If you’ve been following the debate around Artificial Intelligence recently, you’d be forgiven for asking yourself: are we talking about salvation or extinction here? 

It’s been said that all change is upsetting, and I’ve come to believe this is the case. Change is ever-present, but the rapidity can often seem bewildering, and as the pace of life speeds up, we have less time to process events. We often feel overwhelmed and have to try taking stock and catching our breath. 

Our relatively recent experience with the rapid development of the internet bears this out. If you Google ‘Is the internet a bad thing’ as I just did, you’ll be presented with over 1 billion opinions in less than a second; of course, whatever the viewpoint, they were all published on the internet. 

Our wildly divergent views about the internet are evidence of our strange relationship with technology. We love using it, but know there’s a price to pay; it could be loss of anonymity or the provision of a megaphone for crazy people. 

But with AI, the relationship between potential cost and benefit appears to be the most extreme we’ve ever encountered.

Recently, I’ve read articles in which the creators of this technology have warned that unchecked AI could destroy our civilisation in just a few years. I’ve also read that it could create a new vaccine in a matter of hours, that it would find cures for cancer, and that it has the potential to eliminate hunger and reverse climate change. 

On that basis, it seems Barbara Kingsolver may well have been right when she said: 

‘The changes we dread most may contain our salvation’.

So, what do we choose, dystopia or utopia? 

The truth is this isn’t a choice any of us will get to make. The genie is out of the bottle, and AI drivers like Sam Altman of Chat GPT and Sadtya Nadella of Microsoft, who voiced their concerns, have already accepted this. 

They aren’t asking for a ban on research or a pause in development; they’re asking for oversight, or as they often refer to it, the implementation of ‘guard rails’. 

A little oversight in the early days of the internet would certainly have been good, as now it’s almost impossible to police or regulate, but creator remorse isn’t unique to this group. 

When Robert Oppenheimer, often referred to as ‘the father of the atomic bomb’, saw what his life’s work had brought about, a line from Hindu scripture crossed his mind:

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

That was almost eighty years ago, and mercifully Oppenheimer’s work hasn’t yet destroyed our world, although we have come close a few times. 

But what about those who feel they will be casualties of the AI revolution irrespective of how AI is policed; those in industries and professions already feeling threatened?  

At my agency, Hedgehog, we’re using AI to allow us more time to be creative; for us, it’s a tool that we apply to deal with the mundane, so we leave ourselves free to create the insane. Ideas are not the product of knowledge but the product of talent.

It wasn’t Da Vinci’s brushes that created the Mona Lisa, and although AI could produce a perfect replica, or arguably something as beautiful, it can’t replicate individual human genius. 

We’ve also seen that in the past, every technology that threatened a creative field was simply absorbed into it; photography didn’t kill painting as many predicted it would; the two now exist as distinct forms of artistic representation. 

The same is true of all creative endeavours. We don’t need to change dramatically, we simply need to adapt, and recent experience has shown us that whatever our shortcomings may be as a species, our ability to adapt isn’t one of them.

We are right to be wary, and we do need to install ‘guard rails’, applying the same diligence and oversight to AI that we apply to drug and genetic research, but we should also recognise that all progress comes as the result of change and what can’t be altered must be embraced. 

The opportunities are enormous, and the risks are real, but at this point, what else can we do?

By the way, all the images used were generated by AI.