Happy Valley professionals weigh in on using AI


By Holly Riddle 

AI is everywhere in the news recently. Lawsuits worry over the impacts of AI. AI firms face inner-fighting and drama that makes headlines. Governments around the world are putting AI safeguards in place. No matter your industry, you can’t escape it.

However, while AI may seem like a brand-new, potentially scary step into the future, many have already been using it for years. If you use Grammarly to spellcheck your emails or ask Alexa for the weather, you use AI. AI’s uses and potential are vast, though, and they go far beyond just helping you out at home or acting as a glorified spellcheck.

We spoke with three professionals in Happy Valley who are currently using AI in their roles, to get their thoughts on how it will impact their industries, its benefits and its drawbacks. We also spoke to Penn State’s Nittany Ai Student Society, to see how AI is impacting the next generation of professionals.

“Another tool in the tool belt”  

Mark Dello Stritto, co-owner and vice president of creative at Blink, a marketing and advertising firm with offices in Bellefonte and Pittsburgh, calls AI “just another tool in the tool belt.”

He and his team in the firm’s creative department help bring ideas for logos, brochures, websites, video, commercials and other visuals to life. Prior to AI, he explained, when his team might pitch a concept for TV or video to a client, they would hand-render concepts to pair with images and script ideation. Now, with the right prompts, AI allows them to make those concepts more realistic, with more impactful imagery, while avoiding the hours previously necessary for illustrating a storyboard.

That's powerful — because it gives people permission to dream

“It really helps us sell the ideas,” he said. From there, though, the creative team still produces deliverables just as they might normally.

At Hello Social Co., owner and integrated marketing communications strategist Ellen Matis says concerns have thus far limited her team’s use of AI.

She said, “The ways that we've used it have been unexpected, at least for me personally. It's obvious to see the ways it can be used for copywriting, for better or for worse, but we've also tried out using it to determine tone of voice in copy, to make itineraries for visiting influencers and in graphic design… Especially for a small-scale agency like ours, AI can give us the power of efficiency. But ,of course, accuracy [and] originality is always a concern for us — which is why it isn't a normal part of our day yet.”

Entrepreneur, author and founder of My Creative Community, Spud Marshall said he uses AI tools often, including ChatGPT, for tasks such as data synthesizing, pulling out key ideas and important notes from larger amounts of content, and more.

“AI tools are super valuable to independent freelancers because we don't have large teams that we can brainstorm with on a regular basis. It also allows us to work far more efficiently and focus our energy on delivering the work that we can uniquely do,” he said. “I've found that many of my clients are excited when I show them how I'm using AI, and it gives them ideas for ways they might integrate it into their own work.”

Marshall has been working with an AI team for the past year, Realm, to produce unique projects that you may have already seen around Happy Valley. He explained, “Together, we've organized improv shows in Happy Valley that embedded AI into the skits, as well as organized the first AI-focused art gallery during ArtsFest in State College this summer.”

Most recently, they created a tool called ReimaginePennState.com, which takes user prompts and generates images of an ideal Happy Valley future.

“It's a really simple way for people to start playing with AI and to tap into their imagination,” he said. “I think this is a great example of the way I see AI. It allows humans to more easily tap into our collective imagination. For many of us, it's hard to visualize what is spinning around in our head, but AI can be designed in a way that helps you tease out those thoughts in a coherent way, and then visualize them for you. That's powerful — because it gives people permission to dream.”

I've found that many of my clients are excited when I show them how I'm using AI, and it gives them ideas for ways they might integrate it into their own work.

Is a fear of AI unwarranted?

For Dello Stritto, AI doesn’t prove a threat, at least for those with time-proven experience in creative industries and who know where their talent lies, and the value they offer.

“[AI] can’t create without a human being,” he noted. “In the end, it’s a tool. It’s one of the things we use that helps us do a great job for our clients… AI is not going to get to a place — just yet at least — where it's going to replace the brand strategists, creative director, writer and art director.”

While there are aspects of AI that are definitely concerning, I think when used for good, it can make our work better

When it comes to other industries, though, particularly industries that rely on processes, number-crunching or coding, he can see how they might be impacted.

Speaking to creative service providers, Matis also felt that it’s not the case AI will make creative work irrelevant or replaceable.

She said, “While there are aspects of AI that are definitely concerning, I think when used for good, it can make our work better… It's already pretty obvious to me when a brand is using AI to write social media copy. This de-values the industry as a whole, an industry that's already not widely accepted since it's new in the grand scheme of things. The key moving forward will be responsible use of AI for social media.”

The future of AI

Talk to up-and-coming professionals, and a future fully integrated with AI is a sure thing.

The Nittany AI Student Society, as part of the Nittany AI Alliance, holds events and programming to help students learn more about AI, leverage it, and pursue careers related to AI if they so choose. One of the society’s programs, Nittany AI Advance, pairs students with industry partners for on-campus, paid internship opportunities working in AI. Past industry-leading partners have included IBM and Lockheed Martin.

AI will not replace a doctor, but a doctor using AI will replace a doctor who doesn’t

While other universities offer similar AI-focused clubs and programming, the society’s vice president, Ryan Jai Hokimi, as well as director of marketing and operations, Aamani Sharma, point out that the Nittany AI Alliance was ahead of the game, born out of Penn State Outreach, because Penn State foresaw, early on, that AI would become important to both students and the world in general.

According to Sharma, the society has recently been receiving more interest from majors outside of the realm of computer and information sciences, and for good reason. She said, “They understand that, sure, [AI] is jargon now, but it’s going to become the bread and butter of the future. They want to be at the cusp of it.”

“AI, simply put, is the future,” Sharma added. “We’re seeing this right now… We’re seeing it to the point where even the people that didn’t want to believe in AI are finding themselves in positions where they want to automate processes in their daily lives. They want to use some of those tools to help them out.”

To Sharma, worries about AI “taking over the world,” are unfounded, but AI should still be considered by professionals who may not currently see its value. She said, “AI will not replace a doctor, but a doctor using AI will replace a doctor who doesn’t.”

Still, the two acknowledge the concerns that come with the AI landscape, such as concerns regarding privacy and ethics — and that concern is helping inform Jai Hokimi’s career path.

He said, “I would love to work in the AI space…overseeing how it’s put out to users and the market, and how it’s being used ethically. That’s very important to me.” Thanks to networking opportunities provided by the Nittany AI Alliance, Jai Hokimi has an upcoming summer internship planned with Cranium, a company working at the intersection of AI and data security and privacy.

He added, “We hope to be in roles later on where we could have an impact…. AI is just an amazing tool and taking advantage of it and learning how to use it is so valuable, which is why the focus for our club now is not just [computer and information sciences majors]. We’re expanding because we want all students to be able to take advantage of this. It’s going to benefit them immensely.”

To learn how Penn State is incorporating AI across the university and its Commonwealth campuses visit the Penn State AI Hub at ai.psu.edu

Do you use AI in your industry or role? What’s your take on AI? Let us know at sophia@affinityconnection.com


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