Guest Editorial: The AI Revolution

By Walter Isaacson

Every week during my Tulane class on the digital revolution I send the class a note. Fwiw, here is the final note I sent this semester commenting on the historic nature of what has just occurred in the field of artificial intelligence:

Dear class,

I don’t teach poetry. In fact, I sometimes find poetry harder to understand than math.

But one poem I like is William Wordsworth’s “The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement.”

It has a wonderful pair of lines: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven!”

It is relevant, of course, because our class in 2023 got to share a head-snapping moment in history together, the sudden birth of a revolution: The AI Revolution. We got to see, as the poet said, how it appeared to enthusiasts at its commencement.

Technology revolutions usually start with little fanfare. No one woke up one morning in 1760 and shouted, “OMG, the Industrial Revolution has just begun.” Even the Digital Revolution chugged away for many years in the background, with hobbyists cobbling together personal computers to show off at geeky gatherings such as the Homebrew Computer Club, before people noticed that the world was being fundamentally transformed. The Artificial Intelligence Revolution is different. Within a few weeks in the Spring of 2023, millions of tech-aware and then ordinary folks noticed that a transformation was happening with astonishing speed that would change the nature of work, learning, creativity, and the tasks of daily life.

We got to share that moment and to use it to think through the central question in this course: Was Ada Lovelace right in saying that humans and machines working closely together would be the future, or was Alan Turing right in saying that someday machines will be able to think in ways indistinguishable from humans and we may all be left behind? There is no sure answer, but your challenge, which I hope this course prepared you for, is to figure out how to navigate and survive and thrive in a future where you get to apply your creativity to add value.

Anyway, for you poetry mavens, you will note that Wordsworth is not being purely celebratory. The French Revolution did not end well. But it could have. And so can this revolution. It’s up to you.

Walter Isaacson is a former editor of TIME Magazine and former CEO of CNN