If you thought artificial intelligence (AI) had arrived—think again; it’s only getting started. 

AI’s rapid rise is an overarching theme of this year’s Webby Talk, “The Race to Outpace,” which was unveiled last week in front of a global audience. You can view it in full below:

Hosted by President of The Webby Awards Claire Graves, this year’s virtual event was produced in partnership with WP Engine, drawing on insights from The Webbys 2024 Trend Report and offering an in-depth analysis of AI’s impressive evolution, its profound impact on the digital landscape, and its rapid entry into our daily lives. 

In addition to a stellar presentation, Graves was joined by WP Engine Product Manager and AI expert Luke Patterson for a fireside chat focused on AI’s practical applications in enhancing web experiences like search, as well as the ways agencies and brands can evolve their tool stacks to stay ahead in this dynamic environment.

Whether you’re a technology enthusiast, a digital industry professional, or you’re just intrigued by AI’s unparalleled trajectory, check out the entire presentation, where you’ll find valuable insights into harnessing the power of AI, or read on for a closer look at the discussion. Here’s what we’ll cover: 

AI is Everywhere 

In the ever-evolving landscape of the internet, few topics have garnered as much attention and intrigue as AI.

“AI is everywhere,” Graves said at the start of the presentation. “It’s everywhere in the media, and it has been there for a really long time.” 

To drive this point home, she aired the following clip from Silicon Valley, which appeared in an episode from 2019:

At the same time, AI’s rapid growth of late has been met with both excitement and anxiety. On one hand, there are genuine concerns about job displacement and ethical issues, highlighted by the White House’s AI Bill of Rights

On the other hand, AI’s broad applications in areas like healthcare, entertainment, and daily conveniences paint a picture of a technology that’s already deeply integrated into our lives.

So, to better understand how people genuinely feel about AI, The Webbys, together with YouGov, surveyed 2,000 people around the U.S. to serve as the foundation for this year’s Webby Talks series and 2024 Trend Report.

One of the survey’s first findings? 41% of respondents say AI is innovating too quickly, while less than one in five said it is moving at the right speed.

However, more than half of survey respondents who work in media, entertainment, and tech said they were excited about AI’s advances.

While many feel AI is innovating too quickly, more than half of survey respondents who work in media, entertainment, and tech said they were excited about AI’s advances.

  “What’s clear is that this is a game-changing moment, especially for people who are shaping internet culture,” Graves said.

The Race to Outpace: Keeping Up With Innovation

When it comes to sheer innovation, AI’s integration into our lives has been undeniable. 

From generative AI creating realistic images of people who don’t exist to AI’s influence in science and preventive healthcare, this technology has already had a multifaceted impact, demonstrating its potential to reshape everyday experiences.

Indeed, AI can already be applied in many different ways across many industries. While there are valid concerns about the future of AI, Grave said, there are also many meaningful innovations it’s being used for. 

Sharing a few of the ways “AI can be on its best behavior and provide value to your work,” Graves called out the following four areas:

  • Productivity: Using AI tools to sharpen your workflow. 
  • Personalization: Helping you build personal experiences for your audiences. 
  • Imagination: Being creative and having more of a creative output using AI.
  • Impact: Using technology to create a better world.

Concerning productivity, Graves underscored the potential of AI in reducing work redundancy, allowing for increased focus on more creative and thoughtful endeavors. 

“AI can eliminate the tedium of work so that you can spend more time on thinking and being creative,” she said. 

Reflecting on the rapid pace at which AI is expected to transform our work processes, Graves also focused on survey responses surrounding the current use of AI tools in the workplace. 

“Nearly half of full-time workers say that they use AI tools often, including 26% who say they use it very often,” she said. “62% of respondents want AI tools to improve their productivity.”

Nearly half of full-time workers say that they use AI tools often, including 26 percent who say they use it very often.

Graves also highlighted some familiar AI-powered tools that have become integral to many workflows, including Adobe’s Photoshop background removal and Grammarly’s writing assistant, noting that these tools have been around for a while. 

In reference to personalization, Graves showcased the capability of AI to offer personalized experiences, especially to younger consumers. Chatbots in the eCommerce space, such as Essence’s styling assistant, and interactive marketing campaigns, like Sprite’s custom mixtape covers, underscore this trend. 

This level of personalization also extends to AI’s ability to enhance user experiences in various industries, reflecting a shift towards more tailored and engaging consumer interactions. 

But it certainly doesn’t stop there. Graves also noted additional examples of AI’s impact on a wide variety of businesses and trades:

Creative Marketing with AI

The marketing sector is harnessing AI for creativity, demonstrated by Barbie’s AI selfie generator and various film promotion campaigns. These initiatives not only engage audiences but also pave the way for innovative marketing strategies.

AI in Creative Production

The entertainment and media industries are adopting AI for creative production—tools like Canva and Illustrate AI’s capability to enhance the creative process. AI also enables innovative designs in architecture, as showcased by Zaha Hadid Architects’ use of generative models.

AI in Social and Humanitarian Initiatives

AI is also making significant strides in social and humanitarian domains. Projects like the Earth is No Toy campaign demonstrate AI’s role in environmental advocacy. Google’s Delphi has been instrumental in optimizing disaster relief efforts, while initiatives like InnerVoice highlight AI’s potential in healthcare and accessibility.

AI as a Catalyst for Change

The presentation underscored AI’s transformative power across various industries and societal aspects and highlighted the need for a balanced approach—embracing the exciting possibilities AI offers while addressing ethical considerations and societal impact. 

Graves concluded her presentation on an optimistic note, encouraging a harmonious relationship with AI. Rather than competing against the machines, she said, the future lies in leveraging AI as a partner in progress. 

This approach suggests a future in which AI is integral to problem-solving and creativity, augmenting human capabilities rather than replacing them.

Fireside Chat: Keeping Humans in the Loop

As a bonus to the Webby Talks presentation, Graves was also joined by WP Engine Product Manager and AI expert Luke Patterson for a fireside chat focused on the dynamic world of AI and its growing list of use cases for agencies and marketers.

After providing a foundational understanding of current AI capabilities, Patterson stressed the significance of the human role in AI, quoting GitHub CTO Inbar Shani’s mantra, “You have to keep a human in the loop.” 

“When you’re thinking about these tools, you have to realize that they’re tools, and there’s going to be a human using them, and they’re going to be applied to solve problems for humans,” Patterson added.

“AI is really more of a productivity booster than something that can replace humans on its own, so there always has to be a human in the loop.”

WP Engine Product Manager and AI expert Luke Patterson speaks with President of The Webby Awards Claire Graves about real-world applications of AI.

Discussing AI’s practical applications, Patterson also detailed how AI can be leveraged for personalization, particularly in understanding and addressing customer needs. 

“If you have a lot of clients, and you have a lot of messages, you can use a large language model to say, hey, I’ve got all this information, I have a year’s worth of chats from Claire, can you remind me what her favorite kind of cake is? And it can do that really, really fast. ” 

In doing so, Patterson added, AI can shorten the loop between how much work you have to do and how you’re addressing real-life problems, either for yourself or your customers.

This principle is especially relevant in the context of search, an area where Patterson has recently concentrated on WP Engine’s AI-powered Smart Search

“Search is more than just a query,” he said. “It’s a way to understand what users are thinking and intending when they type in a search term.” 

This underscores the ability of AI to not only comprehend but also anticipate user needs, thereby significantly enhancing user experience and streamlining their journey on the web. 

Responding to audience questions towards the end of the session, Patterson also addressed the ethical landscape of AI, highlighting the collective responsibility of the larger AI community. 

“I think we have a real opportunity to influence where we fall on the scale between Utopia and Dystopia,” he said, noting that what we create with AI will ultimately influence how it evolves. “It’s also your responsibility to do so.”

Navigate the Future with WP Engine

We hope the insights offered above provide you with more clarity around the the ongoing AI revolution and even inspire you to embrace new technologies.

If you’re passionate about navigating the digital future on WordPress, make sure you explore WP Engine’s world-class WordPress hosting, or speak with a representative to find out more!