While it’s almost impossible to keep up with how fast generative AI is changing the game, philanthropic futurist Trista Harris’ compelling article on AI’s implications for the social impact sector has us thinking about the importance of trying to keep up and using the best available tools to maximize our impact. She warns against getting “Blockbustered,” which as you might guess is not a good thing for organizations that fail to innovate and adapt, resulting in their eventual downfall.

The good, the bad, and the unknown

In the interest of avoiding that fate for ourselves and our clients, we sat in on AI Impact Lab’s recent webinar on How Mission-Driven Orgs Can Harness AI for Impact. (ChatGPT was itself a guest panelist.) The conversation explored opportunities and risks of AI for leaders and organizations in the nonprofit space. These opportunities include increases in staff capacity, improved and scaled services (especially the ability to deliver them in multiple languages), and enabling new approaches that have previously been too costly to pursue, like developing an app in support of your program or a video game as an education tool.

But these opportunities must be balanced against the risks of inaccurate information, data security and privacy (especially deep-fake phishing scams), unknown biases and breakdowns, rapidly shifting business models, and the massive organizational and policy changes that will be necessitated as AI technologies take hold.  

AI as meta technology

Eli Pariser, a pioneer in the use of technology to serve democracy, was also on the panel. He wisely noted that AI “is a meta technology; more akin to electricity than the internet. It’s a power-giving meta-technology that facilitates a whole bunch of other things to be possible.” These tools are poised to bring about a seachange in the way we work – especially as communicators, given the tools’ ability to generate written content and elegant graphics – very fast and at a much lower cost. 

But efficiency isn’t the singular aim of our work in the social impact space.

Efficiency vs. empathy

Our work is about understanding complex problems and applying discernment and insight to develop meaningful and lasting solutions toward social change.

Our work is rooted in our belief that change happens when people align around an idea, a vision, or an approach to improve things.

Our work is about heart and emotion, and no matter how “good” AI gets, social change hinges on our shared humanity and hope. 

We encourage organizations to experiment with AI and understand its limitations. At the end of the day, AI may be good for efficiency in some cases, but human creativity, compassion,  experience, and passion for justice will always be the drivers toward social good. 

Are you using generative AI in your comms work? If so, which tools are you using? We’d love to know. And check out how other organizations in The Communications Network are using AI in their collaborative, open-source doc.