The launch of ChatGPT was the “most important data in human history” — at least from a communications perspective, according to Shelly Palmer, Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at the Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group. Palmer made an impassioned case for the significance of AI to the media business in his closing keynote at Beeler.Tech’s Navigator event in New York on May 1, 2024.

Palmer called ChatGPT’s launch date the “C/G boundary,” meaning curation versus generation. Before that date, he said, content was 99% likely to have been created by a human. Now? We’re in the “generative era,” and whether the author of art or content was a human, AI, or a combination of the two is anyone’s guess. “There’s never been a bigger communications change” than the transition from curation to generation, he said.

But does the advent of AI-enabled content generation spell demise for human expertise? Not at all, Palmer argued. 

Consider the case of a person who tells MidJourney to create an image of a rabbit jumping off a building, he said. Sure, technically, the person can claim to have created art. But without more specific instructions borne of subject matter expertise, the art will be mediocre, a mere commodity that anyone can create. To create meaningful and valuable artwork with AI, humans will still need to provide specific prompts and iterate on outputs, curating it based on finely tuned skills and taste.

On his site, Palmer identifies four potential use cases for AI:

  • Increase productivity
  • Innovate on workflow and process
  • Talk to your data
  • Create new products 

To consider a marketing example that would illustrate most of the above, imagine a performance marketer who needs to design creative assets and figure out where to place them to generate conversions. The marketer could feed AI a very long document with all the details about a specific brand and their customer personas, establish a creative framework (illustrated by examples), and then use AI to create ads that align with the framework and are tailored to the specific brand and audience. Then, AI could be used to iterate on the creative until the marketer hits their goals.

Of course, this will be scary to many marketers, who might cry foul. But first, marketers need to remember the point about the value of their expertise. Second, they need to set aside self-interested concerns that don’t pertain to the efficacy of their work, Palmer argued. If you’re a performance marketer, “You just need to be efficacious and hit your OKRs,” Palmer said. AI will be an integral part of that process going forward.

Critical to unlocking AI’s business value will be clean, comprehensible, and accurate data that it can use to generate images, text, and products based on them. In other words, AI can’t effectively ‘talk’ to your data if the data doesn’t speak clearly back. “If your data is a hot mess, it’s harder,” Palmer acknowledged, noting that marketing and publishing professionals are particularly aware of just how messy data can be.

For those dubious about the value of AI, it’s important to remember that the marketers, content creators, and audiences of tomorrow will grow up entirely in the generative era — a world where AI-generated content is normal, not a novelty. Palmer mentioned that he had created an app that used AI to generate highly specific children’s stories based on existing canons such as “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings.” He noted that his 18-month-old grandchild loves the infinite novelty of technologically enhanced stories.

Against that backdrop, there is no doubt that AI is critical to the future. The question for publishers is whether they’ll wait to be disrupted by it — or be proactive in harnessing it for their own advantage.