The impact of AI on Digital

David Glennie
October 6, 2023
Level 1

There’s an argument that the advent of AI heralds the extinction of the digital sector. It goes like this:

Our view of digital as being a real, meaningful thing in its own right is naive. Digital is just the expression of Google’s business model. The internet is made of one site (Google) that exists in order to send traffic elsewhere in exchange for cash or clout. It was important to Google that the internet was a success, and that we kept investing in it, so they started rewarding us with better ‘rankings’ if we kept our content fresh and kept up with the latest technical malarky. These ‘rankings’ are really important because they affect how much traffic we get - traffic is important because that decides how much money we make, and if we all try really hard to believe it then, one day, it might come true.

Google scrapes the whole internet, they could just give us what we asked for right there on their page, but their business depends on the concept of ‘traffic’, so they put up a page of links, like it was still the year 2000,  and we are grateful and rejoice.

So what happens when AI takes over as the dominant interaction? Instead of asking for a page of links we just ask for the info / the thing / the task to be done. And instead of sending us to other destinations the AI can deliver what we want without us leaving the site / the TV / the voice assistant / that weird Apple hat thing / the robot / the implant…

And the money? We’ve already seen the new model. ChatGPT is a subscription service. Soon we’ll get it bundled with our internet, or free with Tesco's clubcard points. For one monthly payment access to everything known or knowable, dreamt or dreamable.

What purpose then does digital have in this new world? None. Digital is just a way of getting human creativity into AIs. Instead of robots.text we’ll upload AI.text onto our sub-ceefax digital properties. Lonely, unloved web-pages visited only by our grandparents, and bots sent into the wilderness to harvest seedcorn for the AI. A billion lifetimes spent processing our humanity, meaning and trauma into art and words, so DALL.E can draw lifelike hands on Pepe the frog for some bored racist.

I’ve heard or seen this argument more than a few times - it’s flawed; compelling, but flawed.

Right now our attention is on the impact of AI on our working lives. We’re preoccupied with questions like, is Midjourney friend or foe? But once we’ve settled this debate (spoiler alert, it’s neither) we’ll need to find new ways of addressing this technology that gives our customers more than just the ability to drive down production costs.

The potential is huge, so huge it’s a little daunting.

To help our clients get an idea of what’s possible we do this exercise:

  1. Think of AI as a super smart office or customer service worker. They understand the business, they can reason and infer, they can carry out most digital tasks, they can interact in an on-brand way. They can also do this 24/7 and for a million people at the same time.
  2. Imagine a simple property like a website, then imagine giving each user a helpful human who will tailor the experience to the user’s needs and behaviours. Imagine they’re learning all the time and focusing on the user’s goal.
  3. Now imagine it’s not a chatbot…

This exercise has thrown up some wild ideas from customers. ‘Living Content’ instead of recommendation, sites that navigate themselves instead of by clicking, brand personification, a self-populating CMS, an advocate that joins human customer service calls and argues your case. There’s also been plenty of dystopian ideas, usually related to advertising…!

If you think this exercise could be useful feel free to try it - or give us a call if you want a hand.