Following a few truly unprecedented years, I finally had the opportunity to attend SXSW 2023. Reflecting on my own experience, I’ve come to appreciate the silver lining in the wait. Not only have I grown in my professional career as a digital health strategist, but the world is unquestionably in a very different place: How we value time and connection today is just different. Brands approach opportunities differently, employees and employers see their relationships differently, and consumers prioritize what’s most important to them differently. As a result, many of the topics at the forefront of this year’s conversations were inevitably - different.
During my time in Austin, I had the opportunity to hear from several fascinating individuals, including Quantitative Futurist and CEO of the Future Today Institute Amy Webb who, among other points, discussed her company’s annual Tech Trends Report. To quote Webb, “Now, more than ever, it’s important to carefully track new trends as they emerge… Leaders who focus on the trends that matter and adapt to changing circumstances make better decisions and see improved outcomes.” The theme of FTI’s 2023 Tech Trends Report is "focus.”
This got me thinking more about focus – not only as it relates to the need for businesses and organizational leaders to focus on what’s most important, but the responsibility on us as communicators, especially when it comes to matters of health. We must recognize that most of us are suffering from a lack of focus, and we must understand the forces that will continue to fuel this. The current landscape presents a unique opportunity to rethink both how and when brands engage with consumers.
To start, everything is now information. The continued rise of digital devices and cloud computing has fundamentally changed the way we interact with each other and the internet, and, as FTI’s report goes on to propose, will arguably have implications across every major trend and industry, including healthcare systems and pharmaceutical products. While artificial intelligence (AI) and management tools have continued to evolve over the last decade, the next few years are set to be all about generative AI and its transition into everything we touch. Indeed, the recent attention surrounding OpenAI and ChatGPT has helped bring these capabilities mainstream.
Acknowledging the inherent risks involved with advanced AI and minimal oversight, large language models, which are a foundation of this technology, will likely revolutionize how we search, discover, and consume content. The companies that enable this technology and those that support them will have the best chance at succeeding in this space, with new offerings bound to emerge in just a matter of time. Those who wait to start thinking about this might find themselves at a disadvantage or left behind altogether.
This idea of course isn’t new, as innovations in technology constantly contribute to the increased flood of information. The difference now is the class of generative AI models that are enabling machines to read, write, and generate synthetic or manipulated media. As a result, the sheer amount of content that is and will be produced will make it even more challenging for brands to reach their audiences in a meaningful way. At the same time, our ability to identify truth from fiction is being tested now more than ever. We need focus.
My general takeaway from this experience and these conversations is that there are A LOT of questions, but not necessarily many answers (at least not yet). We’re in a unique period of transition and uncharted territory, trying to figure things out as they evolve in front of us. We’ll need to make educated assumptions and acknowledge the different intricacies at play to avoid getting left behind.
In my role advising clients on their digital strategies, I can’t help but think about how all of this will impact healthcare. We’re at a tipping point with how the industry will respond to these technological forces – forces that may result in the transformation of every aspect of patient care and the medical community. My curiosity leads to questions: Will patients rely on a new platform like ChatGPT to get information on their health and treatment options instead of consulting their doctor? How will patients, their loved ones, and medical professionals trust online sourcing methods when everything is subject to digital manipulation? What role do brands have in this evolving conversation and who will regulate these technologies? Lastly, how do we balance these legitimate worries with the excitement and opportunity that all of this presents?
I believe the first step in asking these questions is to acknowledge the gravity of the situation. Communicators then must act and work with organizations that are dedicated to addressing these challenges with platforms and legislators.
Even so, we should not underestimate the tremendous value and opportunity that these advancements are likely to provide in medicine, including improved patient access and outcomes. Long term, these innovations may even redefine the roles for physicians and hospitals. There is real life-saving good that will come from these technologies.
How the next few years impact the next few decades will not be known for some time, but I feel it’s our collective responsibility to figure out how to tip the scale in the right direction and bring focus to the things that matter most. Once we recognize that this situation is different than before, I’m hopeful we can start.