form. No it will not destroy entire industries or sectors. ChatGPT, like any technology humans have invented, has limitations. Some top AI engineers aren’t even overly impressed with ChatGPT and they have a point.

It is also a dual edged sword and it, like every single technology humans have ever invented, will have unintended consequences. Guaranteed. These are fundamental principles of all technologies. Carved in a stone axe.

Yes, Generative AI (GAI) tools like ChatGPT will have an economic impact. One estimate is that 47% of U.S. jobs will be lost. Perhaps. But as always, new jobs will be created. Additionally, politicians and their bureaucracies, are addressing AI far faster than they have social media. Although not fast or comprehensively, enough. GAI tools will be disruptive, quite how is impossible to say.

How Culture Will Shape Generative Artificial Intelligence

GAI and all its many tools, like ChatGPT however, is about to run headlong into a gooey, sticky mess that all technologies have run into. That mess is called culture. And culture is how human societies decide how technologies will be adopted, adapted and evolved. GAI is no exception.

The first element of culture that tools like ChatGPT, Midjourney and Synthesia impacted were the aesthetics element of culture; art, literature, music, gaming. While aesthetics alone are not usually powerful enough alone to stop or shape a major technology, economics, politics and social behaviours are, when combined.

Economic impact of ChatGPT: In economic, capitalist terms, AI is about to see a massive movement of financial capital. The promise of ChatGPT et al, is efficiency through automation, improving automation and thus the end result of delivering greater shareholder value. We are witnessing the start of this financial bubble. We can expect a series of announcements about VC firms and tech giants investing heavily into AI. Microsoft has already announced a US$10 Billion investment into OpenAI, makers of ChatGPT on a completely imaginary and ridiculous valuation of US$23 Billion. The bubble has started. It, like all previous bubbles, will pop.

Industrial Cultural Adoption: The advantage for ChatGPT right now mostly goes to small to medium sized businesses. A slew of consultants are already frothing at the mouth offering services to help businesses. The major consulting firms are chasing their Fortune 500 clients. This is when novel new technologies hit business culture. Some will embrace it and they’ll make some winning plays. The reality however, is that it will take several years for GAI to get adopted in large corporations and even filter into the broader business world. This is a mix of risk aversion at the executive level, pushback from middle-management who feel threatened by such change and will manipulate corporate bureaucracy. And some failures. Corporate change is often very slow.

Legal: The lawsuits have already begun. Artists, writers, poets. More will follow. GAI, like all AI, relies on massive amounts of data from which to learn. Much of the data ChatGPT an DALL-E 2 have relied upon for training is in the public domain. Much of that is likely copyrighted. Legal challenges could delay deployments and innovations of GAI tools.

Trainable Data: Not only do we have the legal challenges. There is a lot of data GAI tools do not and may never, have access to. Also, at some point, GAI may actually run out of accessible data. We may find that companies and creators find ways to restrict access to their content for AI tools.

Society: Already, individuals and organisation as well as Tech Giants like Google and even small search engines like DuckDuckGo, have and are developing tools to detect and protect against a proliferation of SEO oriented content and to help academia detect automated content. Social media platforms are taking steps to deal with ChatGPT and related GAI tools as well. Social organisms are reacting very quickly. Far quicker than they did with social media.

So What Lies Ahead for Generative AI Technologies?

An interesting time. Socioculturally, we have learned a lot about digital technologies, perhaps the best teacher of this is social media. And debates around the ethics of AI have been going on for some time and are starting to gain some traction in regulatory bodies and with lawmakers. The same issues are going on with data rights in a number of countries, lead by the EU government.

It’s going to be messy. GAI tools like ChatGPT offer some great opportunities across all sectors of industry and society. They are not going away. Nor should they. No one can be entirely sure of the risks/benefits yet, nor can we predict all the unintended consequences, and there will be some, we will figure out a path forward.

But we should not be too scared. Instead, we should be looking at what the outcomes might be, how to mitigate the downsides and explore how to make GAI tools work for us. I’d argue that has already started. Inevitably, when game changer technologies run into culture, it is culture we use to figure out how to make that work. It is how human society progresses. It is in our very nature.

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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital / Cultural Anthropologist | I'm in WIRED, Forbes, National Geographic etc. | I help companies create & launch human-centric technology products.