Almost Timely News, February 4, 2024: What AI Has Made Scarce

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Almost Timely News: What AI Has Made Scarce (2024-02-04)

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What’s On My Mind: What AI Has Made Scarce

This week, let’s talk about generative AI, but obliquely. A lot of conversations occurred this week about the future of AI, from Congressional testimonials to the ratification of the EU AI Act, which is now the gold standard for regulating AI, planet-wide. All of that is important, but let’s take a step back to look at the bigger picture.

AI, and generative AI in particular, is really good at creating stuff at scale. We’ve talked in the past, and I cover extensively in our Generative AI for Marketers course, the six broad use case categories for generative AI: generation, extraction, summarization, rewriting, classification, and question answering. Today’s tools are very, very capable in all these categories.

The net effect, thus far, has been the creation of a LOT of stuff. You can’t scroll past a page or two on the social network of your choice without seeing AI-generated art or text – even if it’s robotic-sounding comments on your posts. You can’t escape news headlines about the use of AI in election tampering or in reducing headcount and layoffs.

That brings us to the subject of today: in a world where some things – like content – are abundant, what isn’t? What is scarce, rare, and therefore valuable?

Answering this question is the key to unlocking economic opportunity, to defending your employment, to building your brand. For good or ill, generative AI levels the playing field considerably. One of the shocking findings in the Harvard Business School case study on generative AI last year was that it transformed low-performing consultants into high-performing consultants in just a few hours. That means everyone has the ability, for tasks which generative AI does well, to be at least slightly above average.

We know content is abundant, perhaps overabundant. Information in general is abundant. Speed is abundant for many things – the ability to get something has never been easier or faster in human history. Last year, I managed to get a package from Amazon delivered into an active warzone in less than 6 weeks, which is absolutely nuts when you think about getting ANYTHING into a warzone.

Ideas, potential and actualized, are abundant and will be ever more abundant as generative AI gets better. Today, some generative AI tasks like music composition are pretty lame. That will not be the case going forwards.

So what’s not abundant?

Information is abundant, but correct information is not. Now more than ever, we have our choice of information in varying degrees of correctness, from outright lies to peer-reviewed truths. Our machines can create stories and information, but they aren’t inherently truthful. Take any even mildly controversial topic – like whether the planet is round or not – and you will find abundant (incorrect) information. Truthfulness, factual correctness – this is comparatively scarce. And when you get to a lightning rod topic like vaccines, for example, you will find false information in much greater abundance than truthful information. After all, lying about the safety of a vaccine requires no peer review process. (for the record, any vaccine authorized by both the USA Food and Drug Administration and the EU European Medicines Agency is safe and effective) This extends to things like software. Generative AI can crank out code, but is it correct code? A lot of the time, what generative AI cranks out is 98% correct – but software needs to be 100% correct to run, so while development is abundant, QA is scarce.

Useful information is also scarce. There’s no shortage of information, but there’s a shortage of useful, compact information. Go look at the length of some of the most popular podcasts and shows right now, and they can be jaw-droppingly long. Does the information conveyed require 2 hours, 3 hours, or more to correctly communicate the useful parts?

Well-understood information is scarce. Take generative AI. There’s no shortage of content about things like prompt engineering, but much of it is templated stuff and hacks made by the usual snake oil salesmen moving from trend to trend. These were the same folks hawking NFTs two years ago as the next big thing, and now they’re ChatGPT gurus. Compare that with folks like Dr. Fei Fei Li who has been working in AI and publishing peer-reviewed papers about it since 2008. Well-understood, well-researched information is scarce.

Time is scarce, made even more scarce by the abundance of information. It feels like we have less time than ever as we have more places to be, more work to do, more obligations to carry. Parkinson’s Law says that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion – and the inverse is true. With generative AI, we can do more work, faster – and so we get more work to do.

Right now, money is scarce, at a societal level and at a personal level for many. Big picture, our civilization as a whole just ran the printing presses and printed money like crazy in 2020 (which is a major driver of inflation). Since then, governments have slowly been clawing back that money, taking it out of circulation. As a result, money – mainly in the form of lending, borrowing, and investing – has become scarce. We see no shortage of layoffs and downsizing because the easy, cheap money has gone away. Combine that with record corporate profits after taxes thanks to price increases above and beyond inflation, and money is scarce for the individual person around the planet. For example, the Big Mac in countries like Argentina has more than doubled in price since 2019. In the USA where I am, it has increased 24% in price since 2019.

Actual connection to other human beings is alarmingly scarce. Again, you can’t go a day without another bit of news talking about the loneliness crisis – and it’s a real thing. The hyper-polarization of our information climate makes adversaries of everyone about everything, no matter what you believe in. As a result, our circles of friends dwindle, and we are relegated to talking about the weather and other safe topics instead of having meaningful conversations even about controversial topics.

Trust is scarce. Because of competing interests and an alarmist media environment where everything has to be amped up to 11 just to earn a few clicks, people don’t trust nearly as much as they used to. The 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer highlights that we don’t trust… well, most anything.

So, what do we take away from this big picture look at what’s scarce? What do we do with this information? In whatever business or industry you’re in, how much of what you do is abundant, and how much of what you do is scarce? Many industries that are running into trouble fail to recognize these shifts in abundance and scarcity.

Take newspapers, for example. Newspapers struggle in part because their revenue models were undermined by the Internet, but also because they failed to recognize they are not the source of information any more. They COULD be the source of credible information that’s well-vetted, but many have had trouble making that pivot.

The same is true for education. Education isn’t about imparting information any more – education is no longer the gatekeeper of information. What it could be is the arbiter of quality, the certifier of quality knowledge and thinking processes inside someone’s head.

In your industry, what is scarce, and how do you provide what’s scarce? Is trust scarce in your industry? Is human connection? Correct information? Time? Money? There’s no shortage of scarcity for things people value right now, and generative AI – and all AI – will have quite a bit of difficulty filling those scarce needs right now. It may adapt and grow into more of these roles in the future, but today, it can’t provide those scarce resources.

I will make this concrete marketing recommendation as the takeaway: the single most important marketing strategy you can embrace right now is the building of a strong, trustworthy, human-led brand. As machines create ever more information and we have less and less time and cognitive bandwidth to process that information, you have an opportunity to be a filter, a screen against the noise, a truly trusted advisor to your audience, your community, and your customers. Comedian Ze Frank used to end his video shows with his trademark phrase, “Thinking… so you don’t have to.” While tongue in cheek a couple decades ago, that is now a powerful brand promise you could offer your audience. Do the hard work for them, and they’ll give you value in exchange.

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ICYMI: In Case You Missed it

Besides the new Generative AI for Marketers course I’m relentlessly flogging, I recommend the fun, entertaining fireside chat I did with Geraldine Deruiter.

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What I’m Reading: Your Stuff

Let’s look at the most interesting content from around the web on topics you care about, some of which you might have even written.

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Events I’ll Be At

Here’s where I’m speaking and attending. Say hi if you’re at an event also:

  • Tourism Industry Association of Alberta’s Tourism Summit, Edmonton, February 2024
  • Independent Collegiate Booksellers Association, Denver, February 2024
  • Social Media Marketing World, San Diego, February 2024
  • MarketingProfs AI Series, Virtual, March 2024
  • Society for Marketing Professional Services, Boston, April 2024
  • Society for Marketing Professional Services, Los Angeles, May 2024
  • Australian Food and Grocery Council, Melbourne, May 2024
  • MAICON, Cleveland, September 2024

Events marked with a physical location may become virtual if conditions and safety warrant it.

If you’re an event organizer, let me help your event shine. Visit my speaking page for more details.

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Required Disclosures

Events with links have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

Advertisements in this newsletter have paid to be promoted, and as a result, I receive direct financial compensation for promoting them.

My company, Trust Insights, maintains business partnerships with companies including, but not limited to, IBM, Cisco Systems, Amazon, Talkwalker, MarketingProfs, MarketMuse, Agorapulse, Hubspot, Informa, Demandbase, The Marketing AI Institute, and others. While links shared from partners are not explicit endorsements, nor do they directly financially benefit Trust Insights, a commercial relationship exists for which Trust Insights may receive indirect financial benefit, and thus I may receive indirect financial benefit from them as well.

Thank You

Thanks for subscribing and reading this far. I appreciate it. As always, thank you for your support, your attention, and your kindness.

See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn

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