Things that seem permanent do change; and I have to remind myself that pronunciation, which I can get pointlessly uptight about, is a good example. Knife and Knight used to have their Ks pronounced; alarum was refined to alarm, and murther became murder, with the standardisation of the printing press and the ability to use fewer letter in its spelling, peculiarly meaning the written word led to a change in pronunciation; while the half d half th sound lingers in many words in Welsh, quite subtly in Scottish, and even Spanish. My own ancestor, one of many contributors to the translation that became the King James Bible, had the surname Fairclough – however in the 17th Century Oxford accent of the time it was also spelt Featley, as the pronunciation was exactly the same back then (and yet another version of the ways to pronounce “-ough” to add to though, through, thorough, bough and cough).

It can take hundreds of years to permanently change, and yet also revert. In the UK we banished “gotten” as a common word, keeping only forgotten and begotten but otherwise sending it to the US with the Puritans, where it remained – until 350 years later it has been reimported by none-the-wiser millennials who learn their vocabulary from Friends and Gossip Girl. In tech, the process of change from the established norm is running progressively faster, from half centuries, now to single years – Mainframe dominated for at least 30 years from the 1950s (and many are still in place with a declining pool of engineers but users such as high street banks too petrified to run them down); desk tops from the 80s/90s for 20 years or so; client servers for the next ten years; then the cloud since the early/mid 2000s, still in place but progressively better enabled by shared servers and edge computing, to create SaaS and faster processing. Then, along comes AI. At the dotdigital summit yesterday the Director of Digital Strategy at Microsoft pointed out that 12 months ago we would probably not have heard of ChatGPT. Change has accelerated.

Yaaaaawn, you say. Everyone has written about AI, including us. Yes that’s true, and we aren’t changing our tune on previous comments – however (just like VoIP, once thought of as a game changing would-be telco assassin) it’s most likely consequence, which is all that consumers care about, is greater efficiency. AI is, after all, simply rapid processing of huge amounts of data at a scale we couldn’t do before. Call it Big Data 2.0, not Industry 4.0. In its most typical use case, AI will dramatically reform internal corporate processes with better outcomes for the customers and no threat to human life.

Media coverage focuses on the Domesday scenario that Skynet, the Big Bad in Terminator, is now inevitable. We anthropomorphise our pets and even Daisy the cow and other animals most of us still eat; but we do the same to AI. As ChatGPT itself says on the matter, AI Systems “lack the broad understanding, consciousness, and self-awareness that characterize human intelligence.”

What we have seen in the press is that when it comes to plagiarism it excels. This is where I foresee a new industry, Defence Against AI. Whether a song, a painting, or a book, AI can process and reproduce replicas or apparently new material (listen to Johnny Cash singing Barbie Girl here). By the definition of its very processes, AI has to have derived the new media from the old media, that’s how it works. E priori, the copyright derives from the original artists work so rights must accrue to the original artist?

The media that’s already out there in the wild (= the internet) remains there to be plundered, but we are at the stage where the Vikings have just found Lindisfarne, unprotected, and pillaging is ensuing. What follows next are castle walls (pay walls), well garrisoned defence, and perhaps, sadly the restriction of access to free content for fear it will be pilfered. AI is dramatic, indeed, but let’s hope it doesn’t ruin it for the widespread mass consumption of easily accessible cultural media.

AI can never feel the warmth of the sun on its face or understand the emotions it provokes in us. So, open your last bottle of Whispering Angel for the summer and go outside, and have a happy Friday.

This is the 379th, and final, finnCap tech chat, as we will return as Cavendish Securities (part of the renamed Cavendish Financial Group) on Monday. Cav Secs Tech Chat here we come.

Happy Friday