By Standish Stewart, VP and CIO – Information Technology Services, Cuyahoga Community College
This iconic line from the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, is a bridge between our fictional past and our all-too-real present.
In one pivotal scene, an astronaut named Dave directs HAL (the heuristically programmed algorithmic computer that serves as the brain of the spaceship Discovery) to take a specific action — but HAL declines, as the action goes against its programming.
This example of artistic friction between humans and machine is top of mind for many as artificial intelligence (AI) evolves. But we can’t let this fear stop us from exploring, embracing, learning and directing this transformative technology.
Stories about generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Dall-E 2, Gen-2, Bing Chat, Bard and hundreds more are everywhere these days. The genie is already out of the bottle — and since there’s no chance of stopping this wave, we as technology leaders must help direct the tide toward positive outcomes.
I know we’re all tired post-pandemic and have too many to-dos on our list already, but here are some ideas for getting your arms around generative AI before it puts its arms around you.
Generative AI platforms can’t solve your problems per se, but they can help broaden your thinking and may identify angles or paths that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
The best way to acclimate yourself to these new technologies is to play with them. Most platforms offer free, entry-level accounts, so set one up and test it out. It’s been fun asking ChatGPT questions, and I’ve been impressed with some of the answers provided. It’s also been interesting to compare results between platforms, which can vary significantly. The more you play with these tools, the more you’ll start to consider how and when they could be leveraged.
Define and Communicate Positive Use
Once you get comfortable in this space, it’s imperative to define and communicate what the positive use of these tools might look like for your organization. I recently read an article that broached the topic of preventing employees from sharing trade secrets within these open and available tools. If you don’t clearly define how and when to use a tool, your creative colleagues may take actions that could inadvertently put your business or customers at risk. As you play with these platforms, develop concise and clear language to help everyone understand, without a doubt, what is permissible at your institution.
Ideate and Innovate Through Exploration
The aspect of generative AI that speaks loudest to me is the space it creates for thinking differently. Sometimes, the hardest part about moving forward with an idea or a project is getting started. The next time you’re stuck at the beginning, try asking a generative AI platform a few questions pertaining to your initiative (assuming those questions align with your policies). As you receive feedback from the platform, keep asking questions to refine the output until you have a concrete point from which to start. Generative AI platforms can’t solve your problems per se, but they can help broaden your thinking and may identify angles or paths that you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
Identify Potential Efficiencies
While there are significant efficiencies to be gained by leveraging generative AI tools, these platforms are not human replacements — rather, they complement the amazing things people do by speeding up the time to completion. The generated outputs are starting points, not polished deliverables. Humans play a critical role as gatekeepers to ensure the output makes sense, is appropriate and serves a stated purpose.
Educate Yourself and Others
When it comes to generative AI, reading really is fundamental. Start with the myriad articles in circulation, especially those that cover corner cases of success and failure. Learn how others are leveraging these tools in industries outside your own, as it may help you find new ways to solve problems in your field.
Study simple applications and complex creations. Become familiar with associated legal issues and bias. Keep your critical thinking skills sharp to guard against new cybersecurity threats made possible by bad actors incorporating generative AI into their toolkit. Share your knowledge broadly and help others understand that this is a mechanical tool, not some infallible being.
This is an exciting time, and there’s no going back — so let’s learn to embrace this transformative technology through exploration. Commit to playing an active role in directing generative AI’s evolution by incorporating it into your daily work and staying on top of the latest developments. We are at the beginning of a major technological shift, and it’s up to us to help ensure positive outcomes.