Choosing wisely on AI

We’ve been thinking a lot about appropriate uses of artificial intelligence in our research and reporting. Cat Hofacker, our associate editor, raised some especially strong points, so I invited her to provide this issue’s editor’s notebook. — Ben Iannotta, editor-in-chief

In the second book of “The Inheritance Cycle” saga, an immortal being with magical powers, an elf, explains why she doesn’t rely on her magic for everything: “When you can have anything you want by uttering a few words, the goal matters not, only the journey to it,” she says. 

Artificial intelligence, of course, is not magic, but it’s the closest thing we have in the real world. As we each consider how to incorporate these tools into our professional lives, it seems to me that we’ll need to be like the elf: give careful thought about when and how we use them.

In the journalism world, these tools can be powerful assistants to reporters, editors and graphic artists. We’d love to receive completely accurate transcriptions in real time so that we can focus on considering the substance of the interviews and finding the most interesting way to tell the story. On the visual side, perhaps we should explore whether OpenAI’s Sora or other text-to-video tools could help us brainstorm or generate early versions of infographics, which we’d then refine by applying our creativity and fact checking. As welcome as the efficiency would be, it will always be our responsibility as journalists to make sure that any use of AI is properly disclosed and that the products are accurate.

This concept of accountability is a core tenet of journalism. All Aerospace America stories must contain original interviews and wording — and not just because talking to smart people and figuring out how to describe their innovations is one of the most fun parts of the job. When I put my name on a piece, I am promising readers that this is my work. If this column were the result of me typing “write 500 words about AI and ethics” into ChatGPT, that promise would be broken. 

Whether you are an engineer, researcher or student, I’m sure you’re also considering how to employ these new tools wisely. In your world, as in ours, that will require recognizing the performance limitations of AI. The transcripts I mentioned are nowhere close to 100% accurate today, and generative AI can sometimes spit out absolute gibberish. We don’t know yet if Sora will get things right either. Fundamentally, I’m betting that humans will always be needed to provide the creative spark in both of our worlds. Could AI have thought to propose the Ingenuity helicopter that made 72 flights on Mars? I suspect not.

But let’s suppose that AI does eventually acquire human-level creativity. An accomplishment like Ingenuity would be less satisfying because we wouldn’t have the inspiring story of the intrepid engineers who persevered even when they had to convince the doubters that this was a valuable addition to the mission.

I’d venture that I’m not the only person who doesn’t want to live in a world in which all the innovations come from AI. Most aerospace professionals are drawn to this field not in spite of the wicked problems, but because of them. Incorporating new technologies is important for any successful organization, so leaders should proactively develop specific policies telling their employees how to leverage AI tools in appropriate ways. That means, in part, enhancing, not co-opting, human creativity.

To put my own spin on the elf’s quote: The destination matters a great deal, but how we choose to get there should never be overlooked.

About Cat Hofacker

Cat helps guide our coverage, keeps production of the magazine on schedule and copy edits all articles. She became associate editor in 2021 after two years as our staff reporter. Cat joined us in 2019 after covering the 2018 congressional midterm elections as an intern for USA Today.

Choosing wisely on AI