Mr. Blue Sky & the Ethical Light Orchestra

May 19, 2023
6 min read
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Welcome. This is our fairly long issue about Generative AI, part 2. We have divided it into three chapters you can flip through while you wait for Midjourney to deliver its upscaled Anime Mecha Churchill realistic photo. OK, let’s get to it.

Channeling our Prince-iples in 3, 2, 1...

Our point exactly.

Uncle Ben made us do it

“At the dawn of the age of electricity, no one quite knew how much the world would come to depend on what was still a novelty—not a utility (...) Now that computing has become a utility, even if it isn’t regulated that way, AI is in the position electricity was in the early 20th century (...)  By 2030, therefore, the foundational rethinking of the human/technology relationship that is AI will be well on its way to becoming as ubiquitous—and as consequential—as electricity”. Ogilvy 2030 Report

Change implies possibilities, and possibilities are good. It’s good to have an opportunity to learn about what we do, about how we do it, and to find ways of doing it not just faster, but more importantly, better. It’s good to have the opportunity to exercise our judgment, make the decisions, run the risks and call the shots. A great power. You know what comes with that.

You're preaching to the choir, Uncle!

There are several concerns about the use of AI in our industry, ranging from copyright infringement and plagiarism, to simulation and data management, among many, many others.

Ethics is ultimately, about limits, the lines you draw to make sure you operate within the limits of what you deem acceptable.

We must set the boundaries that mirror our principles. Those are for each one of us to define and defend. But we work in an industry where people put their money where our mouths are, so what we say matters, and whether or not we can be trusted matters too.

We deal with trust, and you build that, among other things, with honesty.

Eternal Rightful Ownership of a Spotless Creative Work

Bear with us on this one:

Let's say you call your favorite junk food place and order ten pounds of spicy chicken wings. That’s the prompt.

The delivery guy arrives and you pay for the food, establishing legal ownership. You tweak it with a pinch of salt, a bit of lemon, and your favorite dressing. In other words, you fine-tune the output to make it feel home-cooked).

Finally, you eat it, in all its deliciously greasy glory.

You saved a few hours of cooking, literally put food on the table for your family, and had a great dinner. Congrats. It was objectively a good and useful idea.

The catch?

Beer Intermission before the plot twist

The Pretenders 🎭

Here's where it gets tricky:

  • Would you call yourself a chef?
  • Would you tell your family that you made it?
  • Would you resell it as your work?
  • And would you feel proud about it?

Generative AIs are to creativity what fast food is to your grandma's favorite recipe, that you can still smell in the back of your brain and makes you feel like you’re ten years old again. These are inferior simulations using someone else's "inspiration" (dataset) to give you a reheated, hallucinated, and inaccurate lorem ipsum that should not be regarded with much respect, let alone pride.

We accept the fact that Everything is a remix. And yet there's an uncanny feeling we can't shake off. Authorship is something else. Marketing is something else. This is just bullshit.

Perhaps we're naive, but we believe we should own our truth and business culture, and then figure out how far we're willing to go on the road to efficiency without losing ourselves and becoming just another copy of a copy of a copy.

Don't get me wrong 🔑

This is not intended to be a Luddite manifest. We're looking kind of dazzled. We're crazy about the tool and trying to understand its true potential. It's fantastic. And it's not going away. But we can't shy away from the inherent challenges.

"New jobs will be created" is not a narrative strong enough to justify replacing entire teams.

"We can do six months of social posts" is not a narrative that gives us permission to bloat social networks with artificial, meaningless content that sounds like us.

Embrace unstoppable change, but set boundaries and demand accountability.

I hear you, Chidi. But change is hard.

A proposed approach: Set the rules. Make them transparent. Question the rules. Iterate. Stick to principles.

While we figure out what these changes mean and wait for people in power to catch up with this century's zeitgeist, we can bear our responsibility and publicly ask to be held accountable.

Define your criteria, set your limits and make them crystal clear for your customers, partners, and providers.

This "AI Code of Conduct" can take many forms. Here's what we're doing at One Totem:

When using one of these marvelous tools, ask yourself:

  • Are you automating tedious tasks? Or replacing someone?
  • Is the result better than doing it the good old-fashioned way?
  • Who are you helping? Clients, staff, yourself, the world?
  • Do you have the resources (time, budget) to keep people in charge of delivering creativity?
  • Are you optimizing something that doesn't need it?

Figure out the "why" behind it.

Have a good reason to use Generative AI. Or 2.

If you're incorporating AI into your daily processes for the sake of technology alone, please reconsider. Tech is only a medium and never an end.

If it's to achieve more with less time and effort, think carefully about who that benefits, and be transparent about it. The race to obsessive efficiency does not generally benefit creativity, exploration or innovation.

If it's because the resulting work really improves all the other very human stuff you do, make it work (and remain transparent about the fact that you didn't cook the chicken).

If it will impact other people's lives negatively, consider if there's any other way.

If it's because "Everybody's doing it so why can't we" remind yourself that following trends is a personal choice, and there's no real value in being an early adopter of anything.

Tell your customers when something was built with AI. Articles, images, videos, descriptions, customer support, order processing, live chat, product descriptions, search suggestions, you name it. Be open about the tools you use, why, and how.

And don't take it way too seriously. We might be looking at the early days of the greatest technology breakthrough, or not at all. Nobody knows. When in doubt, check your instincts and summon the Uncle Ben that lives in your heart.

Smarter people than us say 💭

  • Time to review our absurd obsession with efficiency. Rory is always right.
  • Outbound growth hackers were a pain in the ass before AI. Now they're unleashed. We'll just stop paying attention. Blair and David are always right.
  • If you're on Team Human or an aspiring Luditte, remember that moral high-ground campaigns weren't successful in the past. A different conversation is needed.
  • Rory Sutherland again (sorry not sorry, Rory's good) on cherishing irrationality.
  • If you haven't picked a side yet, know that you're not the only one. There's are many big, tough questions underneath a deceivingly simple discussion on technology adoption. Read Mattin's essay here.

Next stop: Making things work

Phew. Got that one out of our chests. Now let's move on to the final chapter: How to implement this (in what we think is) the right way. A quick collection of how we're trying to embrace change, plus sources for further reading and guidance from our favorite smartest and expertest people in the multiverse.

Chapter III: Building the plan as we wing it

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

💟, 🍵4️⃣2️⃣

Got questions? Suggestions? Opinions? (We love all of those).

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*We like our TL;DRs in forty two words.

Tagged: generative AI · newsletter · Opinion

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