Why You Soon Won’t Be Able to Avoid AI—At Work or At Home

Why You Soon Won’t Be Able to Avoid AI—At Work or At Home
Why You Soon Won’t Be Able to Avoid AI—At Work or At Home


Tech giants are racing to incorporate artificial intelligence into almost every aspect of their businesses, aiming to make AI indispensable for some – and unavoidable for the rest of us.

Jacky Liang is living in the future.

An artificial-intelligence engineer in Philadelphia, he uses generative AI at work and in his personal life “as much as possible—to the point that even my girlfriend is like ‘Babe, please.’"

The tools he’s using—to look things up during his downtime, brainstorm for work, punch up his résumé, or write blog posts—go well beyond the kind of first-generation AI that is already embedded in our daily lives, sorting our social media feeds, catching credit card fraud and recognizing faces in our photos. The tools Liang relies on are all next-generation generative AIs, things like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, Anthropic’s Claude, and Inflection’s Pi.

Soon, most of us will use tools like these, even if indirectly, unless we want to risk falling behind. We will face a growing number of communications generated with AI assistance, plans made with their input, and even products they helped inspire. Productivity-enhancing technology tends to improve our output or make it more plentiful, forcing people to change how they work but not reducing the hours they spend at it. This means the gap between those using AI for productivity, and everyone else, threatens to widen into a chasm as we contend with more and more stuff produced by the combination of human minds and new kinds of machine assistance.

A recent global survey of 10,000 people by tech and consulting firm Capgemini found that people who have used generative AI tools for basic tasks like searching for and summarizing information were on the whole highly satisfied with them. For now, the generative AI tools that can boost people’s productivity require an early adopter’s mindset, since the purveyors of these tools are still unknown to many, and using them to best effect remains an uncommon skill.

But recently, the giants of the U.S. tech industry made it clear they have plans to bring the capabilities of generative AI deep into tools most of us use every day, where they will be nearly impossible to avoid.

Suddenly ubiquitous

In just the past two weeks, Microsoft announced deep integration of generative AI tools across Windows 11; Google rolled out changes to its Bard generative AI that allow it to use all your documents, emails and calendar items as fodder; Amazon showed off the next generation of generative AI capabilities for its Alexa smart assistant, which should make it chattier and more flexible; and Meta announced it would make a chat-based assistant, as well as a host of other chatbots based on celebrities, available in Instagram, WhatsApp and Facebook.

Even Apple—which has yet to announce its own text-based generative AI but is developing one—last week rolled out a new accessibility feature for iPhones that uses a different form of generative AI to clone a user’s voice.

The sudden accessibility and ubiquity of generative AI tools do not guarantee that they’ll be used. And these are very much first-generation technologies, full of frustrating limitations. But if the utility that early adopters already get out of them is any indication, adoption by the masses will soon follow.

As more people use AI to help them generate written and visual communications more quickly, the volume of that content is likely to increase. This could mean AI will also be needed to respond to this uptick in information—in the form of better filters for it, but also in the use of AI to help generate responses to it.

Those who don’t opt to use AI to help them summarize others’ reports (likely generated with the help of AI), respond to emails (ditto) or adapt to new business processes (also created with the help of AI) risk drowning in a fire hose of communications and increased complexity.

Another way generative AI could make itself impossible to avoid: by becoming the default interface for information retrieved from the internet, and within companies. Already, one of the things language-based generative AI systems are pretty good at is search and summarization.

One potential stumbling block to the use of AI in this way: It often makes stuff up, a tendency that is inherent to the way it works, and may be unavoidable. This reduces its value somewhat, as it means that we can’t just hand tasks over to AI, and all of its work must be checked. But AI is still pretty good at taking care of a lot of rote tasks—like writing often-used, boilerplate code or text—and can save its users time by turning them into editors, rather than content creators.

Humiliated by a robot

This talent for making information more accessible—and transforming it into other kinds of information more easily—is apparent in Google’s new Bard rollout, called Extensions.

Enabling Bard to search and summarize across everything in your Google account yields, in my own experience, some astonishing results. For example, I asked it to summarize recent documents I’d created that contained ideas for a specific creative project. It not only delivered a succinct summary of the contents of these disparate documents, but it also editorialized—correctly—that the ideas contained in them were at an early stage. (Note to future historians: The kind of low-key humiliation represented by a robot dispassionately observing that a human’s ideas are half-baked began approximately…now.)

Becca Chambers is a senior vice president at Ottawa-based software company Alludo (formerly known as Corel). When she’s planning a vacation, she uses OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. Recently, she says, she used the two engines to plan an 8-day Hawaiian vacation, including helping her pick a hotel and coming up with itineraries for every day of the trip.

The whole process took two days, and played out as a dialogue between her and the chatbots. She’d give the bots parameters—how many people were coming, their dietary restrictions, the fact that they’d be renting a car—and then she asked them to refine their suggestions, such as ranking hotels by price, and adding or subtracting items from their suggested itineraries.

Recently, Liang had to prepare for job interviews. He used Claude and ChatGPT to help, by having the bots pretend to be interviewers interested in hiring him for a product management role. He also uses them both at the beginning of the process of writing a blog post—to help brainstorm—and at the end—to turn his jumble of notes into a finished blog post, which he can then edit before posting.

Liang even uses one chatbot—Pi—as a kind of counselor, to help him process challenges in his life. “Sometimes you’re not looking for someone to give you solutions, you’re just looking for someone to listen to you and ask you targeted questions," he adds.

Does anyone still use card catalogs?

As more people come to rely on chat-based information retrieval, disinvestment in the old way of doing things could mean those who stick with plain-old search find themselves the contemporary equivalent of people who still used card catalogs and printed indexes when digital search was first ascendant.

The creeping ubiquity of generative AI both as a way to do things and an influencer of everything we’re exposed to doesn’t mean that any one of these tools or companies will succeed. The pace and simultaneity of all of these announcements from so many tech companies suggests that what’s going on now is a manic land grab for our attention, money, and time. Not all of these tools will endure, especially given the mounting costs of running them.

But the overall trajectory of generative AI seems clear—at least to those who are currently its most devoted users. And the history of productivity-enhancing automation suggests they may be right.

“AI feels like such an important tool, that if you’re not using it, you’re missing out," says Chambers. “I think that’s what AI is—less effort, better results."

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Write to Christopher Mims at

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