Reassuringly for technophobes Mr Mnuchin, our new Treasury Secretary, has just assured us, via The Verge, that we’ve nothing to worry about, AI is 50 to 100 years away. On the other hand David Smith, writing at The Scholarly Kitchen wants us to be on our toes because AI’s creeping up on us and is about to eat our lunch. Maybe yes, maybe no. I guess in one way or another robots are eventually going to do pretty much everything for us (we hope). But automated peer review and archiving, while doubtless “good things”, would hardly seem a reason to start panicking, even if they were widely available today.
Mr Smith ends up informing us that he’s “still having conversations with people who genuinely think that publishers aren’t and shouldn’t be software companies”. I confess to such genuine thoughts. Getting books published, while not in any of its individual steps a tremendously difficult operation, is time- and attention-consuming. Over 70% of book sales (through the traditional publishing industry) are still in print form. However excited you may be about some putative future with robots, AI, telepathy, and whatever the flavor of next month turns out to be, there’s still a lot of work to be done getting those damn books out. Stick to your last.
It’s no doubt important that the eyes of publishing visionaries are constantly scanning the horizon, or their Alexas. We definitely do need to be thinking about what might happen. But what might happen, is just that: what might happen. What happens today, and tomorrow is what we deal with day to day, and there’s plenty of that to keep us busy. Sandy Thatcher asks ironically, in a comment at The Scholarly Kitchen post, whether Alexa will be doing our copyediting for us. So much of what we do in publishing is so simply done by low-paid labor that there’s little incentive to invest in programming to get a machine to take it over. Copyediting will no doubt survive (in so far as it is still being done by ever more cost-conscious publishers) until some military AI development comes along which as a side-effect turns out to carry out similar functions to those executed by the brain of a copyeditor.