“In 2023, no one will be able to avoid AI progress any longer”

Artificial intelligence seems to be on the rise – and not just in the headlines. Florian von Wangenheim from ETH Zurich’s Chair of Technology Marketing and researcher at the ETH AI Center explains this trend in a short interview.
Screenshot from a conversation with ChatGPT.

People are already using the artificial intelligence (AI) tool ChatGPT to write essays for university, texts for Instagram posts and even parliamentary speeches. What are the next major developments we can expect to see from these large language models ?

Florian von Wangenheim: Whenever anything new happens in the field of AI, we always feel like we’re on the brink of a major development. But actually, we’re right in the middle of it. Currently, the AI tools that deal with language are getting a lot of attention – speech recognition, automated text creation, even adaptation of texts to specific writing styles, etc.

I believe the next step will be personalisation. Bots will communicate with us, using our gestures and facial expressions to try to figure out how we learn best and what messages we are most receptive to.

Besides ChatGPT, AI is in the headlines because of TikTok’s 'Bold Glamour' filter, use of which is nearly impossible to detect. Is 2023 going to be a pivotal year for AI in digital communications?

This development isn’t new; it’s been going on for several decades now and will continue into the future. What we’re seeing today is the result of years of development work. But it’s safe to say that in 2023, no one will be able to avoid this progress any longer. It’s become clear that many things can no longer be dismissed as unrealistic or far-off fantasies.

How will AI change our digital communication? Will we be using AI filters in Zoom meetings in the future?

It’s hard to say. During the coronavirus, for example, my observation was that after experimenting for a while, users kept the backgrounds in virtual meetings fairly constant. As long as we all feel like we have a lot to do, I don’t think anyone wants to be suspected of only being concerned with their appearance while others are hard at work. I find it much more likely that during a meeting, we’ll get real-​time help from tools that work much the same way ChatGPT does, but are better at solving a particular problem – they might provide a relevant solution or some particularly clever wording that helps me impress my boss.

Whether my boss would be happy if I got help from an AI tool is one question. Here’s another: Will AI steadily reduce the need for people to know things?

Einstein said that you don’t need to know things if you know where you can look them up. If we can speak of a new dimension to this phenomenon, it’s certainly in terms of how knowledge has become incredibly widely available: first with the internet and search engines, and now with knowledge being dialogue-​based via AI tools such as ChatGPT.