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Why artificial intelligence has me both excited – and a little nervous

Pierce Ujjainwalla

By Pierce Ujjainwalla

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Updated Jan 31, 2024

Published Jan 17, 2024

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As someone who has been passionate about tech my entire life, I intuitively grasp the promise and the potential of artificial intelligence.

And however mind-blowing ChatGPT has proved to be since it was released in 2022, I also know that it’s only just the beginning. As more sophisticated AI tools come online, the original version of ChatGPT will soon seem as outdated as a dial telephone.

But even as we embrace AI – Knak has just launched a product that uses AI to translate emails and landing pages, and we are planning to work with our customers to build more AI into our platform – I remain nervous about the whole concept.

As a lifelong technology geek, I am surprised and bemused by that nervousness. What am I worried about? Why am I not all gung-ho about AI?

I have to admit, if I am totally honest with myself, that I fear the disruption AI is sure to bring.

Are my fears of disruptive change strong enough to make me avoid using AI? No. Its potential is too great.

But I remain nervous. That’s because I realize that Knak will have to work hard – and remain vigilant – to make sure it benefits from the new AI world, a world full of uncertainties.

A disruptive technology the likes of which we’ve never seen

Knak was built on the assumption that the world functioned in a certain way. A lot of marketing is done through email, and marketers need to create emails that people click on, read and (hopefully) act on. Knak found a pain point in the process – email creation was long and tedious – and developed a solution that makes the process easier, smoother and much, much faster.

But here’s the thing: The givens of the technological world into which Knak was born are being shaken up by AI.

Because it’s all so new, I don’t know how yet, exactly. Nor do I know who or what sectors will be hit, or how hard. But change is starting to happen.

You could rightly say that any businessperson should expect to deal with disruption. In the last few years we’ve had a lot of disruption thrown our way, from the pandemic to a tight job market, inflation and higher interest rates – not to mention geopolitical instability triggering economic upheaval.

We’ve dealt with all those things so far and survived – even thrived.

Isn’t AI just the next wave of change?

No. I think AI is different. It represents a paradigm shift of huge proportions.

As Mark Roberge, the Co-Founder and Managing Director at Stage 2 Capital said at a recent SaaStr Annual event, for the first time since the arrival of the Internet, the future seems like a blank canvas to people in tech. “As you start thinking about it,” he said, “you become paranoid that everything you’re working on is irrelevant.”

That certainly echoes for me.

The fact is, there are just too many unknowns about how artificial intelligence will develop. We’re creating something powerful and we just don’t know where it will lead.

When the Internet was young, who could have predicted its impact on the music industry? Who could have foreseen the impacts of social media on everything from democracy to the mental health of teens? Or the impact on just about everything of smartphones with excellent video capability? So who knows where AI’s impacts will be felt?

My personal nervousness

And it’s not just that I worry about the eventual impacts of AI. I also find myself asking why we need it.

I was getting along just fine in a world without AI, and I would have been happy for that world to continue. If I am being brutally honest with myself, I have to admit that I am learning AI because I have to, not because I want to.

Again, my attitude surprises me.

When the Internet came out, I jumped in with both feet. I very much wanted to learn everything I could about it. I spent hours and hours online. I had a genuine passion for it.

Same with social media. I was excited about Facebook and Twitter. It wasn’t a chore to learn about these things, it was a joy – because I was deeply, passionately interested.

I think my passion for the Internet stemmed from the fact that it was giving me things I craved. I had dreamed about being able to download music and movies, chat with friends without having to be with them, research things without having to go to a library, being in contact with people without being tied to a phone with a cord – all the things that were now suddenly possible.

I just don’t feel the same way about AI. It’s not giving me something I was aching to have.

But I will learn how to use it. In fact, I will embrace AI – because I can see its great potential.

How AI is already changing us

We used to have a roadmap for how our product would develop. Now that we are getting a taste for what AI can do, we have thrown that roadmap out the window as we pivot to the new AI world.

That’s because AI is enabling things that I personally never thought we’d be able to do technologically, and that is mind-blowing.

Just as mind-blowing is the potential for impacts on our business. Because AI can make people much more efficient or replace them altogether, it is also forcing us to rethink how we operate.

Take product support, for example.

We’ve begun testing an AI product support chatbot.

We’re finding it is incredibly efficient. Unlike any human, it can respond to calls day and night without ever getting tired or needing a break, and it can handle hundreds of conversations at the same time.

Our testing shows that the AI product support chatbot cannot fully replace a human at this point. The chatbot is very good at answering some basic questions, but it cannot provide all the answers. So we will probably use it as a first line of support, with humans stepping in when the questions become more complicated.

Will a chatbot eventually replace people entirely? We’ll see.

My nervousness about AI stems also from what we potentially give up when we embrace a new technology.

Take the creative act of brainstorming, for example.

In the pre-AI world, brainstorming involved using your mind, your knowledge and your life experience to come up with ideas, and it meant bouncing those ideas off other people. In other words, it meant getting the creative juices flowing.

AI allows you to outsource the creative process.

We recently had to come up with a name for my son’s hockey team. I used AI to come up with ideas for a name, and the name we picked was one generated by the AI bot. Problem solved, right?

Yes, but…

In my view, the creative mind is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, you lose it. So I wonder: What are we giving up when we let chatbots do the thinking for us? Do we all get lazy? Do we lose some creative abilities? I don’t know. But I do know that technology affects us; just look at how our social skills have been impacted as texting has replaced the old-fashioned phone call.

An uncertain future

So those are the challenges with AI today. What about the future? What will happen as AI improves?

I’ve been a fan of the video game Grand Theft Auto since it came out in 1997.

The early versions of the game had really primitive, pixelated graphics. The trailer for Grand Theft Auto VI, which is coming out in 2025, shows just how much those images have improved and how very real they now look.

AI today is just like the primitive, pixelated version of Grand Theft Auto. In a few years’ time, it will be unrecognizably good.

What happens to humans when AI starts doing stuff better than any human can? What will it mean when a marketer uses AI to create something, and their manager uses AI to review it? Will humans just end up being intermediaries between bits of AI? And how long until the different components of AI don’t need us intermediaries? I don’t know.

But I do know this: When transformative change happens, people either embrace it or reject it.

I’ve always been an enthusiastic visionary about technology – until now. This hesitancy about a new technology is a new feeling for me. I was happy without AI.

So now, all of a sudden, it’s clear to me why a change in the status quo can feel threatening. For the first time, I understand, intuitively, why someone might be inclined to reject change, even if that change has the potential to make their life better.

But I also know that if we are to move ahead, I have to embrace change.

That’s why Knak is all in on AI. We’re hiring for it, we’re investing in it and we’ve created our own internal AI policy. We believe in its future.

A small number of companies in the world are leading the AI charge and we are fortunate to have several of them as our customers. We are going to be working closely with these companies to use AI to improve our platform.

That is something I am very excited about.

When it was created, Knak was a disruptor, shaking up the world of email marketing. Ultimately, we’re embracing AI because we want to continue to be on the side of the disruptors.


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Pierce Ujjainwalla

Author

Pierce Ujjainwalla

Co-Founder & CEO, Knak

Pierce is a career marketer who has lived in the marketing trenches at companies like IBM, SAP, NVIDIA, and Marketo. He launched Knak in 2015 as a platform designed to help Marketers simplify email creation. He is also the founder of Revenue Pulse, a marketing operations consultancy.

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