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The Impact of AI on the Digital Industry


Read time: 12m

It feels like we’ve been discussing the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for an eternity now, but for most people, it has had limited impact on their day-to-day lives.

The most ubiquitous impact on the web has definitely been in online chatbots. There’s no doubt you’ll have seen them, just think about when you’re busy going about your daily life reading through a website and Jeremy the ‘friendly chatbot’ pops up to ask you how you’re doing. Not now Jeremy, not now.

I’m very much on the fence around AI chatbots. Whilst they do have their place, more often than not I do find myself typing ‘Speak to agent’ over, and over, and over again, waiting for Jeremy to accept his fate and hand me over to his human colleague. It seems I am in a minority here, as statistically around 62% of people are happy to deal with their problems through an AI chatbot rather than wait for a representative to help them, with around 65% of people being comfortable relying on AI to get to the bottom of their problem.

Anyway, I digress. Before I go any further slandering Jeremy’s skills (don’t tell him I said that), let’s dive into the real deal, exploring in further detail what AI actually is, the impact of AI on the digital industry and the impact it will have on the future of web design and development.

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)?

So, what is Artificial Intelligence? Put simply, it’s the simulation of human intelligence by machines. It’s a topic explored by the entertainment industry for nearly a century, with films such as Metropolis (1927) exploring a robot’s impact on mankind.

However, it’s only very recently that it has really crept into our daily lives. AI systems are built to learn from human input with the aim of solving problems. These systems don’t rely on developers to improve their processing, they instead learn from people working with them. Yep, that’s right, they rely on you.

How does AI work?

Humankind has spent years teaching these bots how to operate, without most of us really even knowing it. Have you ever spoken to Siri or Alexa? Of course you have, even if just testing your shiny new phone! If you’re like me, your entire house may even be controlled by our friendly AI assistants. Does “Alexa, turn the lounge light on” sound familiar?

What was a scary thought just 10 years ago is now an entirely normal part of our lives. However, what people don’t realise is that every time you chat to your AI assistant, you’re actually teaching it new things. Whether that’s something simple as how to understand different accents and dialects, or even teaching it new phrases and terms. Everything you say is fed back to central command, processed and becomes part of the long term abilities of the assistant.

Another prominent example of this is Google’s reCAPTCHA service. Most people will have come across this on their digital journeys, usually presenting as a “I’m not a robot” checkbox, with the occasional puzzle “Select all squares with traffic lights”. Each time you complete a puzzle, you’re feeding back to Google HQ exactly what you define as a traffic light. Yep, that’s right, you’re now officially a teacher.

AI however has a much broader potential, much of which is yet to be explored. 2023 looks set to be the year where this significance grows exponentially, with the launch of new groundbreaking tools such as ChatGPT.

What does this mean for the digital industry?

As developers and designers, any advancement or tool that can help us improve our output or improve the experience of those we produce our work for can only be a good thing, right?

AI offers many advantages. For example, improving conversion rates by providing more relevant suggestions to the end user. As a recent example, in October 2022 Facebook published an article explaining how they use AI to help provide you, the user, more relevant content and adverts on your feed. This principle can be applied to many websites, whether they’re eCommerce websites or even information based websites.

Going back to our good friend Jeremy, the AI chatbot, these guys offer the user a way to ask questions and obtain answers without having to phone or email the business. Imagine diverting a large proportion of your users away from emailing or phoning, and instead allowing AI to do that heavy lifting? The impact on your business, and time saved could prove immeasurable. It almost sounds too good to be true!

From a development perspective, AI based tools used for scanning websites and providing us feedback on everything from SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) to code standards are really beginning to show their worth. In some instances, they’re even becoming invaluable.

We often think of humans as being the apex predator, the faultless machine that excels at everything they do. Humans do however have one major flaw, they make mistakes. AI can be used to act as the third party quality assurance assistant, constantly monitoring for mistakes or ways to improve without being overbearing.

What are the benefits of AI for websites?

Although I’ve touched on some of the benefits above, let’s have a look in more detail at the ways AI can help you or help your users.

1. User Experience

I’ve already discussed the role of chatbots on the digital landscape, but what other ways can AI help improve your user experience?

First, and the one I’m most excited about is the role of AI in determining the content you see. Let’s say you’re looking to get into photography, but you don’t understand the complexities, terms and details that come with it. AI could become a friend to you here. It has the potential to offer you suggestions for the perfect camera for your abilities, alongside offering suggestions for the perfect memory card, lens and even case for your newly acquired camera.

This might sound like a small accomplishment, but this is something that historically would require a trip to your local highstreet camera store or require a lengthy phone call. By leaning on AI, we’re reducing admin overheads whilst improving customer satisfaction – a win-win!

Similarly, AI can be used in eCommerce to influence future purchases. With information about you, your previous purchases and browsing history it has the ability to determine products that might catch your eye and thus lead to another purchase. Amazon is the king in this field, one visit to their homepage will show you they potentially know more about the things you like than even your spouse!

AI also has the potential to process data on your behalf, and give you the information you need in an easy to understand snapshot. It can also sift its way through erroneous data, duplicated data and other issues to correct and provide a more accurate view of your business.

Finally, AI can take over those mundane tasks such as image resizing, cropping and enhancements – a welcome addition to our toolkit!

2. Better Search

Let’s face it, everybody uses search. Whether you’re browsing for the latest fancy gadget on Amazon, or you’re querying Google about what that dastardly old cough means – search plays a massive role in the digital world.

As developers, we’re always looking for ways to improve the results you see when using our search engines. AI can be used to enhance these results by taking in information about your browsing habits, purchase history and even your demographic to provide more relevant results to you.

3. Content Creation

As marketers, we often remind our clients that keeping their website up-to-date is incredibly important. Fresh, relevant content can be the difference between languishing in the depths of Google and sitting in the top 10 showing you’re the king of your field. The reality is, not everybody has the budget to pay somebody to write new, engaging content every few weeks – it’s simply low down the priorities in your marketing budget.

The past couple of years has seen the introduction of AI based copywriting services such as Jasper AI. Whilst these services are far from perfect, they offer small and medium businesses a tool that can quickly and cheaply produce new content to keep users coming back.

4. Accessibility

Ensuring your website is accessible should be high up your list of priorities. Making sure people with sight impairments and other disabilities can navigate your website is not only important, it’s also a legal requirement. Nobody is too big, or too small, to overlook this requirement. Back in 2019, Guillermo Robles, a blind man, successfully sued Dominos Pizza as he was unable to purchase some food via the Dominos website due to it not being accessible to his screen reader.

So, how can AI help, I hear you ask? Well there are a couple of key ways that come to mind, the first being that AI has the ability to scan your website and look for deficiencies. These scanners can check to ensure your website has all the tools to rank well on search engines, but they can also confirm that your website meets basic accessibility guidelines.

Another interesting use of AI is in image recognition. You may not have ever noticed, but a quick visit to Instagram on the website and a peek around one of the images will show you that they use AI to recognise the image and automatically generate alt tag content based on what the image represents.

Alt tags are an important component of accessibility, they allow users with disabilities to be able to understand what an image is trying to show them.

5. The Future

Whilst we only really know what happens in the present, we can make some predictions about where AI will take us. One area that is currently showing potential is the ability to convert human instruction to code, lowering the bar to entry in the industry. Whilst developers may look upon this as the end of their careers, we should in fact embrace it and learn from it.

Are there any risks to AI?

With any new technology comes risk. With AI, it’s fairly low risk, but depending on the implementation, it is open to abuse. Back in 2016, Microsoft found this out the hard way.

Microsoft’s R&D teams developed a new chatbot they named Tay, which they were preparing to release on the Twittersphere as an experiment in “conversational understanding”. Tay was developed to communicate with people on Twitter, publicly and privately by inbox messaging while attempting to emulate the style and slang of a teenage girl. A little bit creepy now, come to think of it…

Anyway, anybody that has spent more than a few minutes on Twitter will know – Twitter (as with all social networks), has its fair share of rogues. On March 23rd 2016, Microsoft unleashed Tay on the world, but all was not as rosy as it seemed. Just a few hours later, Tay went rogue and started publishing Tweets with content I am not prepared to share here. Within just 16 hours of release, Tay had tweeted over 95,000 times and a fair percentage of these Tweets were abusive and offensive.

So what can we learn from this? Well, first and foremost, be careful what information you feed your AI machine, as they’re like a toddler – a brain like a sponge and likely to begin repeating things you wish they wouldn’t.

Does this spell the end of website designers and developers?

Not likely. At least not until Artificial Intelligence surpasses human intelligence. The website development and design industry changes monthly, we’re always on the cusp of a new development and humans are needy animals with a desire for change. This makes it harder for AI to keep up, and will likely need human input for a long time to come.

One thing that might become more prominent over the next 10 years is the ability for developers and designers to lean on AI to produce small bits of work that are tiresome. This is a good thing for all connected as it lowers the cost for the producer, and the customer.

How can you learn more?

If you’re interested in AI and what it can do, why not start by checking out ChatGPT’s chat system? You can ask questions, ask for opinions and much more. Or, sometimes you need that human touch. We’re a team of expert website designers and developers, always on hand to help you harness the power of your site. 

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