Sunday, December 18, 2022

Getting Good by Getting Real


Yesterday, genealogy blogger John Reid of Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections posed a question: "What are the attributes of a good genealogist?" As if in answer to his own question, he added a list of seven points, each of which outlined skills which arguably could represent the making of a "good genealogist."

Then he added one further detail: an acknowledgement that the list was composed by ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence based, dialog format language model developed by OpenAI, an AI research and deployment company. Apparently, all it took to receive the written response to John's question was to take the ChatGPT for a free test drive at its website.

Funny he should bring up that topic. It's been only a month now since MyHeritage introduced its AI Time Machine™, transforming subscribers' "everyday" photos into self-portraits reminiscent of great moments in history. Since MyHeritage licensed their format from originator Astria, they certainly do not have a corner on the market driving the explosion of the AI remakes which are taking social media by storm. In reality, there are several resources for such artificial creations.

One online business innovator I follow, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, commented in his newsletter about the AI resources recently flooding social media channels. While he conceded that some of the AI products seemed "absolutely stunning—almost like pieces of art," he saw a down side to the trend. He wondered whether this AI would be used to "generate art versus hiring real artists."

True, the AI art often copies styles and techniques which real artists took years of hard work to develop. And this AI issue is not solely reserved to the world of art. There are AI tools for writing copy—as John Reid demonstrated in his blog post yesterday—and even for writing jokes. Content creators are facing some serious competition, and they—at least, the human ones—are not happy about it.

From the "an-AI-did-not-write-this" department of Techdirt, writer Nirit Weiss-Blatt, Ph.D., issued a call to examine the "ethical considerations and the dangers" of creating AI portraits, "right now." At the same time, she observed: "It's not the end of human creativity." After all, "the electronic synthesizer did not kill music, and photography did not kill painting."

So, what was Pat Flynn's concern with the AI photographs? He discussed the potential harm to business people who are also content creators. That is a very real financial risk they face, especially for those who believe they will not be able to compete with computer-generated work.

There is, however, one way to compete, as Pat mentioned. That one way is through the human—not computer-generated—ability to connect. He wrote in his December 13, 2022, newsletter,

You have the ability to connect. You have the ability to empathize with another person. You have the ability to make other people feel special. You have the ability to create experiences.

Those, according to "What AI Cannot Do," an excerpt published in BigThink by authors Kai-Fu Lee and Chen Qiufan of AI 2041: Ten Visions for our Future, are the very skills which AI cannot—yet—master:

  • Developing strategy
  • Exercising creativity
  • Utilizing dexterity
  • Employing empathy-based social skills

So, what does all this have to do with genealogy? Let's take this exploration full circle, back to John Reid's post yesterday which started this whole discussion. However, instead of asking ourselves for a listing—whether AI-generated or personally created—of what constitutes a good genealogist, let's think about what would make a good genealogical society.

Just as we've experienced the power of computer-assisted corporations to deliver a dazzling array of documents and resources—and realized how local genealogical societies simply cannot have the resources to compete with the computing power of such massive organizations—we can learn a lesson from the same conclusions drawn about what AI lacks.

Our strengths as local societies will be to develop strategies to nurture and encourage the research growth of members of our own communities. As we develop creativity in reaching out to local residents to offer ways in which we can help augment their genealogical needs, we'll develop the "dexterity" to become a responsive organization, fit for responding to the needs of our own community. But most important, it will be our personal skills in making connections with the people in our own towns that will make the biggest difference.

In the end, for our survival as the artists, the creators known as local genealogical organizations, it will be our ability to make connections that will matter the most. After all, we relate—in more ways than one.   

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