Atlantic CEO forecasts 7 tech developments that may change journalism

By Nevin Kallepalli

New York, United States


O sluggard nation, slow and grand.

We slide about on moistened land. 

We’re patient creatures, soft and round.

But don’t mistake our sluggish ways.

For weakness, dullness, or malaise.

These were the words of “the slug national anthem,” created as an exercise in collaboration between chatGPT and Nick Thompson, chief executive officer of The Atlantic, at last week’s INMA World Congress of News Media in New York.

A seasoned technology journalist, Thompson is enthusiastic about the media world at least learning about AI rather than rejecting it wholesale. 

“It’s going to change a lot about our business, we all know that,” he told the audience of 561, representing 48 countries.

This observation was among seven important developments in tech that Thompson forecasts will change everything about journalism.

1. Change will only accelerate

Technological progress does not increase at a steady pace. Change happens exponentially. 

The news media industry would be remiss to believe it is afforded any time to completely understand a single mechanism before that mechanism is obsolete, Thompson said. “There hasn't been a moment where you suddenly pause, catch your breath, you figure it out,” advising journalists to constantly think about what has yet to come. This has been the case with computing from the 1960s onward, and for him, is what makes the business exciting.

2. Understand AI. Don’t fight it.

The technology du jour he focused on was of course generative AI.

He compared today’s AI to yesterday’s Internet, reflecting on the different strategies employed by media companies in the nascent days of the Web. There is no one-size-fits-all method.

“Some companies did really well by studying, watching, and moving later. Some did better by leaning right in, but some did terribly by leaning right in … but we should be trying to understand exactly what’s happening.”

3. Realness is going to matter more and more

“Here’s something I just did with … an hour and and 20 bucks,” Thompson said before showing a video of himself talking while a rolodex of celebrities’ faces imposed upon his face seamlessly as he spoke. “I think I’m going to do Paul Rudd for all my future videos!” 

The point he made was that as AI becomes more sophisticated, the mediascape will be inundated with convincing junk. Verified information from trusted outlets will garner a kind of currency. 

“There’s real value to the brands we have as this kind of fake phony stuff comes out,” he said.

4. Audio will be everywhere

This wasn’t as much a prediction as it was an observation of current data. With rapidly advancing bluetooth technology and airpods, the amount people are listening rather than reading is steadily increasing. 

Thompson offered his own personal anecdote about his audio consumption: For the first time last year, he listened to more audio books than ones he read.

5. Embrace complexity

Thompson challenged the notion that technology makes us dumber. While it certainly shortens our attention spans, it empowers us to consume increasingly complex forms of content. 

Using the example of popular television, he said: “Think about Game of Thrones versus Cheers.” As future generations have access to more complex information than ones past, they gradually get smarter, he said. Or at least from a business perspective, you’ll make better decisions if you believe they will.

6. Conversations are coming back

When conversations about the news happen off-platform, on increasingly fragmented social media, they breed toxicity. 

Thompson invited the audience to imagine a world where “AIhas created incredible tools for countering toxicity.” Perhaps, he said, these conversations can happen on news Web sites themselves or dedicated Discord servers.

7. Quantum is (probably) coming

His seventh and last point verged on ominous. Current computing operates on a binary code of 1s and 0s, but quantum computing is able to use information that exists on a continuum.

What this means is that quantum computers will be able to break standard encryption, leaving sensitive information (particularly of subscribers) liable to hacking. 

“The thing I worry about is source protection,” he said.

About Nevin Kallepalli

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