Let’s be friends

Time for a chat?

Once upon a time, I considered myself an early adopter of new technologies. Granted, there were far fewer new technologies to adopt at the time in question, but I was always at the front of the line. As a music reporter in 1993, I wrote about the unusual way Billy Idol was using multimedia and this amorphous computer thing called the Internet to produce and distribute his album Cyberpunk. It was a “first” for a mainstream artist, and while the album was a critical disaster, Idol clearly was on to something.

By 1995, I had followed Idol down the information superhighway, joining a startup that produced a rock magazine on CD-ROM. (Raise your hand if you were alive when CD-ROMs were a thing.) At the time, high-speed, broadband Internet was still a mere twinkle in someone’s eye. Our company, LAUNCH, bedazzled the Luddites with point-and-click technology, music reviews that featured 30-second song samples, and demos of new video games that you could play “right here in the magazine!”

These days, I’m the Luddite, my brain limping to stay apace with the daily release of whiz-bang applications, tools, and technologies designed to tap my creativity while speeding up my workflow. And just when I feel comfortable enough to embrace a trend, it’s already outdated and replaced by another.

Recently, the University introduced a customized version of generative AI in the form of U-M GPT. This one seems to have staying power, and its applications are seemingly unlimited. Hiring a new staffer? Use the technology to vet resumes and recommend the most ideal candidates. Summarizing a long text conversation with a client? Let the tech do that for you and save 15 minutes. Perhaps you need to condense a thousand words into a two-sentence blurb. Feed those words to the machine and let it tell you what’s most compelling about your work. Heck, give it your raw interview and let it highlight the quotable quotes before you sit down to craft your own editorial magic.

Stay calm and keep computing

Chat GPT messageRavi Pendse is the VP for information technology and chief information officer at U-M. He leads the Information & Technology Services department, which was the driving force behind the development of U-M’s AI Services. The effort made us the first university anywhere to provide all students, faculty, and staff access to a suite of custom GenAI tools. Pendse is confident the bots won’t steal our jobs or rot our students’ brains.

“After this first year of the GPT revolution, I am more confident than ever that tools like ChatGPT will never be able to replace human ingenuity,” he tells Michigan News. “Instead, they will augment and enhance humanity. While these tools open almost unlimited opportunities for efficiency and innovation, there always needs to be a living, breathing human being making sure that these GenAI tools are being used responsibly, ethically, and accurately.”

Sounds good, but these days I find myself closer to the old man shaking his fist to get the kids off his lawn than the wide-eyed reporter explaining Idol’s Internet to the readers of Billboard magazine. But recently the boss challenged our team to get with the program and report back about our progress. “Ask it a random question about U-M and see what it says,” she suggested.

Hmmmm. It’s so smart and powerful, I thought. So I asked U-M GPT “Do you like Michigan Today?”

The answer blew my mind: “As an artificial intelligence, I don’t have personal feelings or preferences,” it told me. Phew! How totally self-aware.

“However,” the message continued, “I can tell you that Michigan Today is a notable and highly respected source of news and information for the University of Michigan community.”

Notable and highly respected… It knows what I like to hear. Maybe we can be friends after all.
(Lead image: Cover graphic for Billy Idol’s 1993 release ‘Cyberpunk.’)

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