The AI Gold Rush

The AI gold rush will result in a few gold nuggets and a lot of silt.

The storm clouds are clearing.

(It’s a reference to my previous post, The rainbow after the storm.)

I’ve been able to start spending less time doing what I have to do, and more time doing what I want to do. And what I want to do is to continue my genealogy research, write more stories about my family, and learn more about how AI can help me do both.

Contents:

 

Do this if nothing else

If you have avoided learning about AI (Artificial Intelligence) while simultaneously fearing that robots are taking over the world — cue Elle Cordova’s clever dystopian campfire song — and if you are reading this post just to humor me, and don’t really even want to finish it very much, please watch this animated video:

Generative AI in a Nutshell – how to survive and thrive in the age of AI

The video’s description is this: “Basically a full day AI course crammed into 18 mins of drawing & talking.” I found it to be an entertaining summary of the AI basics I’ve learned about in the past year. If 18 minutes is too much, skip to 10:50 (The AI Mindset), then 14:53 (Prompt Engineering), and 16:56 (Wrap-Up).

 

The AI gold rush

AI is not new to genealogy or to any other field of interest. Many AI-backed tools were already available online when ChatGPT and similar “generative” tools were introduced to the public in late 2022. (Whereas applications like Google and Netflix searches are considered “predictive” tools.) The big online genealogy websites have used AI for providing record hints, DNA matches and the tools for analyzing them, and document handwriting recognition, among many other features.

This blog post of mine still works as an introduction to the “chatbot” variety of AI you’ve been hearing so much about:

An “Interview” with ChatGPT

Just be aware that in the year since I wrote it, there’s been a virtual gold rush to create ever more, and ever better generative AI tools. (I thought I was so clever in applying the term “gold rush” to what has been going on, but if you Google it you’ll see it elsewhere.)

In the past year, thousands of new applications have been created. They’ve been rapidly maturing, splitting, and combining. Most will inevitably fall by the wayside — like rinsing the silt from the pan to reveal the gold nuggets — so it’s hard to know what to pay attention to.

 

What a difference a year makes

If you haven’t yet, this might be a good time for you to dive in and try some new AI apps, but I can’t say I’d blame you for waiting another year to see what shakes out.

I had intended, a year ago, to write a follow-up post specific to genealogy, but life got in the way and the gold rush took off without me. Maybe it’s just as well because posts about AI go out of date the instant they are published!

Here’s a creepy/funny/scary one-minute video illustrating how far AI has come in one year:

https://www.tiktok.com/t/ZTL4KdQwq/

 

Which AI Tools are best?

Besides ChatGPT, what else do I recommend? I don’t know because I haven’t had all the time I’d like to try all the tools that interest me. I get overwhelmed too! That’s why I’m grateful to follow others who’ve tried them (on social media, and via their blogs and newsletters).

Here are some of the current best apps and (very briefly) what they’re good for:

The best AI chatbots in 2024

And here’s a Facebook post and graphic by my friend D. Allison Lee:

3 ways to dip your toes into the AI water

My favorite source of bite-sized AI info and tips is probably TikTok. That’s where I learned about Goblin.Tools (including Magic ToDo). These tools are described in detail in Julie Bestry’s blog post:

3 Simple But Powerful Productivity Resources — Right in Your Browser Tab

And TikTok is where I learned how teachers are dealing with plagiarism while also incorporating AI into their lesson plans. (Teachers are so creative!)

English 110 Versus Chat GPT — Finding a middle ground with AI usage in the composition classroom

If you don’t already use TikTok, I’m not trying to convert you. But if you’re game, search for the name of a tool you’ve heard about — #ChatGPT, #GoblinTools — or #AI plus a topic that interests you, like #genealogy, #writing, #photos, #health, etc.

 

Genealogy and AI

If you’re a genealogist check out this terrific (private) Facebook group hosted by DNA rockstar, Blaine T. Bettinger:

Genealogy and Artificial Intelligence (AI). (I’ll call it Gen/AI in the rest of this post. TIP: Before you ask questions there, try searching the group for tools you’ve heard of — to see whether and how they’ve already been discussed — and genealogists whose names you know — to see what they’ve had to say and how long ago it was.)

I have enjoyed following the best and the brightest genealogists (as well as those completely unknown to me) in their quest to learn new AI tools, test how they might be applied to genealogy research, and share their results. I tried a few other AI Facebook groups, but they were mostly students trying to figure out how to get AI to write their papers without getting caught, and arguing with each other. Ugh!

And, of course, it’s not just the tools that get good results, it’s the users. It takes some practice. And it takes knowing which tools are intended to get which results to begin with. As Blaine says: “Don’t use a car to blend your smoothie!” The best way to learn which tools are which is to research and try them.

 

New AI tools on my radar:

editGPT:

Because genealogy research naturally lends itself to family storytelling — ala my book, What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family LegacyI was excited to learn about this new editing tool. If you still haven’t experimented with ChatGPT, that’s OK. You don’t even need a subscription to ChatGPT to use this tool. And, as with most tools these days, there’s a basic free version to try.

As Carole McCulloch wrote in the Gen/AI group: I think I can delete my subscription to Quillbot and Grammarly and just keep this one.” Here’s a link to her 6-minute video tutorial about editGPT:

How can AI help with editing and proofreading?

NOTE: I wrote this post all by myself, but I did used editGPT to help me edit and proofread portions of it. (The first thing it tried to change was the capitalization in article and website titles, many of which were not mine to change. Keep in mind that no matter what any editor suggests, the choice is always yours. Don’t blame editGPT for any errors I didn’t check or have allowed to remain!)

 

NotebookLM:

In my aforementioned 2023 post about ChatGPT, I wrote (under “Reality Check”) about how ChatGPT’s knowledge cutoff was September 2021, and how it fabricated the names of three books I’d written. It was correct that I’ve written three books, but not those three! Moreover, the ChatGPT titles don’t exist unless in a parallel universe. They sound plausible, though! Since then, newer versions of ChatGPT (and similar chatbots) have more recent knowledge and the industry more kindly refers to made-up facts as “hallucinations” which are always, always, always to be fact-checked by the user.

The idea behind NotebookLM is that you can upload documents to it that you trust, ask questions, and get answers that draw only from the content you provided. Here’s a genealogy-specific examination of NotebookLM by Dana Leeds, another rockstar in the genealogy world:

Exploring Google’s NotebookLM: Potential and Pitfalls for Genealogists

 

FamilySearch Full Text Search:

FamilySearch is the nonprofit LDS-run website at which you can do research and contribute to a community family tree for free. They have billions of historical records that have been digitized, but only a portion of those record images are currently searchable.

Per FamilySearch: “This test of a full-text search for historical records uses AI to transcribe images into text so they can be fully searched. This feature is meant to save hours previously spent manually reviewing thousands of images for an important piece of information—that can be found almost instantly with an automated search. Over 100 million records from the United States and Mexico are currently available in this experiment. We anticipate adding more collections in the future.”

I’ve tested it a bit, with limited personal results, but I can see it eventually being a wonderful thing. Here is the page for more info on Full Text Search and other tools available for testing:

Introducing FamilySearch Labs

 

Should we fear AI?

I came across this article recently:

AI is Corrupting the Internet as We Know It.

Although the title smacks of fearmongering, it’s not wrong, and if you read the article you’ll see why. I think it’s important to understand the potential dangers, and yet, AI is here to stay — especially considering it has already been here in various forms for decades — and I think it has infinite current and potential benefits if we use it wisely. The controversy surrounding AI development echoes the debates around all other previous technological advances throughout history including electricity, automobiles, factories, computers, and the internet itself.

Meanwhile, regarding the AI-generated images in the article, I have seen every one of them before without having joined any of the Facebook groups in which I saw them. Fake National Geographic, Richard Attenborough, and similar sites where people expect to see real nature photos are a problem because the vast majority of followers seem not to have gotten past the first level of recognizing that Nat Geo and Richard A, or his heirs, have nothing to do with those particular accounts.

The article concludes, and I agree: “Who knows where this will lead? Only one thing is certain. AI is here to stay. The question is, can humanity use this amazing technology to do good in the world? AI may hold the key to curing cancer and ending world hunger. In the meantime, we will have to do our best to avoid the negative downside of this technology. We need to ensure that truth always prevails over deception, deceit, and misinformation.”

 

The AI gold rush is far from over

This might not be my last post about AI, but I will never try to write anything comprehensive or definitive about it because it’s just too vast a topic. It affects every aspect of life that I can think of, and its thousands of applications are constantly changing and evolving.

Debates rage in the creative sectors over AI-generated text and images, and I’m sure things will occasionally go awry here and there. But I also look forward to many of the good things that will come of the developing technology, such as live captioning smart glasses for the hard of hearing.

 

Have you tried any of the AI tools mentioned here?

Which others have you tried? Do you have a favorite?

Please let us know by leaving a comment below!

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6 Comments

  1. Julie Bestry on May 14, 2024 at 4:33 pm

    Oooh, thank you for including my goofy little foray into AI! I love Elle Cordova, so I loved that you included her campfire song, and I’m going to work my way through the Generative AI in a Nutshell, as it may take a few viewings.

    But the “Let Him Cook” comparison of AI of a year ago vs. now? Terrifying. I have moderate concern over AI’s use in text, but audio, and especially audio/visual fakery, is beyond terrifying. It will be used for far worse things that Photoshop ever was, to unfairly wreck reputations and topple governments. Eventually, we won’t know who we can trust.

    Deb picked the least scary ways to approach AI; creating a meal plan is less likely to prompt anxiety than asking it to make a photo and then you end up with some dude with six fingers! Your list of the AI chatbots (of which I’ve only tried four: ChatGPT, BingAI, Perplexity, and PI) is fun. Pi, which I’ve experimented with and enjoyed, feels somewhat different. It was more like having a conversation without a goal, and it asked some prompting questions, leading me to come up with some interesting ideas for one of the books I want to write. I suspect generative AI will get used in psychology/therapy and brainstorming to greater effect (without causing anxiety) than some of the other purposes.

    I’d never thought of using AI to edit/proofread. I’m usually unhappy with tools like Grammarly, which take out necessary commas or suggest grammatical changes that yield changes to context and content. But now I’m eager to see what AI tools might do for me in this arena! And I’m glad you and I discussed NotebookLM before you wrote this post, as I’m all the more eager to check it out in greater depth!

    Thanks for helping us dip a toe into the AI world.

    • Hazel Thornton on May 15, 2024 at 9:37 am

      I’m glad you liked my post! Thanks for sharing your experience with Pi. I felt the same way you did about Grammarly and another AI tool that’s been around for years, Jasper. (To the point where I didn’t use them.) But the custom prompt aspect of editGPT seems fun and promising.

  2. Seana Turner on May 16, 2024 at 5:09 am

    I have played around with ChatGPT. It’s kind of freaky. It’s nice to try the tools when it doesn’t matter, just to see what they can do. I am interested in editGPT. I think I’ll be exploring that one next, as editing is a regular need for me. I will say that I can see many positive uses for AI, but as with the other technologies you mentioned, there is risk. The whole thing makes me a little queasy to think about.

    It’s hard when you can’t trust what you see, and we are definitely there now…

    • Hazel Thornton on May 16, 2024 at 9:46 pm

      That’s a good point, Seana, about trying the tools when it doesn’t matter. So much easier to learn when you are just playing around and not seriously trying to accomplish anything or meet a deadline.

  3. Alison Lush on May 18, 2024 at 3:58 pm

    Hazel, this is a topic I’ve be intentionally avoiding. I lack confidence in our ability to educate and regulate to adequately protect what needs protecting, including the truth, what is truly important to see and read, and personal rights.
    But because it’s YOU, and I trust and respect you, I will read your blog.
    I’ve already skimmed it.
    Thank you for filtering this scary topic to something I can at least open my eyes a crack to peek at. 👍

    • Hazel Thornton on May 19, 2024 at 8:24 am

      Thanks, Alison, I’m honored that you trusted me to take a peek! That was my goal — to demystify it a bit. To say it’s OK if you aren’t into it, but it’s not going away, so here’s a little background.

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