It goes without saying that generative artificial intelligence (AI) is going to be a “game changer,” however it begs the questions: Which games will it change, and how is it going to change them?
I don’t know about games, but I know one thing – generative AI is going to change people’s relationship with information. It is the next step in a long line of technology that has helped to democratize knowledge for people.
Technology and Access to Information Go Hand in Hand
Throughout history, technological advancements have facilitated the general population gaining more and better access to information, subsequently improving their lives.
Next to the invention of writing itself, which started around 3400 BC in Mesopotamia, the printing press is probably most closely associated with the ability to disseminate knowledge among a large population within a relatively short period of time. Invented in China around the 14th century, a mechanized version was invented by German Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th Century, which took its design cues from earlier olive presses.
With the ability to create thousands of books in the same amount of time it used to take to create a single book, knowledge was much easier to share among the public.
And of course, the internet has allowed a veritable information explosion, giving virtually anyone an avenue to share knowledge with a large group of people instantaneously, and smartphones gave us a way to carry all that available knowledge around in our pockets.
This is a highly condensed and simplified explanation of how technology has helped democratize knowledge over the last several centuries. So, what part will generative AI play in this evolution?
How Democratization of Knowledge Helps Advance Society
While most of us have smartphones in our pockets that provide us access to basically the entirety of the world’s knowledge, one of the difficulties in learning about new subjects is the overabundance of information about them.
Even an encyclopedia page, which is meant to give a shortened history of a subject, can be overwhelming. This is why generative AI’s ability to condense and synthesize information is the next step in the democratization of knowledge.
Now, it’s easier than ever to learn about a subject thanks to AI’s ability to make it as simple as possible to learn. It also makes learning about a given subject more fun, because you can do it in an interactive and conversational way instead of just reading or watching a video on the subject. Interactive learning helps people to retain information better than passive forms of education like listening and watching.
Making knowledge easier to obtain and understand advances society by giving everyone equal opportunity to make a difference in the world. The more equal you make knowledge gathering, the more people will be able to learn about the world and contribute to it in a productive way.
This is especially true with generative AI, which can empower people to create things they wouldn’t have normally been able to without it.
For example, someone may learn about a subject using a tool like Bard or ChatGPT thanks to its aforementioned ability to teach about subjects quickly and meaningfully. That person may then get an idea for an app based on what they’ve just learned that could help a group of people.
However, this person does not know how to code, and therefore cannot create the app they are imagining. But, with a generative AI coding tool, they should at least be able to get a simple version of their app built.
In this example, we can see how generative AI democratized knowledge by giving this person the ability to quickly and efficiently learn about something they did not know about before, and add to the available knowledge by creating an app based on the subject they learned about. They didn’t have to spend hours of their time combing through information. It was all presented to them in an easy-to-grasp way. They didn’t have to hire a developer to make their app. They could simply take what is in their imagination and – with the help of coding generative AI – build their app themselves (or, at least an initial version).
What Could be Next for AI?
One of the next big leaps for AI will be recognition of its own ignorance. If AI can someday be “taught” to recognize when it does not know something, the roles could be reversed and it could query us for an answer to a problem instead of just “hallucinating” and making things up.
For example, in a coding context, the AI of the future may send a message to a human asking for help doing something that it cannot figure out how to do.
We’re already seeing this in a limited manner when Google asks you to clarify your search query when you make a typo to make sure it’s providing you with the correct information.
However, even if AI gets to this point, I still don’t think it will be able to replace humans because it lacks one extremely human trait: Imagination.
A generative AI can write you bedtime stories, but by the third one, they already get repetitive and unimaginative; ask my daughter who insists on a new one each night how quickly they get formulaic.
With its ability to synthesize information and present it in a way that makes learning fun, generative AI is the next step in the democratization of knowledge. It will take a coordinated effort between industry and government to make sure this technology is being used for the good of society. And, while it is an amazing tool, it still requires human imagination to reach its full potential.