We all know that businesses, political parties and governments openly use words to advance their causes. It’s called advertising, and sometimes Public Relations. If it’s an overt attempt to make us buy a product, vote for someone, or behave in a certain way, then that’s fine.
But sometimes it’s a lot less ethical. Like when Cambridge Analytica and Bell Pottinger notoriously influenced elections, referenda, and campaigns as far afield as Britain, the United States, and South Africa. Fake news and fake stories from fake friends can nudge people firmly into another camp.
Words can be persuasive, encouraging a natural desire, and words can be offensive, triggering violence. Words can be placatory, and diplomatic. And now words can be weaponized, with the help of data and artificial intelligence.
You might have heard of neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP. Essentially, it’s a set of techniques for using words and excellent communication skills to achieve positive outcomes; but is it ethical to use NLP to ‘sell ice to Eskimos?’ Data analytics and machine learning take it to another level.
As famous neuroscientist and AI expert Vivienne Ming says: “I can turn offices and workspaces into giant distributed thinking machines. I can remotely assess an individual employee in a company of thousands, without directly interacting with them.” And also influence their behavior by providing the right words for their manager to use; with positive outcomes, of course.
For several years now, publishers have been refusing to accept any ‘Books created using artificial intelligence or automated processes.’ How do they check? By using data-driven machine learning algorithms of course! But companies are using this same technology to boost their productivity and employee engagement, while ensuring that their sales and profits don’t suffer. Word hacking for fun and profit.
Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword, and words can be weapons of wealth creation.