78: Juan Mendoza: The ethics of generative AI, trust, transparency and the threat of dehumanization

What’s up everyone, today we have the pleasure of chatting with the profoundly eloquent Juan Mendoza.

Summary: Juan unpacks the unique journey of OpenAI, underscoring the importance of distinguishing between tech hype and real value. As AI intertwines with our lives, Juan highlights the delicate dance of harnessing its efficiency while preserving human creativity. He calls for a critical balance in using AI as a creative aid without stunting our own creative prowess. Amid the benefits, Juan also raises crucial questions about trust and privacy, advocating for marketers to use AI responsibly. Ultimately, this episode reaffirms the need to thoughtfully navigate AI’s limitless potential while upholding our fundamental human values and ethics.

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About Juan

  • Juan is based in Melbourne, Australia where he got his start in various roles including startup marketing, martech strategy and conversion rate optimization.  
  • He spent 4 years at The Lumery, a premier Martech consulting shop where he worked on customer centric strategies across various channels.
  • In 2020, he started the Martech Weekly, a newsletter covering where the industry is going and why.
  • He’s also the host of the Making Sense of Martech podcast, an extension of his newsletter
  • One podcast and a newsletter isn’t enough for Juan though, in 2022 he teamed up with Scott Brinker and started the Big Martech show covering big news and big ideas in Martech
  • 4 months after launching a premium subscription and growing his newsletter to thousands of martech pros over 65 countries, Juan decided to go full-time on TMW 
  • Recently he announced TMW 100 – a global Martech awards event ranking the most innovative marketing technology companies from 1st to 100th place

The OpenAI Approach: Laser-Focus and High-Quality Language Models

Juan underscored the significance of OpenAI’s niche focus and dedication to developing large-scale language models. Unlike big tech giants—Google, Amazon, Meta and others—who spread their resources and attention over various types of AI technologies, OpenAI chose a distinct path. They concentrated all their efforts on building transformative generative models like GPT-3 and GPT-4, which set the groundwork for the success of ChatGPT.

Juan suggested that OpenAI’s edge lies in their extreme focus, patience, and funding. Established as a Silicon Valley tech company, OpenAI was backed by tech tycoons like Elon Musk and Microsoft, as well as some of the world’s largest venture capital firms. However, OpenAI’s goal differed. They weren’t trying to distribute AI across various services and products. Instead, they strived to create something unique and powerful—a tool that could manipulate language with an unprecedented level of precision.

Juan further highlighted how OpenAI’s technology feels “magical” compared to competitors. For instance, Google’s BERT, although an impressive model, doesn’t meet the same level of accuracy as ChatGPT. Moreover, it ‘hallucinates’—generates incorrect or nonsensical outputs—significantly more often than ChatGPT.

Juan also reminded us of the chatbot craze of 2016, which, despite the hype, resulted in less-than-stellar customer experiences. Fast forward to today, the launch of GPT-based models has reinvigorated the chatbot space, breathing new life into the industry. The key difference? An AI agent that can actually provide intelligent, useful responses.

Takeaway: OpenAI’s specific concentration on creating large, high-quality language models, backed by extreme patience and funding, was pivotal in their success story. Their dedication to a niche allowed them to develop an AI that is more accurate and less likely to hallucinate than its competitors. This focus transformed the realm of chat interfaces, redefining the future of AI agents and encouraging a fresh wave of startups to build on this advanced technology.

The Adoption Race: Comparing ChatGPT and Snapchat’s AI Tools 

Juan’s analysis of the rapid spread of ChatGPT brought fascinating insights. He cited how ChatGPT became one of the fastest-growing apps globally, reaching a million users in merely five days. This impressive rate outpaced even Instagram and TikTok’s growth, both of which took weeks to months to reach the same number of users. He attributed this meteoric rise to the simple yet brilliant user experience, which only required users to create an account and start chatting.

However, Juan posed an interesting counter-argument, comparing ChatGPT’s growth with the newly launched AI tool by Snapchat—Snap AI. Despite being on the market for only two months, Snap AI already boasts 125 million users and over 10 billion messages sent. It reached 100 million users faster than ChatGPT, achieving the feat in just two months compared to ChatGPT’s four to five months.

Juan speculated on the factors driving Snap AI’s rapid growth, posing two possibilities. One might be the timing—Snap AI could be riding the wave of excitement and acceptance generated by GPT-based technology. Another potential factor could be a generational shift, with younger users flocking to the more AI-enhanced environments provided by platforms like Snapchat.

Takeaway: While ChatGPT has been a massive success, becoming one of the fastest-growing apps globally, other AI tools, like Snap AI, are rising quickly in the adoption race. The rapid growth of these platforms may be due to a combination of riding the AI hype cycle and a generational shift towards AI-enhanced environments. It is a reminder that, in the ever-evolving AI space, being first to market doesn’t always mean you’ll be the fastest-growing or most widely adopted solution.

The Metaverse, AI and the Hype Cycle: A Critical Analysis

Juan expressed his concerns about the hype cycle surrounding emerging technologies like AI, the metaverse, and web 3.0. He opined that such hype cycles often lead to exhaustion, especially among senior individuals who are tired of constant pitches for the “next big thing.”

Juan cited an example where he was at a conference and representatives from Meta and an advertising agency were zealously promoting the metaverse. According to him, they were pushing marketers to prepare for the metaverse, without critically analyzing why it should be included in their marketing strategies in the first place.

Juan also expressed disappointment in certain consultancy companies for their uncritical acceptance of Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for the metaverse. McKinsey, Accenture, and Bloomberg were among those criticized by Juan for their generous predictions of the metaverse’s economic impact, without rigorous analysis of the feasibility and practical implementation of this new trend.

Contrasting this with the iPhone, Juan pointed out that it took five years for the iPhone to reach mass consumer market penetration, despite it being recognized as one of the most significant shifts in consumer experiences, software development, and mobile technology. Thus, according to Juan, hype without actual products often leads to a dead end.

Juan drew parallels between the hype cycle and trading Pokemon cards phenomenon among young people, explaining that interest in such things peaks feverishly for a short period and then fizzles out (but sometimes comes back years later haha). 

However, Juan’s outlook on generative AI (Gen AI) was different. Unlike other trends, Gen AI is not just a promise or a dream; it’s a functional product with tangible utility that people can use today. 

Takeaway: Hype cycles are a common phenomenon in the technology sector. However, it’s crucial to differentiate between hype and genuine transformative potential. According to Juan, while many trends emerge and fade without substantial product backing, generative AI stands out as a functional, usable reality today, differentiating it from the likes of the metaverse and web 3.0.

Discerning the Transformative from the Hype in Martech

In the midst of all the noise and hype in the world of marketing technology, Juan offered a profound perspective. The tech landscape is indeed inundated with individuals and companies promoting their courses or products. However, Juan emphasized the importance of dissecting the hype to understand the genuinely transformative impact of a new technology or trend.

He compared the situation to a car accident on the highway. Humans are innately curious, and if something interesting is happening, it’s in our nature to slow down and look. That’s exactly how hype works. It’s easy to get sucked into the fervor, especially if everyone else seems to be focusing on it. However, he cautioned listeners to critically analyze these situations, despite the allure.

Juan discussed two key elements that usually indicate whether a trend is worth paying attention to or not:

  1. Platform Shift: He noted that many impactful trends have a device shift or platform shift inherent in them. From mainframes to personal computers, fiber optic cables to the internet, and smartphones to wearables, these shifts serve as a cornerstone of the transformative power of technology. The same can be said for marketing, where tangible devices intermediate most of what we do.
  2. Growth and Adoption: The next factor Juan emphasized is the significance of hard growth numbers. True adoption by the masses is a reliable testament to a technology’s potential for lasting influence. To illustrate this, he mentioned ChatGPT that despite its speedy growth, its real value can be witnessed when it’s used by the broadest spectrum of users, including those who are not necessarily tech-savvy.

Juan also warned against misinterpreting growth based on financial speculation as an indicator of actual usage and value. Drawing an example from Web 3.0, he pointed out that many companies that showed impressive growth were primarily fuelled by financial speculation, rather than real utility.

To conclude, Juan suggested a simple yet effective question for those caught in the hype of a new trend: does it genuinely help people? If a technology makes lives better, alleviates suffering, or creates real and tangible economic opportunity, it has the potential to be truly transformative. It is this ethos of creating value that distinguishes the lasting impact of the internet and similar technology.

Takeaway: It’s important to dissect the hype surrounding new tech trends and critically analyze their underlying value. Remember to consider if there’s a significant platform shift and whether the growth numbers reflect genuine mass adoption. Above all, consider if the trend genuinely helps people, offering real and tangible value. Juan’s message is clear – think critically and don’t merely jump on the hype train.

Dehumanization: Balancing AI’s Efficiency Gains with Retaining Human Elements

Juan examined the dichotomy of Gen AI—its propensity to both simplify our lives and, ironically, dehumanize them. Juan tackled a hard-hitting question about the balance between maximizing the efficiency gains from AI while retaining human elements in work and society.

Juan started by acknowledging the fear many have about AI, what he termed “AI Doomerism.” As he pointed out, the fear that AI will somehow bring about the end of the world is nothing new, and has been leveraged as a potent marketing tool by companies developing AI technologies. In an era where fear is already high, tapping into existing societal apprehensions is a highly effective means of gaining attention and traction. 

Juan then dove into the question of dehumanization—a term that, historically, has been associated with severe societal injustices and atrocities. He reminded us that extreme forms of dehumanization have led to horrors such as those witnessed in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union’s early days. In those instances, people were reduced to mere labor, devalued, or even treated as less than human. 

While the application of AI in today’s world is nowhere near these atrocities, Juan urged us to consider a new form of dehumanization brought about by Gen AI. He highlighted that, increasingly, we are interacting with AI that can mimic human conversation so convincingly that it feels like we’re talking with a person. This phenomenon is already being monetized by influencers who create AI models of themselves and sell subscriptions to these digital replicas. In a twist of irony, they are willingly dehumanizing themselves for financial gain.

The key danger, as Juan pointed out, is that we are on the cusp of dehumanizing ourselves. We risk automating away the elements that make us distinctly human—our creativity, our ingenuity, and our spirit. From writing to creating images, videos, and music, to engaging in meaningful conversations and lifelong learning, these activities enrich our lives. The more we delegate these tasks to AI, the more we strip away the human element.

Juan’s insight was a sobering reminder of the dangers of uncritical acceptance of AI’s supposed benefits. In the rush to embrace AI’s efficiency and potential cost savings, we must not lose sight of what makes us human and what truly matters in our lives.

Takeaway: The balance between leveraging AI for efficiency gains and preserving human elements in our work and society is a delicate one. As we embrace AI’s potential, we must remain mindful of the inherent value of human creativity, spirit, and ingenuity, and guard against dehumanizing ourselves in the process.

Does AI Enhance Our Creativity, Or Does It Make Us Impotent? 

Juan entered the topic with a touch of nostalgia for days gone by when human skills, now rendered less crucial by technology, were at the forefront. He humorously noted how handwriting skills have plummeted with the advent of digital typing. But he was driving towards a larger point: the shifting balance of skills and how it pertains to AI and creativity.

Juan pointed out that technology frequently makes certain human abilities redundant while fostering the development of others. For instance, the transformation of cityscapes, influenced by the advent of automobiles, didn’t come from a philosophical or political place, but rather, a technological one.

This perspective provides a unique lens through which to examine the impact of AI on creativity. Juan highlighted that while AI tools such as Owler and MidJourney can assist in creativity, they also pose a risk of making certain skills “impotent”. He asked, “Does it enhance our creativity, or does it make us impotent?”

A trip to Barcelona had him reflect on the dichotomy between the old and new sections of the city. The old city, built for people, contrasted sharply with the newer, car-focused areas. Drawing a parallel with how AI is reshaping creativity, he sees the possibility of two groups of creatives emerging. One group would fully embrace AI to scale their work, while the other would insist on maintaining human authenticity in their creative process.

Juan made it clear that the debate surrounding AI and creativity is not about replacement but transformation. He expressed a word of caution, suggesting that while AI could create amazing things, the danger lies in becoming overly reliant on these tools and potentially losing the ability to create original ideas. As an example, he mentioned the current split in opinion among creative agencies, with some embracing AI, while others strictly oppose it.

Wrapping up his reflections, Juan emphasized that, while AI can provide tools to assist creativity, it can’t replace the human-led creative process that births unique ideas. He underscored this point with his personal experience collaborating with an illustrator for the TMW 100 poster, where through the iterative process, a unique and resonating idea was born.

Takeaway: The question isn’t whether AI will replace human creativity, but rather, how will it augment or detract from it? Juan underscores the importance of not losing sight of the unique, human-led creative process, even while taking advantage of AI tools. There’s a delicate balance to be found between using AI to enhance our creativity and avoiding becoming “impotent” in our creative skills due to over-reliance on these tools.

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The Choices We Make With AI, Privacy and Ethical Concerns

When considering how AI can impact our daily professional lives, especially in a marketing context, Juan raises thought-provoking points on privacy and ethical considerations, highlighting some subtle shifts that AI-driven tools bring to job creation. To use these tools effectively, he argues, we must strike a balance.

Juan asserts that the first and foremost consideration is privacy. He warns about the potential pitfalls of entrusting trade secrets or sensitive data to AI, such as GPT. He advises careful discretion when using AI in our day-to-day tasks, always being mindful of the information being shared.

As an example, Juan recounts his experience using AI to retrieve the syntax for a VLOOKUP operation in Excel, which he had forgotten. He emphasized that he didn’t use real data to retrieve this information but rather employed dummy data to protect the integrity and privacy of his actual work. Juan reminds us that these AI tools can, in many ways, collect more data than a Google search, thus demanding vigilant privacy measures.

Beyond privacy, Juan speaks about the potential for generative AI to automate “boring stuff” – tasks that are tedious and repetitive. He mentions the work of a startup which automates the process of adjusting the demographic presentation in digital images, a task that can be repetitive and time-consuming.

While acknowledging AI’s potential for exponential outcomes and creative insight, Juan clarifies that AI tools should not be used to replace authentic, human creativity. For example, while he sees value in using AI to identify blind spots or rephrase headlines, he believes that the act of crafting an essay should remain a human task, given its demand for authenticity and originality.

Takeaway: AI can provide valuable assistance in performing mundane tasks and offering fresh perspectives. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance between taking advantage of these benefits and preserving human creativity and authenticity. Furthermore, we must always remain cautious about privacy, ensuring we never unintentionally compromise sensitive data.

The Profound Impact of AI on Trust and Transparency in Marketing

In the face of burgeoning AI technology, marketing, at its heart, remains a conversation with customers. It’s not simply a matter of analyzing data and predicting trends; instead, it’s about understanding the dreams, needs, and fears of customers. When AI begins to replace this human connection, we risk losing the essence of marketing.

Juan referenced a thought-provoking quote from Yuval Noah Harari, saying, “if I’m having a conversation with someone, and I cannot tell whether it is a human or an AI, that’s the end of democracy.” This statement resonates deeply in our era of increasingly sophisticated AI. As AI becomes more prevalent, discerning between human and artificial interactions becomes more challenging.

This dehumanization brings a new level of complexity to ethical issues in marketing, such as respect for customer privacy, autonomy, and genuine engagement. It begs the question of whether industries should consider implementing a ‘right to know’ rule, forcing companies to disclose if content was generated or curated by AI.

Juan foresees a significant challenge in maintaining trust in an environment increasingly infiltrated by AI. The rise of deepfakes, convincingly realistic AI-generated images, and photorealistic games contribute to an online reality where trust becomes elusive. As Juan explained, if you can’t trust what you’re seeing online or the websites you visit, the internet becomes fundamentally unusable.

This crisis of trust extends beyond the realm of marketing, leading Juan to foresee a potential broader societal breakdown. He likened the current situation to the advent of the printing press, which, despite its revolutionary impact, also instigated 200 years of religious wars. With the power of generative AI now in our hands, Juan warned of the potential for a similar period of global unrest and uncertainty.

Takeaway: The profound impact of AI on trust and transparency in marketing and beyond. While AI presents opportunities for innovation, its implications for societal trust could be far-reaching and detrimental. The use of these tools by marketers, therefore, must be approached with thoughtfulness and caution.

Building Authentic Relationships in an Age of AI Content Overload

On the potential influx of AI-generated content, Juan suggests that the key to discerning genuine human work from machine-generated content lies in the power of relationships. Juan asserts, and rightly so, that the strength of social media lies in its social aspect, its ability to create and nurture relationships. It’s through these relationships that trust is built and maintained, shaping how we consume and perceive content.

Juan shares his personal experience, reminiscing about how relationships fostered on social media platforms have evolved into meaningful, real-world connections. These bonds, Juan insists, matter more than we often realize, especially when it comes to consuming content or seeking product advice.

In the grand scheme of things, according to Juan, we’re better off trusting the views and feedback of our connections than the ceaseless churn of the content mill. As an illustration, Juan talks about how he prefers seeking referrals and real-life feedback rather than resorting to automated platforms.

In essence, human advice from real people—preferably in person—becomes the beacon that navigates us through the content noise generated by AI. Even when dealing with innovative technologies like ChatGPT, having a conversation with real people, sharing ideas and seeking advice is invaluable.

Interestingly, Juan points out that amidst all the technological advancements, there is a treasure trove of wisdom to be gained from our parents and grandparents. Their insights and life experiences offer timeless advice, which remains relevant even in our rapidly changing world.

Takeaway: As we potentially head towards an explosion of AI-generated content, Juan emphasizes that our salvation lies in strengthening and valuing our human relationships. In this digital era, trust and authenticity have become increasingly significant, and it’s through these personal connections that we can navigate the sea of AI content with confidence.

The Power of Passion: Achieving Balance in a Busy Life

In a world that’s always rushing, finding a balance between professional and personal life can feel like an uphill battle. When we asked Juan how he navigates this delicate dance, the answer was simple and powerful – passion. Juan draws inspiration from an unlikely source, the late Australian wildlife conservationist, Steve Irwin.

Irwin, renowned globally for his love for wildlife and vibrant personality, was driven by an unparalleled mission to conserve wildlife and raise awareness about nature. This mission was not merely a job; it was his life. He demonstrated his passion vividly, wrestling crocodiles and creating engaging content about wildlife. 

Much like Steve Irwin, Juan considers his work more than just a job. His mission is to make sense of the complexities of modern technology and its impact on marketing, business, and society. He’s thrilled to guide people through this labyrinth of challenges and opportunities. It’s this mission that fuels him, keeps him writing into the late hours of the night, and makes his work a joy rather than a chore. 

In a world where people often hop from one job to another in search of greener pastures, Juan warns against viewing work solely as a means to earn money. That approach can lead to burnout. Instead, he suggests finding a burning passion for your work, something that ignites a vision for your life and your industry. Having a clear vision can act as a kryptonite to burnout. It provides the motivation that keeps you moving forward, despite the challenges that may arise.

Beyond the passion for work, Juan emphasizes the importance of taking care of one’s health. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep form the bedrock of a healthy life. He also highlights the importance of nurturing personal relationships and creating a support network that can help navigate both personal and professional challenges.

Takeaway: Passion is the antidote to burnout. When you align your professional life with a mission that fuels your passion, work becomes a joy and not a job. This approach, coupled with a healthy lifestyle and robust personal relationships, can help you achieve a balance between your professional and personal life. Be more like Steve Irwin – be driven by a cause that fuels your passion.

Unveiling the TMW 100: Illuminating the Path of Innovation in Martech

During the interview, Juan enthusiastically highlighted his latest project – the TMW 100. This is an initiative intended to shine a light on the most innovative companies changing the landscape of marketing technology. The project offers an exciting, interactive ranking of the top 100 Martech companies globally, meticulously judged by an international panel of 12 experts.

For these judges, their mission is to assess which companies are not only innovating but genuinely disrupting their sectors with new products, superior customer service, and novel business models. Once they’ve provided their rankings, the baton is passed to the public. Here, the marketing technology community has the chance to cast their vote and influence the final rankings from first to one hundredth place.

The top three companies don’t just earn bragging rights. They’re also rewarded with a fully paid trip to MOPsAPALOOZA, where they’ll receive significant recognition and exposure.

Towards the end of the year, Juan and his team plan to collate all this data into a comprehensive report. The company ranking first will even get to grace the cover of this document, asserting their position as a trailblazer in the world of Martech.

Juan cordially invites everyone to join in the journey of the TMW 100. Whether you’re a marketer, tech enthusiast, or someone working in a Martech company, your voice and your vote are welcome. The project isn’t just about rankings; it’s a community effort to identify and celebrate game-changers.

For those looking to delve deeper into the world of Martech, the Martech Weekly website is an excellent resource. It offers a subscription to a regular Sunday newsletter packed with insights and trends. Plus, subscribers also get the chance to join the TMW community Slack channel, an active forum for Martech enthusiasts to discuss and dissect the industry’s latest developments.

Episode Recap

In this thought-provoking conversation, we dove deep into the heart of the AI revolution, guided by the astute insights of Juan. At its core, we unravelled the story of OpenAI’s tenacity and dedication to forging a refined AI model – a testament to the transformative power of patient investment and niche-focus in technology. It’s not about chasing every emerging trend; rather, it’s about discerning the difference between fleeting hype and authentic, tangible value. Juan suggests we approach new tech trends with a critical eye, peeling back layers of hype to assess their real value and potential for mass adoption.

As AI continues to weave itself into the fabric of our lives, a delicate dance unfolds – one where we balance the efficiency gains of AI with the preservation of our quintessential human creativity and spirit. While AI may present a tantalizing tool to augment our creative processes, the risk lies in succumbing to overreliance, thereby stifling the human-led creativity that sets us apart.

Despite its benefits, AI raises critical questions about privacy and trust in our increasingly connected society. As marketers, we need to tread this fine line with responsibility and caution, fully aware of the far-reaching implications of AI on trust and transparency. This rich and compelling dialogue serves as a timely reminder of our need to balance the limitless potential of AI with our fundamental human values and ethics. It’s not just about what AI can do for us, but how we, as conscious creators, can shape AI for the betterment of society.

Tune in, learn, and gear up for the thrilling ride ahead! 🎧

And don’t forget to follow Juan and TWM:


Intro music by Wowa via Unminus
Cover art created with Midjourney

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