AI and libraries: the future today
Published on 09 June 2023, by Richard Pemberton
An opinion piece about knowledge and library services and AI now.
In a recent podcast, health commentator Roy Lilley, highlighted a perspective on the world in 2028 This perspective was originally produced in 2015. In 2023 it is clear that many of the predictions from this perspective are on track to come to fruition.
These include, the world population exceeding 8.2 billion, it’s over 8 billion already, Islam to become the world’s largest religion, driverless cars, which are already here and the challenges in health care around obesity and depression are all too clear.
The perspective suggests that 58% of jobs from 2015 would be replaced by robots and AI by 2028. The advances in AI have been coming thick and fast in 2023 and it is easy to see how many roles will change.
Chatbots are often the first level of customer service teams, they are available 24 hours a day and answer the majority of frequently asked questions.
Finance jobs and market research jobs are under threat from computers who can analyse trends and produce recommendations in a fraction of the time that a human can.
What about Librarians? ChatGPT can perform searches and produce results in seconds. How can a human compete?
Librarians have been quick to point out that ChatGPT doesn’t always produce the right answers and struggles to use authority when evaluating sources. It is common for ChatGPT, when pushed to produce academic references for its answers, to make up fake articles with fake DOIs.
It could be dangerous if unsuspecting users fail to critically analyse the answers produced by AI. This could lead to decisions being made based on information that is not backed up by evidence or recognised research.
It is very easy to call for AI to be shut down, with authors like Isaac Asimov and films like The Matrix creating a terrifying science fiction backdrop where the AI takes over and the very existence of humanity is threatened. It’s important to remember that these are fiction stories.
Librarians were once scared of Wikipedia spreading misinformation. That fear caused librarians to try to stop Wikipedia being used by students and researchers and even deliberately editing with fake information to prove that the perceived dangers existed. Now Wikipedia is commonly used as a start point for researchers to get quickly affiliated with a topic.
It provides references for further reading and Libkey Nomad, commonly used in the NHS thanks to national purchasing, intelligently provides links to the referenced material when it can access them from the library resources. Most Librarians have now accepted and embraced Wikipedia as a tool to complement other resources.
Wikipedia launched in 2001 but it took many years for the majority of librarians to see the value of it. Librarians cannot afford to be fearful of changing technology again. ChatGPT and other AI should be embraced as tools to support searching and evidence alongside robust training in core information skills like critical analysis and evaluating authority.
By embracing technology advances and using all the tools available librarians can continue to shape the future of information management. Failure to embrace the technology now will leave librarians chasing to catch up again in the future.