Why has AI been named the “Most Notable Word of the Year”?
January 8, 2024
In December 2023, Collin’s Dictionary named AI as their most notable word of the year, with its use quadrupling since 2022, and having especially exploded across social media channels. What Collin’s has found is that in 2023 in particular, AI had broken through to the mainstream in a much more powerful way, with its usage not necessarily just amongst people who work in tech circles, where traditionally the term had been seen the most.
AI has now become very well established in everyday life, with the likes of Alexa, Google Maps, Shazam, and various other products and apps depending on it for functionality. Dall-E, an image generating tool, launched by Artificial Intelligence company OpenAI, now produces 2 million images per day, generated by its userbase. Dall-E has become ingrained in internet meme culture, partly due to the AI creating both intentionally and unintentionally funny images. (Eg. The prompt “Salmon swimming upstream” resulting in an image of smoked salmon fillets splashing around in a river)
OpenAI, also created by Chat GPT, is an AI-powered writing assistant, which launched online in November 2022. This almost immediately led to schools and universities cracking down on students using the AI platform, fearing that students may use the service to do the main bulk of their essay writing for them. In January 2023, the New York Department of Education banned the use of Chat GPT, however only months later in June of 2023, rescinded its decision, with their chancellor David Banks saying:
“The ban was put in place due to potential misuse and concerns raised by educators in our schools, however the knee-jerk fear and risk overlooked the potential of generative AI to support students and teachers, as well as the reality that our students are participating in and will work in a world where understanding generative AI is crucial”.
Also in the United States, an almost year-long Hollywood writer strike was huge news in 2023. The strike put a stop to several large movie and television productions. Much of this centred around studio use of AI, which was taking jobs away from writers. The conclusion of the strike was due to a compromise between the Writer’s Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Productions.
A contract was agreed upon which stipulates that AI cannot be used to write or rewrite any scripts or treatments, ensures that studios will disclose if any material given to writers is AI-generated, and protects writers from having their scripts used to train AI without their say-so. The outcome was considered a big win for the WGA, but the Associated Press stated following the strike that “The threat of AI vividly cast the writers' plight as a human-versus-machine clash, with widespread implications for other industries facing a radically new kind of automation.”
There have been very serious concerns around AI in the public sphere, as it’s seen to have the power to add to the fake news epidemic that especially plagued the world in the late 2010’s. In March of this year, an image of Pope Francis wearing a puffy white jacket and garish jewellery appeared online and almost immediately went viral. The image was so convincing, that swarths of social media users spread the image around with rapidity to discuss the 86 year old Pope’s fashion choices. Some observers claimed that he looked terrible in his new apparel, while others defended him, saying that of course he should be able to wear a big warm puffy jacket, as it’s March and it’s cold, after all.
An even more concerning use of AI came in October of 2023, when the TikTok account wgmimedia, posted a video of a car on fire, created using the software, Unreal Engine 5. The video focused on a highly realistic AI-generated car, which was engulfed in flames, and placed in the middle of a real city. The first thing commenters picked up on was how if there was a serious incident taking place in a city (like a terrorist attack for example), the destruction could seem worse, causing larger panic. Some commenters concluded that if companies or rogue media nodes are able to add AI-generated CGI effects interspersed with a real environment, it could lead to huge confusion amongst the public, over whether images being shown to them online are real or fabricated.
Even though AI is being discussed with relative concern in the aforementioned areas, there is still excitement about the growing potential of AI and just how much of an impact it will surely have in society and pop-culture throughout the 2030’s, 2040’s and beyond.
AI has been filling up timelines across Facebook, X, Instagram, and more recently, TikTok, with filters being able to alter a person’s appearance to look younger, older, or even into an anthropomorphic version of an exotic animal. Undoubtably, we’ll see a much larger rise of interactive AI-tools as the years go by, many of which will delight the public and capture their collective imaginations.
This year especially, generative AI’s that can make a musical artist sing and perform in the style of another loosely connected musical artist have become incredibly popular. (The Beach Boys sing Hurt by Johnny Cash for example) This type of creativity has been exciting online communities and meme-lords, who can now envision a future where they could watch an entire concert of the Beatles perform Jay-Z hits on the Ed Sullivan Show or an intimate jazz club setting where Van Morrison sings his entire back catalogue in Chinese.
Alex Beecroft, the managing director of Collins, said AI had undoubtably been the talking point of 2023 and stated to the BBC, “We know that AI has been a big focus this year in the way that it has developed and has quickly become as ubiquitous and embedded in our lives as email, streaming or any other once futuristic, now everyday technology.”
When AI-generated content has made such a serious impact in education, entertainment, and world news, it’s no surprise that AI has become the most notable word of 2023. Last year in particular, AI has permeated across all age groups, as well as being at the forefront of social media and online culture and discourse. It’s unlikely that AI’s usage will shrink in 2024, and while its use may not quadruple again, AI will still remain an evergreen topic of discussion in the global zeitgeist.
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