Happy 2023! 👋
A couple weeks after writing my last blog post on dealing with anxiety, ChatGPT was released. Then, I started on a 7-week trip to Dubai and India. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been reflecting on how technology is transforming India and how large language models (LLM), like ChatGPT, will transform the world. Like many, I’ve been reading hundreds of posts about the future of work, advice on how to use chatGPT day-to-day (link 1, link 2, link 3), and the potential harm of chatGPT.
As a designer and writer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the implications of my work. I’ve started using chatGPT in small ways, like helping me write more concisely at work or jumpstarting my projects by asking chatGPT to brainstorm ideas. Simple stuff. But rather useful. After writing a first draft, it can be hard to look at your writing and think about how to tighten the language, reframe a sentence, or make the writing flow more smoothly. I’m guilty of “first draft perfection,” but chatGPT handles this well. I haven’t found the output usable as is, but rather an input to my own process.
I thought I might start the year with a post about goal setting or annual reviews. But I’ll save that for next week. Today, I want to talk about the future. The future of work, of life, of technology. For me, the new year often orients my thinking to the future – setting new goals, a fresh start, new hope, and regained ambitions. Today will be a bit different than my usual posts, so please drop me a reply (you can reply to this email) to tell me what you think and I’ll follow up with you. And if you find this useful, consider sharing this with a friend.
Fear of change
When Alexa launched in 2014, it showed this incredible potential for voice interfaces. People could just ask what they wanted from Alexa. And it did a really damn good job but with one tiny problem. It was great on a limited set of functionality (music, weather, times, alarms). After setup, it wouldn’t take you very long to reach an error message and find the invisible boundary of the device’s functionality. Amazon has spent eight years since its launch expanding its functionality, but the invisible boundary still exists.
What’s remarkable about chatGPT is the breadth of knowledge, use cases, the helpfulness you can ask for, and the high-quality answers. Of course, it still has its limitations, but the utility far surpasses anything we’ve seen before from a consumer-facing AI experience.
You can ask chatGPT to write code, create a product requirements document, write a first draft, edit emails, and brainstorm ideas – just to name a few. Around the same time chatGPT was released, we’ve also seen many big tech companies experience layoffs, with tens of thousands of experienced and talented individuals looking for new roles.
Yet, as impressive as chatGPT is, it also has stirred many to wonder: What will the future of work look like? When will my job be disrupted?
Humans are hardwired to resist change. We require certainty, routine, and control. These provide us with a sense of security and predictability. This need is rooted in how we evolved as humans, as reducing uncertainty helped our ancestors survive in unpredictable environments. Our brains are wired to resist change, which reduces stress and anxiety when we feel a sense of stability.
You’re not alone if you feel nervous about how chatGPT will change how we work. I’m there with you, as are many people I’ve talked to. And yet, if we look at a historical perspective of change, we know the positive impacts it can have in improving our lives.
Embrace the new
I jumped on the Sketch bandwagon in 2014 after doing all my UI designs in Photoshop for many years. (I never got on the Fireworks train.) It was a noticeable improvement with artboards, easy layer selection, and the right UX to create UX. But when I moved to Google, I was resistant to transition to Figma. Some folks at Amazon had been talking about it, but I was a Sketch enthusiast… could I really make the transition?
Almost a year and a half into using Figma, I laugh thinking about how I didn’t want to make the change. In my experience, Figma’s collaboration capabilities make it superior to Sketch, and I haven’t looked back since.
To thrive in the future of work, we need to accept the changes in our tools and way of working. Be quick to adopt new tools. And also be astute at letting new tools go that don’t help you be more effective. Be adaptive as our environment around us changes and requires us to change to thrive.
In 2021, I transitioned away from Evernote after being a paying customer for 9 years and having over 8,000 notes. As much as I loved the tool back in 2015, it’s become clunky and slow. I still use Evernote for a couple specific things (on their free version), but I am still using the desktop version released in 2018 because the web framework they launched in 2019 is awful. (So far, no issues.) I should’ve left Evernote several years earlier, but I was resistant to giving up a tool I loved so much and was such an advocate of.
As AI becomes more prevalent in many areas of our lives, be willing to try it. Perhaps start in small ways, but don’t resist it entirely.
Future of content creation
Historically, the only use I’ve gotten from AI in writing is using Grammarly for editing. Now, chatGPT can write entire posts using the tone, style, and content you want. I’ve asked it write several 2,000+ word blog posts for me, and they are pretty interesting to read using actual, relatable examples from people in tech would experience.
As a content creator, I’m faced with this dilemma. On the one hand, I just shared the advice to embrace change. On the other hand, I wonder about the value of what I put into the world if the ideas come from an AI. Yet, some journalists are already using chatGPT to generate articles.
In case you’re wondering, I didn’t use chatGPT to write this post. You can tell because it’s far more rambly than chatGPT would give you. 😉
Today, most content humans consume is produced by humans. What are the implications for society when most content we consume is written in part or entirely by an AI? Is there something lost about consuming AI-generated content? These questions aren’t new. In September 2022, there was an uproar of discussion when an AI-generated image won an art contest. While a human was involved in prompting the AI to generate the piece, it required less skill than the many other pieces of art humans produced for the same contest.
And yet, for those who want to climb the promotion ladder, you’d almost be foolish to ignore the tools available to help you be more effective. If your goal was to win the art contest, why wouldn’t you use every tool at your disposal? Choosing not to means letting someone else win, and yet, at what length are you willing to go? As many of us embrace these new tools, I worry we’re also giving up pieces of our humanness. Yet just perhaps, the definition and our perspective of humanness will also evolve as AI augments our lives more.
The world is ever-changing
I spent most of my days at Google dreaming of how people will consume information in the next few years. I do this by looking at cultural trends, reading internal user research and strategy reports, and… just dreaming big. To dream big, we have to suspend disbelief in what’s currently possible and long for a world of infinite and monumental possibilities.
As the types of information in the world changes and grows, so does our need to consume that information. In 2020, it was estimated that more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are produced daily (that’s 2.5 followed by 18 zeros). With the rise of AI-generated content, this number will increase exponentially.
Over my last six weeks in India, I’ve spent a lot of time observing how technology is (and isn’t) being incorporated into India at a faster pace of life. The population density and quite visible economic divide have created a divergence in technology over US standards. Smartphones (i.e., Android) are highly prevalent, and for most, it’s their first use of a computer. And for many, it represents unprecedented access to the world’s information that they haven’t had before. Yet we know the world’s information is filled with many bad actors.
So as we begin this new year, I’m excited by the future ahead of us, the growing complexity of solving how people consume ad interact with the world’s information, and the new experiences that will be enabled with new tools like LLM.
That’s all I have for today. Thanks for taking the time to read. Today, I won’t leave you with any specific takeaways. But I would love to hear from you, continue this dialog, and hear your reflections on the future as we start this new year. You can comment publicly or reply directly to this email. If there’s a topic you’d like to read, drop me an email. If you’re finding this newsletter helpful, I’d be grateful if you share this with friends.
Very interesting topic! I really appreciate your reflections.
For me, the question is: Does this new tool make x better? X being my life, my project, my process, etc. I wonder if that perspective only comes with time.
For instance, think about agriculture and frozen meals and fast food. Okay, maybe I’m hungry, but I think we’ve gained perspective to make more informed choices over time. I think about social media too, and how our choices have likely changed over time as we learned more through experience.
I think so much comes at us these days and so much is available, there’s never been a better time to practice conscious assessments and choice-making while admittedly in the midst of this wildly creative, fascinating experiment. Why not enjoy the ride, with consciousness? Happy new year!