While highly capable artificial intelligence (AI) technology has been talked about for decades, nothing has been as disruptive and transformational as the meteoric rise of ChatGPT.
What has set ChatGPT apart from other previous AI tools? Well, it was the first time for such a proficient technology to be made accessible to the general public for free through an intuitive interface. But more importantly, it was its ability to engage in humanlike conversations, all the while performing an array of tasks from drafting an entire essay and generating computer code to teaching users foreign languages.
And now in an era populated by a new generation of such generative AI chatbots, an age-old question knocks at our door again: What are the roles and capabilities that remain unique to humans?
"In the end, AI cannot evaluate its own output. It can produce outcomes based on the vast amount of information it has been fed, but it lacks the ability to judge whether these results are desirable or not," explained Kim Ran-do, a professor of consumer science at Seoul National University (SNU).
"The judgment call ultimately depends on the capacity of humans for critical thinking and introspection. No matter how fantastic a masterpiece is created, the final touch is always left to us."
Kim's remarks on the role of humans in the age of AI came during a press conference, Oct. 5, held to unveil his book "Trend Korea 2024."
He and his team at the SNU Consumer Trend Center have been publishing annual reports since 2008, offering insights into the country's changing socioeconomic and consumer trends through 10 key words. Starting in 2020, the team also released the English version under the title "Consumer Trend Insights."
As it becomes increasingly crucial to discover the humanistic core required to survive an AI-dominated world, the professor advocates for the emergence of "Homo Promptus" ― individuals adept at strategically harnessing AI through prompt writing and engineering skills.
"When it comes to AI-generated content, the paramount factor isn't the final product itself, but rather a sequence of prompts ― typically textual instructions ― crafted and fine-tuned by humans to yield the most desired responses," he said.
He further outlined the essential attributes of "Homo Promptus" as threefold: a basic grasp of AI tool engineering, specialized knowledge in specific domains, and above all, a profound humanistic understanding encompassing history, philosophy and language that contributes to a comprehensive worldview.
Another key word from the book highlights society's intense focus on maximizing time efficiency, as time has become a resource of equal or even greater importance than money.
"In the past, money held significantly more sway than time, leading people to trade their time for financial savings. However, an increasing number of consumers now prioritize time and are even willing to invest extra funds for additional leisure," Kim observed.
He underscored that this shift has been amplified by recent changes in our economic landscape, as we shift from a so-called "ownership-focused economy" to an "experience-centered economy."
"It's no longer merely about accumulating wealth; it's about using that wealth to access new experiences. Luxurious hotel stays, dining out, international travel and cultural activities ― they all hinge on the availability of time."
Given this newfound emphasis, businesses are no longer solely vying for their customers' wallets ― they are now competing for their time.
"They employ different strategies to prolong user engagement on their websites and platforms, and they are reshaping physical commercial spaces into more immersive and entertaining environments," he said.
"Trend Korea 2024" features eight other key words including the neologism, "hexagonal human," which reflects people's growing tendency to idealize inherent perfection in family background, wealth, appearance and education over self-made qualities.
"Observing the disintegration of the social ladder and the diminishing prospects of upward mobility, individuals are realizing that their efforts alone are not enough to secure them an apartment in Seoul," the professor noted, adding that what appears to matter more as people progress through life are "factors like coming from a well-off family and other 'born-with-it' qualities."
Another notable trend is the prevalence of "dopamine farming," which characterizes the widespread behavior of prioritizing pleasure in various pursuits, even if they appear reckless, provocative or bizarre. The idea that any endeavor capable of releasing dopamine is acceptable gains traction in an era saturated with online stimuli, where competing sources vie for users' attention.
There is also a phenomenon that Kim calls "ditto consumption," where consumers actively seek out niche "proxies" ― their favorite influencers or cultural content ― that resonate with their personal tastes, values and principles and make purchasing decisions based on the recommendations of these sources.