Artificial intelligence (AI) is both the biggest opportunity and the biggest challenge to face society since the industrial revolution, according to Stephen Fry.
Opening the Festival of Marketing today (4 October), the author and TV personality urged society to wake up to the potential of AI before it’s too late.
“AI is the great tsunami facing us all that we seem to be so unprepared for. We sleepwalked into the internet age and virtually woke up [when it had already] happened,” said Fry.
“If we sleepwalk into AI we’re in great danger. And it’s not just AI, it’s the confluence of the internet of things, genomics and gene editing.”
He identified AI as the biggest change to humanity since the agricultural and industrial revolutions, with the potential to result in “human society 3.0 or possibly 4.0 depending on how you calculate the change”.
Interviewed by Econsultancy founder Ashley Friedlein, Fry also offered his analysis on a wide range of digital topics. Reflecting on how technology is impacting on consumer expectations of how brands should communicate with them, Fry recalled laughing out loud when he and a friend saw a huge advertising poster made from paper.
“We suddenly realised that everything was a display screen now. And that’s only going to get greater and greater,” he added.
“The most important thing is not to forget what miraculous things we have between our ears. We’ll be so blindsided by some of the things AI can do, especially when it reaches AGI (artificial general intelligence), that we can’t forget what our brains can do.”
Stephen Fry on…
“The very name comes from the American education system and just strikes me as like being back at school. Everything about it revolts me.”
“LinkedIn is fine, but it’s like a hotel for suited executives, it’s just a business thing. I have a [filter] in my email client where, if ever an email comes in from LinkedIn, it just gets immediately destroyed. I’m just not interested in that sort of thing.”
“My name got associated with Twitter quite early on and I was invited to events where people asked me, how do I harness the power of Twitter for my business? How do I grow my followers? I was always very keen to express this was the wrong question. If you’re asking that question, you’re not really understanding what Twitter is. It’s not a marketing tool.”
Twitter’s new character limit
“The 140 characters has worked and people seem to be able to express what they want. I am slightly disappointed [at the proposed increase in characters to 280]. As you probably know the business model of Twitter is not very successful compared to Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, which are worth so many billions and billions. They are constantly trying to tweak it and get young people interested. They’re trying this and it’s a sign that they’re not confident.”
“Content sucks up talent. It calls upon so many different human skills. Basic communicative skills, but also skills of visual arts, sound, music, structure and composition. So my experience of the world is that tickling those glands in humans is a lot more fulfilling and exciting than tickling glands of spreadsheets.”
“The only people I have ever seen called influencers tend to be young, dyed-hair people in expensive clothes talking about beauty and fashion. It’s a world I find distressing, dreary and unimaginative. I think influencers tend to be young and I think a lot of marketers wrongly interpret the follower figures as real influence.”