Is your head exploding every time you read something about AI or think about its vast implications? The only good news is that you're not the only one. Most of us are wringing our hands over a technology we readily admit we don't understand, largely because we're still very much in the embryonic stages of its development and potential impact.
ChatGPT – the most used of the AI platforms – was released to the public exactly one year ago – this past November 30th. And what a year it's been.
If it makes you feel better – and it probably won't – even the powers-that-be are struggling with a technology that's already “out there.” With each passing day, more people are becoming familiar with its many uses as well as its growing number of applications to their jobs and their lives.
The news that the articulate, user-friendly chief executive of ChatGPT was abruptly shown the door on Friday has rocked the tech industry. And isn't it ironic that a technology that has spawned much paranoia about causing job loss would claim its top executive. This move ought to cause the rest of us to think about how we're using this technology and where it may be headed.
Sam Altman (pictured) was the surprising victim last week, losing his gig as spokesperson for Artificial Intelligence at the popular platform less than 12 months after everyone started downloading it. All that OpenAI (the company that owns ChatGPT) would offer as an explanation was this vague statement:
“Mr. Altman's departure follows a deliberative review process by the board, which concluded that he was not consistently candid in his communications with the board, hindering its ability to exercise its responsibilities. The board no longer has confidence in his ability to continue leading OpenAI.”
While this may sound like what a GM says when they let the PD go, there is obviously more to Altman's departure than a simple case of “Hide the weenie,” as an old radio friend of mine refers to it.
The OpenAI board is clearly trying to shut off the spigot before we're all under AI water. But as we know with this technology, it's a lot like the exponential effect we all learned about when first watching “The Sorcerer's Apprentice” in the Disney classic, Fantasia. Once the broom is out of the closet, it requires supernatural powers to stop its multiplying effects. Sadly, we're living in the real world where such forces are not available to us.
Notably, radio listeners and on-air talent were very much worried about the effects of AI well before Mr. Altman got his pink slip. In the case of both public and Christian music radio fans, their biggest concern is this technology's potential effect on the 2024 election. (This year's PRTS 2023 results below.)
While there's no shortage of AI concern and angst to go around, women and progressively older listeners are more skeptical of AI's ability to impact next year's voting.
In the case of commercial radio personalities, it's all about how the technology will be (mis)used by broadcast moguls in their effort to save money and get employee payrolls under control.
Last summer's AQ5 study among 500+ members of the talent community illustrates the “fear factor” about AI.
While these fears are not the least bit surprising, given the way many radio station staffs have shrunk over the past decade, whether Sam Altman is running the show or not, AI isn't going anywhere. Our job is to deal with it.
In the case of ChatGPT, that fear of job losses has now come true, with Mr. Altman playing the unlikely victim of this technology's great ability to alter the world around us. But whatever happens to AI globally, radio broadcasters have to deal with it, even in its most nascent stage. Last summer, Morning Show Boot Camp put together a session on this controversial technology, featuring radio's poster girl, AI Ashley.
And the Harvard Club was abuzz last week over an AI discussion headed up by Benztown's Dave “Chachi” Denes at Radio Ink's Forecast 2024 conference.
The only broadcaster on the panel, Caroline Beasley, noted that it's just not possible to hit the “pause” button on AI. Instead the company “is setting guardrails to respect intellectual property and avoid legal issues, particularly concerning using likenesses or content that might provoke legal action.”
That might sound like a safe, conservative approach, but Caroline would readily admit that radio broadcasters have a great deal to learn about AI and how it can be applied to real life operations. To that end, she'll once again be in attendance at Jacobs Media's CES Tour in January. Like all of our CES “tourists,” she's there to learn, as are Paul and I.
To say that Caroline is focused on technology and what it means to her company and the industry goes without saying. But she reminds us of the importance of staying on top of the AI tsunami for the sake of our radio stations and our careers. Going to CES is the starting point.
While there is no specific exhibit area for AI on the convention floor – it is more DNA-like than it is a gadget – it will power many of the technologies we'll see, touch, and learn about at CES. We expect to hear “AI” leading this year's CES “word cloud,” just as “voice,” “audio,” “autonomous,” and “electrification” have done in past years.
The learning curve for AI is a steep one for all of us, but broadcasters need to do a better job understanding this pervasive and impactful technology than they did other breakthroughs from the past couple decades. Radio simply cannot get flat-footed again by “what's next.”
And that leads me to this year's Techsurvey, fielding just seven weeks from now. It will be a historic one – our 20th consecutive deep dive into the technology and media that are powering our lives. In this year's survey, we will replicate key AI questions we asked in our PRTS and CMB studies of public and Christian music radio this year. And we're developing new queries to learn more about the opinions, attitudes, and perceptions of commercial radio P1s – representing more than 10 of radio's most popular formats.
As an industry, radio has gone with its gut for too long where tech is concerned. The need for strategic thinking, planning, and budgeting is long overdue. Radio's doldrums will not be mitigated by the steroid known as election spending.
Oh sure, an injection of political ad dollars may make 2024 less of a hair-on-fire year. But for the long haul, broadcasters will need to both understand emerging technology, and find smart ways to apply it to day to day operations and future planning.
After all, if Sam Altman can be let go…
Join us for our CES Tour in January and see the future for yourself. Info here.
Sign your station/clusters up for the most useful research study in radio, Techsurvey 2024. Info here.
Postscript: Sam Altman has taken his AI marbles and moved to Microsoft. Reportedly, many OpenAI employees are following him. Watch this space.
PPS: And then just like that, Altman is back as CEO of OpenAI with a wh0le new board. This one's not over. But the next time someone tells you radio is a crazy business, remind them of this fiaasco invovling perhaps one of the most important technologies of our lifetimes.
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