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Humans First: Where do people fit in when it comes to AI?

There’s been plenty written about how the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will put us all out of work. It’s easy to buy into the paranoia and assume that someday soon we’ll all be controlled by “the machines,” rather than the reverse. AI, particularly tools like ChatGPT, made a big splash in late 2022 and have continually made headlines and inspired think pieces.

Humans First: Where do people fit in when it comes to AI?

If you came looking for someone to fully dowse the flames of AI hype, you’ve come to the wrong place. But I do think I can offer a slightly different perspective than the “we’re all doomed” narrative.

Will AI make humans obsolete?

Christina at Inbound conferenceAI was a headliner at the recent HubSpot Inbound marketing conference held in Boston. Like many professional conferences, nearly every single workshop or panel discussion made mention of AI.

One particularly interesting take came from Meghan Keaney, vice president of marketing at Jasper, an AI content platform. Even though Keaney works at a tech company with AI in the tagline, she struck a more moderate tone in her remarks during a session entitled, “Supercharge website growth: What’s new for web and content.”

“People are going to matter more in the age of AI,” she said.

It’s a simple sentence and on the surface it seems contradictory. How could people matter more when we have technology that replaces human thought with computerized cognition?

What I think Keaney was pointing out is that when everyone has access to the same or similar AI tools, it’s going to take real humans with real opinions and real insights to make brands unique. In a sea of AI-produced content, how do you make your story stand out? It’s by bringing yourself and your perspective to the forefront.

Keaney is not alone in her point of view. There’s a growing chorus of people who are pointing out that humans—and businesses—that understand how to use AI effectively will be positioned for success.

Tech adoption timelines

Take Karim Lakhani, a professor at Harvard Business School who specializes in workplace technology and AI in particular. In an August 2023 interview with the Harvard Business Review (HBR), he draws a parallel between what we are experiencing today with the rise of tools like ChatGPT, to what occurred in the 1990s with the introduction of the first web browser.

If you’re an elder Millennial like me, you can remember the day you first used a web browser to access the Internet (or the World Wide Web as we liked to call it back then). I can recall using my parents’ Gateway computer and installing a piece of software called Mosaic to visit something called Yahoo.com. It really was a game-changer, and it’s a game that’s still evolving today.

But it’s not as if the day after Mosaic was released the way we conduct business changed. In fact, it took until the late 2000s—or nearly 30 years—for two-thirds of American businesses to have a website, according to a recent article in The Economist.

ChatGPT and other AI tools are the first major publicly available innovation in this space. But it’s going to take a long time for us to figure out how best to use them and how to best integrate them into our jobs.

For his part, Lakhani encourages businesses leaders to embrace AI and invite all employees to experiment.

“Give them access to tools, figure out what use cases they develop, and then use that as a basis to rank and stack them and put them into play,” he said.

He, like Keaney, strikes a reassuring tone about what role humans will play as AI becomes more and more common.

“What I say to managers, leaders, and workers is: AI is not going to replace humans, but humans with AI are going to replace humans without AI,” Lakhani said.

So I guess the next step is figuring out how AI can help you do your job more efficiently. For my part, I’ve been less-than-impressed by ChatGPT’s writing abilities – and yes, I’ve used very detailed prompts. But I’m slowly finding areas where AI can take some of the drudge work out of my day. For example, instead of hunting around for interesting emojis to add to a social media post, I ask ChatGPT for help. Instead of doing a Google search for blog ideas about trends in IT staffing, I ask ChatGPT for ideas.

Is this revolutionizing how I do my job? Not yet. But it’s the start of an evolution and the key is to not get left behind.