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Editorial Snapshot: Navigating AI in scholarly publishing: threat or opportunity?

- C.C., Editor

The past half year has marked the beginning of what might be called a revolution in AI technology. Over that same period we have discussed specific developments on a semi-regular basis. Today, let’s expand our field of view to look at some recent opinions in the field of academic publishing.

Similar to many other fields, AI is making waves in scholarly publishing, but the open question remains: Should we embrace or fear this technology? At a recent conference hosted by IOP Publishing, a panel of experts weighed in on the debate.

As described by communications officer Cait Cullen, attendees expressed a mix of excitement and concern. On a scale of 1 (terrified) to 10 (very excited), the initial average feeling about AI’s impact was 5.25.

Some see AI as an opportunity to expand accessibility and streamline workflows. One commenter, Dustin Smith, co-founder and president of Hum, a firm providing an AI-powered content insights platform, believes AI tools, when appropriately customized, can help publishers engage wider audiences by generating lay summaries, while noting that human oversight will be necessary.

Yet others argue that AI can threaten the integrity and values underlying scholarly publishing. Fabienne Michaud of Crossref contends “one of the biggest threats is [AI’s] lack of originality, creativity, and insight.” Lauren Flintoft of IOP Publishing cautions that AI can fabricate information and cite non-existent sources, arguing that robust frameworks are needed for ethical use of AI.

By session’s end, while attendees felt more informed, AI’s role remained unclear. Cullen concludes that “AI will play a role in our future, and so we must approach it together with shared responsibility.”

Clearly, perspectives vary. It is, however, this author’s opinion that the aforementioned limitations of AI systems are relatively minor in terms of long-term impact compared to the terrifying power of AI systems. In other words, excessive focus on these may in fact distract us from the gravest potential risks (and greatest opportunities) presented by AI. Nevertheless, constructive dialogues amongst publishers, academics, and policymakers will be key to establishing wise practices to bring about a brighter, more productive, AI future.

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