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Beyond print: How books evolve in the age of AI acceleration

Published on 24 March 2024
Updated on 25 May 2024

Not long ago, I was invited to contribute a chapter on digital diplomacy for a book scheduled for release in two years. Given the rapid pace of digital evolution, two years felt like a lifetime. This experience reflects a more significant challenge in publishing, as recently discussed by the Economist, where the traditional slow churn cannot keep up with the rapid pace of technological and societal change.

As technology advances, it is necessary to analyse how quickly we can write and publish research and how meaningfully we can address and explore the pressing issues of our time. 

Based on Diplo’s experience, here are some steps to help you improve your research capabilities and publishing methods.

Seeing the bigger picture contributes to research success

Changes evolve fast nowadays, but that does not mean we cannot analyse them in a historical and philosophical context when they were a bit slower, to say the least. When I explored the impact of the latest digital technologies on diplomacy, I traced patterns of change throughout history, starting back to the very origins of diplomacy when our far predecessors realised that it was better to hear the message than to eat the messenger. Sending smoke signals or e-mails is not substantively different regarding conflict resolution or reaching a compromise among people. Broader historical and philosophical perspectives help us to see beyond the immediate, fleeting trends like TikTok’s impact on global diplomacy.

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Two-speed books and publishing inflation

Imagine books that update in real-time, integrating the latest online publications and news. With AI’s help, readers could get a “just-in-time” version that reflects our fast-changing reality. Meanwhile, an annual review would allow authors to reflect, recap, and adjust the narrative, ensuring depth alongside timeliness.

This two-speed approach could address the risks of the current one-speed ‘publish or perish’ race in the academic world. Such an approach has triggered publishing inflation as summariesed by a report published in Nature. In the most extreme cases, some researchers publish a new paper every five days, exacerbating the “publish or perish” culture to an absurd level.

The inflation of publications has increased the quantity and decreased the quality of published work. On the contrary, A high percentage of published research fails in subsequent replication attempts, undermining the foundation of scientific inquiry. According to recent research, less than half of the published research can be replicated in economic studies.

We live at a turning point, as AI can further accelerate this publishing inflation or help the emergence of a new type of two-speed research and publishing. AI can help revive substantive academic research by automating routine tasks of providing just-in-time updates and giving researchers more time to analyse and reflect. In this way, AI can stop the current ‘publish or perish’ race to the bottom and help critical and substantive research on the growing number of problems that modern society faces. 

Use multimedia to bring the magic of the written word closer to young people

Multimedia is another building block for a new publishing style. Our stories need to evolve beyond text. Younger generations digest knowledge through videos, animations, games, and sound. For example, according to Pew Research, 46% of Americans younger than 30 get news from TikTok videos. 

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This major shift from print to multimedia can help us to re-discover storytelling that predates writing, stretching back to when tales were shared around a fire in ancient Mesopotamia.

Exploring innovative book formats: Practical pathways ahead

I have some good news for you. The technological hurdles to ‘just-in-time’ or multimedia publishing are relatively low. The tools we need are affordable and readily available.

The real challenge lies in restructuring how we approach academic and research publishing. The age-old “publish or perish” mantra, especially in the social sciences, made quantity of research more important than quality. 

The changes looming on the horizon, driven by AI and technological advancement, ultimately come back to fundamental questions about how we understand nature and society and our place in them. This challenge transcends time far beyond the AI era, dating back to the early days of humanity.

At Diplo, our in vivo experiments and research into just-in-time and multimedia publishing are guided by ‘the concept of cognitive proximity‘ – the idea that we can discover and learn more when we reduce logical, ethical, and emotional gaps among ourselves and with machines.

You’re invited to join us to navigate these exciting changes that reshape how knowledge is developed, shared, and absorbed in the AI age.

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