Bear with me, I’m going to open gently with a story before I move to the central point because I think the central point is almost too large to grasp.
When I worked in local government there was a man in charge of committee clerks. He was a grey haired man, always approachable and always helpful. He made sure committee meetings ran smoothly and in accordance with the laws and constitution. He was a deep well of information and anecdote.
I remember being in his office one day and he pointed at the grey filing cabinet in the corner of the room.
“Back in the day,” he said. “That’s where all the archives were stored. Every set of agenda papers, every minute, every decision. It was all there. There used to be a queue of people asking to check things and we’d have someone who would check things for them.”
His tone darkened.
“Then the internet came along and someone in their infinite wisdom decided that was better.”
At first, I thought he was joking. He wasn’t.
As the gatekeeper of that information he was an important man. He still was important. But something told me he missed being that gatekeeping librarian. For the first 20 years of his career he was the internet as far as constitutional matters were concerned.
The internet meant that anyone could do it when previously just one could. There was many winners and one loser.
Something is going on with Chat GPT
I don’t think I’m overselling it to say that something is happening right now that is truly revolutionary and I’m not sure if we’ve got our heads around it.
In late 2022, the Microsoft-backed AI chatbot ChatGPT was released. It plugs into 20 years of internet knowledge to produce solutions to tasks given it. Google finds you the links to help you piece together the solution eventually. ChatGPT finds the solution and gives you it with a bow tied around it.
I’m coming to the main point.
If you have earned your living from the knowledge economy your job is about to be turned upside down.
What you’ve spent years working and studying for can be replicated in seconds by ChatGPT.
As an experiment, I gave it a few tasks.
I used it to create a tenancy agreement under the law of England & Wales that favoured the tenant here.
A Dad’s Army scene that involves Captain Mainwaring, Sgt Wilson and a Tech Bro from Shoreditch looking to move to Warmington-on-Sea here.
I also asked it to write a communications strategy for a charity that looks to communicate with young people and to set out the channels here.
Other people have used it for far greater tasks.
Like writing a Seinfeld script, a tool for debugging code, design meal plans, as a rival for Google search, writing a piano piece in the style of Mozart, writing verse in the style of Shakespeare on climate destruction or a poem about electrons written in iambic pentameter.
Looking at what I asked it to write it looks as though it’s about 75 per cent there.
It looks as though it was written by a human and it makes sense.
The thing is, AI looks to improve itself constantly. These are the baby steps. Far more powerful tools are expected in the next few years.
What ChatGPT and AI tools mean
There is a school of thought that says that we are moving overnight from being information creators to information curators.
The most extreme of predictions are that potentially everyone who has a career in the knowledge economy can be replaced. Why pay for five £40,000-a-year professionals, the argument goes, when two using AI can do the job?
AI companies that have written about the industry insist that AI is not to be feared. They’re here to help, they say, not replace. There’s part of me that’s not so sure they even believe that themselves.
Many schools and Universities who have started to wake up to the threat have moved to ban ChatGPT from work submitted here and here. This prompts the idea of an arms race between AI essay writers like ChatGPT and software that can detect AI writing. Internet Q&A site Slack Overflow have also banned ChatGPT for providing answers that are not reliable.
What does ChatGPT and AI tools mean for comms and PR?
On the face of it a tool like ChatGPT is a threat. It can produce what you do to an increasingly good standard. That’s dangerous, surely? Well, partly, yes and partly no.
If we step aside from the shock of seeing the outline of a comms plan being produced by a robot we need to ask ourselves the question ‘then what?’.
A comms plan on its own is an attachment that sits on a hard drive. On its own, it won’t produce and post content. Right now, that will need some human involvement. Sure, ChatGPT could help to produce the rough content but right now it still needs shaping and scheduling.
What’s coming out of an AI tool is not 100 per cent fool proof. So, there’s still need for humans.
Right now, tools such as ChatGPT can be a help to the day-to-day. It’ll be fascinating to see where they take is in two, five and ten years.