Connecting influences to ideas isn’t always easy — and this has just got harder with the growth of generative AI

I’m appallingly bad at recalling how my thinking has morphed and evolved over time, and what or whom has influenced this process. As a result, I’m never quite sure how who I’ve spoken with, what I’ve been exposed to, or which serendipitous encounters I’ve had, have contributed to my ideas.

I suspect that most people feel the same. But this struggle with the “provenance” of my thinking and ideas has been bugging me — especially as the debate around the provenance of the outputs from generative AI continues to grow.

It’s hard to avoid the growing debate around how we think about sources and attribution when using generative AI — the recent piece by Alex Reisner’s in The Atlantic on the complex use of copyright material in training platforms like ChatGPT captures some of the challenges and complexities here. And to be clear, there are important questions that need to be addressed when it comes to using people’s work without permission with generative AI.

Yet on some level, the assimilation and use of vast amounts of information feels very close to what we all do as we transform a lifetime’s exposure to a myriad conversations, books, movies, images, experiences, and more, into something of our own. And this got me thinking about the threads that influence my own work, and how these are made visible and acknowledged — or not, as is sometimes the case …