Kara Swisher, in signature no-holds-barred style, opened NRF Nexus 2023 in a conversation that was equal parts comedy and cutting commentary. Her message, however, was clear: Generative AI is “as big as the internet,” poised to join other key moments in technology that have changed life in radical ways. Ignoring it now would be like ignoring websites in the 1990s or the introduction of the iPhone.
Swisher and Jason “Retailgeek” Goldberg, chief commerce strategy officer, Publicis Groupe, sat down for a conversation that covered various tech leaders, TikTok and national security issues, selling on social channels, virtual reality headsets one day replacing big screens, the debut of Threads and the need for “some sort of government” to deter bad actors in generative AI in the way that countries have partnered for nuclear nonproliferation. People have proven over time that they’ll take any tool and turn it into a weapon.
“Anything they can do now, they’ll be able to do faster and better.”Kara Swisher, co-host, Pivot, and host, On with Kara Swisher
“Anything they can do now, they’ll be able to do faster and better,” said Swisher, co-host, Pivot, and host, On with Kara Swisher. In addition, “misinformation will have another renaissance.” But as one who immediately recognized the power of the internet and was an early adopter of the cell phone, she urged the crowd to try artificial intelligence, recognize that it’s not yet what it will be, and remember that “it will learn and get better and better and better and better.”
Not everyone shares her enthusiasm. She told the story of a journalist — a group Swisher describes as “the most risk-averse people on the planet, probably” — who said her news organization wouldn’t let generative AI write headlines. Swisher was incredulous.
“I was like, ‘Why?’ ‘Well, because people should do headlines.’ I’m like, ‘Why? Are you churning your own butter still?’”
Generative AI might produce 10 headlines, Swisher says, and then the human could pick one. “Why would you do something rote that can be easily done?” she said.
Goldberg brought up the movie Air, in which a designer at Nike quickly invents the world’s best basketball shoe before a meeting with Michael Jordan. Today, he said, with generative AI, there might be 10,000 designs. “But the creativity of that man [the designer] was critical,” Swisher said. “You can’t remove that.”
Both taste and creativity will continue to be important, and today the process might include significant input on desired options. Swisher’s brother, an anesthesiologist, talked to three doctors before a difficult operation.
“Some of them were wrong,” she said. “Some of them were right.” But entering the data into generative AI brought “all kinds of answers that spurred his creativity.” It’s both art and science, she says, in figuring out how to use it. “Why wouldn’t you do that? It’s like not looking at an encyclopedia … . You can’t resist it.”
Swisher does recognize the need for regulation. “We need government talking to these companies to understand what’s going to happen,” she said.
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“We need the government involved largely because they’re elected. Nobody elected Jeff Bezos. Nobody elected Elon Musk. They do what they want, and they have had profound impact. And as flawed as our electoral process is — we all know that and feel it every day — it’s still the best system compared to very wealthy people telling us how to behave and letting them make decisions for us, I think.”
In retail, those who are curious and creative might use AI for differentiation. Perhaps it’s inventing products based on social likes. Perhaps it’s merchandising, or recognizing and rewarding loyal customers. In addition, digital commerce is all about search, and AI will “fundamentally change search,” Goldberg said.
Swisher believes those who try it will “get it” right away.
“You just have to be creative,” she said. “And I think that’s the saving grace of everybody, is creativity. That cannot be computerized. You cannot digitize that. You can replicate it, but not really. Guess what? AI is your ideas. It’s humanity that’s talking to AI … . It is us, and we own it.”