Madam Chair, Friends and Colleagues, I am truly privileged and honoured to be in your midst on this very significant day for the media across the country and indeed in Nagaland, especially as this institution, which has always been targeted since its inception across the globe, is now particularly under severe stress and unprecedented threat, both in conflict zones and seemingly democratic and peaceful countries and societies. We are often pigeonholed as local, regional, national and international media but we are one body with numerous limbs ~ hopefully “brightening the corner where we are”. That is the core of our job, our vocation, wherever we are. And while we do our job we rub powerful people the wrong way hence we are perceived as a threat to them and so we are under threat in return. Now with extremely sophisticated scientific and technological innovations and inventions, we face newer threats. The 2023 National Press Day’s theme ~ Media in the Era of Artificial Intelligence ~ is indeed very appropriate since today Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a serious concern across the spectrum, and also has enormous ramifications for the media, one way or the other.

However, I am afraid that the Kohima Press Club will regret inviting me to speak on this theme because I am not even naturally intelligent, not to mention artificially intelligent. Science and technology have always gone over my head and it is with great effort, I manage to tentatively touch the hems of computer literacy. However, most of you are highly tech-savvy therefore I am confident that when we, the media, need to welcome AI as a friend or confront it as a foe, we will do it together. So I beg you to bear my mistakes while addressing you today. In fact, what I will say are not really a studied speech but an attempt to weave together my random thoughts on the theme.

There is an increasing body of information on AI, some of which you may be aware of ~ and, perhaps even applying AI. However, it is quite clear that there is much more for us to learn about AI to conclude it as a friend or foe. Depending on our motives, agenda and moral compass, it could be either. So, while I cannot authoritatively say much on the evolving science and technology of AI, I will try to focus on some ethical concerns that have been raised globally regarding AI such as data privacy, algorithm bias and potential misuse of AI technologies. AI is also said to lack creativity and empathy limiting its ability to understand emotions or produce original ideas ~ a serious concern for the media indeed because our work is meant to be based on creativity, empathy and originality. AI is predicted to grow increasingly pervasive as technology develops, revolutionizing sectors including healthcare, banking and transportation. But what about the media? Will we grow or perish with AI?

Technology has increasingly made the human being redundant leading to unemployment and even ending numerous cultures and creations born of the human heart, mind and hands. As with all technology, AI too would eventually work out much cheaper if used, so wouldn’t the media, as an institution, mandated to uphold democratic ethics, cultures and traditions pay a steep price?

These are issues we must dwell on and delve into in all seriousness because AI as a foe could very well end all aspects of the very institution of the media. As a friend, AI could enhance the media but only if we do not let it control us. This would be difficult because we have seen that the machine has consistently conquered and controlled the human being. Think of social media ~ both a boon and a bane ~ underscoring the user’s ethics quotient. Can human beings be trusted not to abuse and misuse AI? What has been the man vrs the machine record so far? Particularly just before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, we are increasingly being subverted by technology and have become data-generators for technology to develop and overwhelm us. Our identity as human beings has been reduced to our numerous codes and card numbers ~ in fact, now we simply don’t exist without our technologically generated numbers. Then there is the issue of the right to privacy, of which we haven’t even started a discourse in Nagaland.

Technology is not all-inclusive ~ the existing digital divide is evidence. Technology, said to make life be simpler, isn’t really so because human being is excluded from the technology-driven world. During the pandemic, millions of children were denied online education ~ spot-lighting poverty, social, economic, cultural and political inequalities. Would AI address these issues and speak truth to power, which control technology? How would we, as the media, address the increasing invasive nature of AI, which is bound to permeate into our politics and governance, cultures and thought processes? Are we aware of the challenges AI would present and are we, as the media, preparing to confront these challenges? Even in the literary field, are we preparing to confront these challenges, as apparently AI can replace writer and poets? Are we preparing to protect our autonomy and agency as human beings? Or, are we so enamoured with name and fame that we will have no compunction to use AI to make a mark in our journalistic and creative pursuits? Apparently, this is already happening.

Everything has several two sides to them so we need to focus equally on them. It is said that one of the main causes of the emergence of terrorism after the end of the Cold War was the withdrawal of HUMINT (human intelligence) from the ground. HUMINT is the process of gaining intelligence from humans or individuals by analyzing behavioral responses through direct interaction.

Numerous other instances of “intelligence failure” leading to tragic consequences are also attributed to the reduced importance accorded to HUMINT with the emergence of sophisticated and smarter technology. My point is that the alleged failure to use HUMINT after the end of the Cold War is said to lead to the emergence of terrorism and we know how severely terrorism has affected our world and changed it almost beyond comprehension. So, what would be the consequences of AI and subsequent impact on human beings, which would cascade into our politics, policies, economics and cultures? Is the media ready to make sense of possible changes and somehow guide our readers and viewers to make sense of a rapidly changing world ~ in which most of us could probably be excluded and redundant?

The media is supposed to be leaders of thoughts, opinions and decision-making ~ not followers. With the emerging AI, how would we rate ourselves in this responsibility of ours on a scale of 1 to 10? Are we going to continue regurgitating press releases and speeches by all and sundry in our papers or are we going to dissect and analyze them to enable our readers to make sense of what actually they are saying or not saying? In the era of AI, are we going to continue to playing the role of the public relations wings of Governments, other power centres, the corporates and showbiz or as an independent and thinking media? The hand that rocks technology will roll the world ~ and AI will indubitably be in the hands of power, money and muscle. How and where do the media see our place in this scenario?

So learning more about AI would serve us well because it is also our job to study ethical issues involved in the use of technology that sidestep the human being and re-engineer and re-shape human society and thought processes. Ultimately, it is the human being that ought to dictate and direct the use of AI but ‘shoulda, woulda and coulda’ is one thing and the insidious ways of misuse of technology is another. Our relationship with our mobile phones says much. So does our mistaken belief that the internet is the repository of all knowledge and wisdom thereby reducing ourselves to receptacles of information, data and statistics ~ most of which we cannot dissect, analyze, make sense of and utilize to improve our lives and relationships. The media also need to question what our Governments and corporate are selling to us ~ in education, health, agriculture, infrastructure development, everything, including our political, social, economic and cultural narratives. And we need to inform our findings to our people. Take education or health for instance ~ we need to question whether AI would rescue or raid us. What is our reaction and response to unethical practices in these sectors? Would AI in the health sector detect unethical practices? How will AI help human society in terms of progress vrs profit?

Who benefits and who loses vis-à-vis the application of technology? How closely linked are politics and economics to technology? In terms of development, how closely linked is technology to geography? So many questions need to be asked. But indisputably it is the human value-system and human moral compass that determine the fruitful use or wanton abuse of technology.

Moreover, what would be the shape, content and character of the media in the era of AI is not only what the media makes of AI but more crucially, what society and state makes of AI ~ because the media is an integral part of society and state. So then, we must necessarily study the objectives, agenda and goals of society and state and where they envisage to take society and state ~ say five to ten years from now? For the media, what narratives can we script on these objectives, agenda and goals and convince our people that they are either positive or negative? I think that media in the era of AI has more to do with enabling and empowering citizens to fully comprehend and control technology to script their own narratives ~ not be beguiled by those with economic, political and cultural power that have a lot to lose when people think independently and act ethically. So, it is important that technology also must be owned by the people and this is where the media must play its leadership role by placing the human being in the centre of the era of AI.

The wonders of technology are numerous and indescribable. However, seeing that there is no dearth of intelligence ~ AI being a result ~ I wonder why this intelligence have not been used to innovate and invent artificial common sense, which Madam Chair, Friends and Colleagues, you will agree, is in very short supply in today’s technology-driven world.

Thank You.

(This speech was delivered Monalisa Changkija, editor & publisher, on National Press Day in Kohima)

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