October 2023 Vol. 78 No.10

Editor's Log

Editor’s Log: Who’s behind those pearls of wisdom (or that poison pen)?

Robert Carpenter | Editor-in-Chief 

(UI) — In the modern world, there is a mad rush to expand and embrace all things digital. I would venture to say no industry has been impacted as directly as has media. Gone are the days of print newspapers and magazines dominating media. And while print isn’t gone, it has largely been relegated to second-class status in lieu of smart phones, tablets, laptops, et. al.

Print media was already experimenting aggressively with digital publishing formats, e-newsletters and complex websites prior to 2020. But as the COVID era emerged, its impacts created a shut-in society and by necessity, the remote workplace environment accelerated at warp speed. 

At Underground Instructure, we initially became a hybrid publication in 2021. Half of our subscribers are public/private utility managers and consulting engineers. They didn’t mind getting the magazine in a digital format, as their worlds, which revolved much more around an office environment, had already been shifting that direction. We continued to send a print version to contractors. 

Yet as the quantum digital shift in media continues, contractors too have reached the tipping point and now turn quickly to phones, tablets and laptops for their information, whether in the field, home or office. All segments of our readers are readily embracing our comprehensive digital media, including the 78-year old magazine Underground Infrastructure, starting with our December 2023 issue. 

What made this change to an all-digital format practical is a new way to present digital publications. Rather than the cumbersome and hard-to-read versions typically utilized, our new PageRaft technology provides an amazing jump in ease of reading and efficiency of displaying a multitude of articles. PageRaft is a game changer for digital publications, and we’re excited about the opportunities it presents for Underground Infrastructure. 

Another digital technology that has exploded since COVID and is evolving faster than we can comprehend is artificial intelligence (AI). It is beginning to permeate workplace functions even in the construction and engineering fields. It’s both impressive and absolutely frightening. 

In the underground infrastructure world, AI is quickly establishing itself. We’ve all read and heard about AI reviewing and evaluating pipe inspection data. But there is much more activity, as well. In our quarterly business column, Utility & Communications Construction Update, Dan Shumate of FMI provides some insightful observations as to how AI already is being applied to our industry. 

Shumate stresses that AI “may have a lasting impact on the back-office, estimating and documentation that is a necessity to win work and ensure timely payment.” 

He explains that “software applying machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence, can rapidly analyze blueprints and automatically quantify the areas, environment, objects and materials for a project. This process has the potential to save construction companies hours of time and helps them to submit more accurate bids.” 

Shumate also envisions the probability that “as more of the underground is effectively documented, generative AI may also be able to significantly improve the safety and productivity of the job site through improved locating capabilities and a more thorough understanding of the history of a location.” 

For my specific niche, producing high-quality, informative and beneficial editorial content has always been the goal of Underground Infrastructure. We strive to live up to our reputation as the high-quality publication in our field. But the era of true journalists in modern media is in danger. 

AI programs like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard are spreading like a virus. Designed to develop articles created from all kinds of information harvested from the internet, stories are written to imitate a “human” format. Lawsuits are in place, as content generated by AI programs sometimes originates from various copyrighted websites and digital products of actual news media. 

A description of Google Bard AI describes it as “a neural network-based model that excels in understanding and generating human-like text. It can be thought of as a digital bard, capable of crafting prose, poetry and engaging conversations with the finesse of a seasoned wordsmith.” 

Does this mark the end of the human touch in communications, not just for news stories, but more importantly, for all the amazing literature produced over the centuries? How long before AI begins generating “masterpiece” paintings, music, plays? Do we really want to be so totally engaged and captured by AI fine arts? Or maybe this is just the way AI convinces you that it’s writing for me? 

Ever see “Westworld,” the original movie from 1973? It’s about realistic theme parks populated by human-looking and -acting, artificially created characters. People flocked to these locations like a future Disney World to escape and live out their fantasies. Or so it was, until a virus-like glitch spread to the robots and changed everything. 

What can go wrong with AI taking over critical aspects of our personal lives? To paraphrase an old trailer from the original Westworld movie, “… where nothing can go wrong … go wrong … go wrong … go wrong …”

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