News and Insights

AI: A Year in Review

December 19, 2023

Only last month (30 November) it was ChatGPT’s first anniversary. Since its inception, we have seen responses from business and political spheres to this new, unknown and ‘fledgling’ technology range from optimism to caution.

Much like any innovation in the technology space, ChatGPT, as a form of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI), has experienced its first hype cycle, what Gartner refers to as ‘a graphical representation’ of the maturation of a technology.

Each hype cycle involves the five key phases of a technology’s lifecycle. First there is the innovation trigger whereby a new solution is presented as a ‘breakthrough’ which generates market chatter. This slowly evolves into a series of early proof-of-concept stories generating media and public interest. In most cases, commercial viability is still unproven, and products might not exist yet. The next phase is the peak of inflated expectations whereby early publicity generates a “number of success stories,” often accompanied by a number of failures.

Occasionally there is a trough of disillusionment as interest wanes, implementation proves troublesome and initial products fail to deliver. Investment continues, providing the company improves its product for the early adopters. Then there is the slope of enlightenment, where second- and third-generation versions of the product start to emerge as more leaders (or consumers) recognise the benefits of the technology; more success cases emerge, and the tech starts to prove itself. Finally, there is the plateau of productivity where adoption becomes more widespread, and the product’s viability is more clearly defined.

Recent incarnations of AI have followed this trajectory, but at times their narrative or lifecycles have been slightly different and, in some cases, divisive.

How has the AI narrative changed?

At the beginning of 2023, AI was presented as a groundbreaking technology that was going to shake up every industry and change the way we do business, including public relations (PR) and copywriting. The PR tactic worked, everyone was talking about it, and it steadily became dinner-table conversation.

The advent of GenAI triggered seismic events throughout 2023, and quickly became the focal point for conferences – from how it will change the cybersecurity industry at the RSA Conference, to how machines will save the planet at Web Summit. The UK also held the world’s first AI summit at Bletchley Park, home of the World War Two codebreakers and the birthplace of modern computing.

The tech industry witnessed new success stories month-on-month as more and more companies adopted GenAI and integrated it within their product offerings. One particular story that caused a stir amongst the tech community was lawtech firm Luminance’s demo in November. Two AIs successfully negotiated a legally binding non-disclosure agreement and finalised the contract within minutes. The only time a human was required was to add their signature.

Unsurprisingly, GenAI has followed Gartner’s hype cycle. More success stories emerge as the technology enters its ‘slope of enlightenment’, but in this instance, it has massive consequences for the legal industry and business as a whole.

Over time, we’ve seen this AI narrative shift from one of ‘endless possibilities’ to one with serious implications, with industry leaders urging that it needs to be applied in a safe and ethical way. We have also seen that AI isn’t perfect – consider Google’s demo of its AI chatbot tool Bard earlier this year.

In the demo, a user asked Bard: “what new discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope can I tell my nine year old about?” To which Bard responded with “JWST took the very first pictures of a planet outside of our own solar system.” As reported by CNN, the first image showing an exoplanet was actually taken by the European Southern Observatory’s Telescope back in 2004. Google’s parent company Alphabet’s shares fell 7.7 per cent, shortly after the error was reported by news outlets.

In the early stages of the hype cycle, AI was presented as humans’ infallible superior. However, when AI makes mistakes, it can prove costly to businesses. More recently, researchers have expressed their concern with regards to the inherent bias of AI language models, a result of their training data.

The tone or narrative has changed here, and AI has proven to be a divisive technology. Since its inception, new questions have emerged including, where is this technology heading? How do we regulate this? This is not the traditional hype cycle in any sense. Unlike Gartner’s hype cycle, where companies encounter product implementation issues, AI has big implications for society and there are questions that need to be answered.

Electric dreams or a jobless utopia: the future of AI

At the AI Summit, Elon Musk and prime minister Rishi Sunak debated the future of AI. The world’s richest man described the technology as, “the most disruptive force in history” which in time will create a jobless utopia, replacing human jobs as it takes over day-to-day tasks. Sunak disagreed, and foresees AI being a “co-pilot” with humans at the reins.

Needless to say, the big themes that emerged from the AI Summit were the importance of continued collaboration and the urgency of establishing a shared international consensus on the capabilities and risks posed by AI.

Next year, nothing is for certain, but what is clear is that there needs to be more discussion around AI’s ethical applications, potential copyright issues, and security risks too. Most importantly, I think we need to focus on how AI can be used responsibly as a force for good – and us PRs have a role to play there too.

2023 has been the breakout year; industries rushed to adopt AI, identifying new opportunities and ways of doing business, and encountering issues along the way. But next year is when we’ll start to see AI applied more comprehensively and move closer to the enterprise. As implied in the Autumn Statement, further investment can be expected next year, with a focus on safety and regulation. We as PRs or marketers have a responsibility to separate hype from reality, to not get swept up by market chatter, but actively promote the technology in an ethical way and help shape this as the narrative. The AI market may become a billion-dollar industry, but as CCS Insight has suggested, GenAI could be set for a “cold shower” in 2024.

For information on how AI can impact PR and marketing, take a look at FINN Partners’ whitepaper:

TAGS: Technology

POSTED BY: Laurence Cooper

Laurence Cooper