To get the most from generative AI, something’s got to change

Generative AI like ChatGPT is currently all the rage, and it’s amazing how good this platform already is, given its infancy. The speed at which it is spreading is unprecedented, and far exceeds the speed of past tech advances. I expect it to supplement (and maybe replace) the Graphical User Interface (GUI) that largely replaced the Command Line interface, which replaced computer cards for data entry and programing. 

Researchers have already advanced the date of the Singularity from the 2040s or 2050s to around 2030. And even that date may also be too conservative, given that generative AI appears to be going vertical in both demand and adoption. 

It will almost certainly change productivity tools such Microsoft Office (Microsoft is a client), videoconferencing software, programming tools, and even how you interact with smart devices such as autonomous cars and phones.

And it will also mean we need to rethink mass transportation and even offices. Let’s explore why offices and places where people work need to be revamped, how we can tamp down disruption and aggravation and the need to tie the resulting interface more tightly to each user.

Office redesign in a generative AI world

Generative AI at this point is mainly about language in terms of how we interact with it. These are language models, which means we will be able to speak to them and have them respond to us much as we interact with people. (It’s interesting that people generally comprehend written communication faster, but prefer to use voice when it’s an option.) 

Think about products such as AT&Ts Visual Voicemail — voicemail could be translated into text, but people still preferred to hear a message at normal speed, even though we could listen to it at up to three times faster. 

As generative AI technology matures, we and our coworkers will increasingly need to talk with our computers — and have our computers talk back. Headphones can help with the noise, but we are only now getting microphone technology that will allow us to converse without disturbing others in the office. Sadly, those technologies tend to be both uncomfortable and less likely to be used unless people are forced to. 

Beyond the office — changes to public transportation

Now imagine what this means for air travel and other forms of public transportation. Travelers generally rejected the idea of telephone use on planes (even though that’s being allowed in other parts of the world). Can you picture everyone talking to — and having their computers talk back — on a lengthy nonstop flight.

As for office setups, open-plan design and cubicles won’t work either, for much the same reason. We’re going to have to find a better way to eliminate sound, or all these talking people and computers will drive everyone out of the office and back to the privacy of their homes. That would quickly undermine the current rush to return people until a fix is in place. 

In short, as generative AI gains traction, we have to think about all the side effects using it will have and work quickly to address them. We’ll need to advance noise cancellation technology at a far more aggressive speed at scale, and design offices that can eliminate ambient noise. One option would be using reverse sound wave technology which has been under development in the automotive market but not yet applied to offices. It should be possible to lower the ambient noise in crowded spaces without requiring the draconian use of headphones and mouth-mounted microphones.

In short, once the first wave of attention and hype has passed, generative AI is going to require that we re-think how we work and travel. Otherwise, we could face new levels of hostility and anger — just as I did recently when I conducted a voice interview while sitting on a plane.

My fellow passengers were…not amused. If we’re going to fully integrate generative AI into our lives, those are the kinds of aggravations we’ll need to avoid in the future.

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