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2023 – big changes & time to accept artificial intelligence could be for the best

This year has been exceptional for the sheer rate of change and not everyone is happy

2023 - artificial intelligence gets real

The future is here

2023 is the year artificial intelligence became a reality.

More accurately the past 12 months have seen change almost at an unprecedented rate. It seems barely a blink of an eye ago that I first started to hear about DALL-E and tried to take on board what I was witnessing. How within such a short period can that now almost seem like yesterday’s news?

The culmination, or poster boy of this period of radical redefining of our accepted norms came last Monday at Apple’s WWDC with the unveiling of Vision Pro.

Now, the mainstream press & public at large were catching on and riding the wave. No longer was it the domain of the tech nerds – suddenly it was in everybody’s face. Last Monday it crystallised – it became real.

The next step

In honesty, last Monday’s events weren’t such big news.

No, that’s not fair, seeing Apple’s Vision Pro for the very first time after all the conjecture and second-guessing was a massive moment, possibly even pivotal, but what I meant was, I and those of us in the tech space knew this was coming.

But last Monday’s events were the peak point of a tech bulge that had been swelling since last summer.

I mentioned that it was around this time last year that I first became aware of the image-creating bot DALL-E, but artificial intelligence had already been touching my life for years at that point.

I use any one of several Adobe apps daily and Adobe has been using Sensei, their AI assistant for nearly a decade. I’m sure the more you peel back your daily routines too, you’ll find artificial intelligence has already got a grip on you day-to-day as well. It could be the home assistant, the smartwatch or a smart journal app, but like it or not, AI is here and has been for quite some time.

The Summer of Discontent

Because of the sheer speed and alarming improvement of artificial intelligence models and generative AI this year it has forced its way into our attention.

As if we didn’t have enough to take on with artificial intelligence, then in the year that keeps giving augmented reality suddenly becomes an actual thing. As much as Vision Pro represents the cutting edge of technology it is also another dimension for us to absorb and digest.

The thing that has caught me by surprise over the past few months though is the levels of fear and resentment and even more surprising to me is that it is worrying all ages and generations.

I get that the older folks in society are often sceptical and worried by rapid change, but when the 20-year-olds are anxious too, you just know that something big is brewing.

Apple’s Vision Pro was almost like the cherry on top of the cake of change. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, MidJourney, Phind…the list seems endless. Although all these services have been lurking to pounce for a while, they have come out and hit us like a tsunami this summer.

Are we at sensory overload? Or are we just simply scared of our place in this new as yet undefined society? How will we fit in?

Where do we fit in?

One of the newer, less publicised but potentially game-changing generative artificial intelligent engines came from Google at their IO event last month. Google MusicLM will let you generate music from direct and well-crafted text input.

And while Google was at pains to make it understood that this was very much in its infancy, as we have seen over the past months, these things have a habit of developing very quickly. You can listen to a few that I generated here – no, they are not perfect, but again, this is ground zero and only the beta version at that. MusicLM is not even available to the public yet.

Now, I am the first to applaud change and clearly, I love tech, but this one hit home. In another life, I used to have quite a lot to do with musicians. Not just yet, but this will have massive implications for their livelihoods Not so much live music, but I imagine session musicians will be feeling very threatened by the march of Google MusicLM. No hourly rates, no rehearsals, no calling off at the last moment. Those are the undeniable positives.

The downside though is how anyone will earn a living! Those session fees are the mainstay of many jobbing musicians. And that is only the tip of the iceberg – the other biggie is royalties. Google admits that MusicLM has been trained on listening to thousands of hours of music from all genres. That is what gives it the ability to generate jazz, classical, pop, rock etc.

While it won’t allow you to ask for music in the style of any definitive person or band, there are workarounds. But for all those hours that MusicLM listened to actual music, will any royalties be paid to those labels or artists? MusicLM is not using their intellectual property publicly, but it will only be as good as it is because of them.

And that is just music – I write and we know how fragile that could be. Other than searching for the odd title or fact, you’ll never read any content of mine that is copied & pasted straight from ChatGPT, but I am aware that daily content similar to mine could easily be produced with prompts and generative artificial intelligence.

Voice-over artists, radio hosts and graphic designers – creatives that only a short while ago would have thought their roles to be safe, can now see the generative AI writing on the wall. Even photographers could become a thing of the past.

Just passing through

Going back to Apple’s Vision Pro device for a moment – I can’t help but wonder did we just taste the future?

Of all the stunning developments and features we were battered with last week, a couple stand out for me, emotionally at least. Pass-through and the future of for want of a better term ‘living’ photography and videos.

Mark Zuckerberg was quick to come out with his two bits on Vision Pro – overpriced and not his vision of the artificial intelligence future would be a rough take on it. He said it was a future but not one he wanted to be a part of.

While AI glasses may be the ultimate goal, they are a distant dream for now – years from reality, so goggles will be the bridge. But the technology we saw with Apple’s pass-through is where we are heading.

As the weeks, months and years pass by, the chances that we’ll find ourselves in a room with someone wearing a pair of mixed-reality goggles becomes more distinct.

Being able to see a recreation of someone’s eyes when you are in the room with them must be a step forward and reduce the feeling of isolation. I know even with Apple’s version it still looks a bit meme-like, but it’s a solid step in the right direction and an admission that something needs to be done to retain some kind of personal contact in the artificial intelligence future. We still need interaction.

Coming to life

To my mind though, even that pales when compared to the next steps for video and photography.

With pretty much everything I am talking about today just bear in mind this is as bad as it will ever be – so with that said I know that the thought of being that person at family parties taking video with the headset is going to look ridiculous, but that is because it’s new to us. Our brains are not accustomed to the reality of the new norm – we need to be re-set.

But if you can move past that, it’s the emotive payback that astounded me. It took me a few days to compute this but our emotional memories just got a big bump last week.

Like most people covering the news of Vision Pro, I have not experienced it, but I have watched as many videos and listened to as many podcasts as possible about it to learn about the experience.

And what comes through loud and clear is just how realistic the experience is. Photos (and music) already take us back to a time and place, but with moments captured with AR cameras, we will truly relive those moments. The kids will forever be five years old and moments with loved ones we’ve lost bought back to life. If everything I have heard is true, you can almost feel their breath and feel the air of that moment. Immortality no – but living memories yes. I’ve lost both my parents way too soon. Sure I have lovely vivid, beautiful memories, photos and some videos, but just imagine….

Wrapping up

Artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual realities are still in their infancy but are here to stay. Remember what I said, we are living through a period when it is as bad as it will ever be.

But the exciting thing is, the really exciting prospect is that we have the chance to shape the future – how often can that be said certainly on this scale? AI or generative AI at least relies on us, it learns from our prompts, actions and behaviour. Sure, as with any time in history, there will be the dark side but that is ever thus; the power of good will outweigh evil.

The horse has already bolted. You cannot hope to turn back the tide of time and push the toothpaste back into the tube. There is no point in attempting to be a latter-day tech-based King Canute. But you, I and we have a unique opportunity to shape the future – young and old alike. Yes, change is ahead. We all get used to our routines and accepted boundaries. But rather than running scared, moaning and burying your head in the sand, wake up and accept the exciting precipice at which we find ourselves.

2023 – the year that the future started. Are you on board?

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