Rapid advances in artificial intelligence present both tremendous opportunities and sobering challenges. How publishers choose to embrace and direct these technologies may well determine whether the future of publishing trends toward utopia or dystopia.
We asked a panel of 17 industry pros where they saw the greatest opportunity and the greatest threat when it comes to AI in publishing. Their answers reveal an optimism and anxiety, an excitement and caution that many in the industry (and, frankly, plenty outside of the industry!) are feeling.
One thing is evident: The stakes are high.
Read the full 2024 Publishing Tech Trends Report to see what else the experts are forecasting for the year ahead.
What worries publishers most about the influence of AI?
1. AI Will Require Sacrifices to Integrity
One of the greatest anxieties of the publishing industry now is that the allure of automation will erode pillars central to scholarly publishing’s mission - integrity, creativity, and quality - in the name of efficiency. Potential hits to scientific integrity and publisher reputation are a big concern as organizations adopt AI into publishing workflows.
- “I'm most worried about the challenge of distinguishing between genuine research and manipulated data, particularly in behavioural studies where fact-checking can be difficult. This issue holds major implications for those working directly with content and striving to uphold research integrity and maintain reputable content.” - Christian Grubak, ChronosHub
- “Misinformation is rampant. We need to be sure that the training data and the datasets we use in our AI are vetted. This is an area where scholarly publishers can collaborate. We're already seeing the start of it with initiatives like the STM Integrity Hub.” - Heather Staines, Delta Think
- “Discrediting of scientific method and results.” - Christian Kohl, PLOS
- “Research integrity and the increased difficulty in spotting faulty data, which then could potentially feed future algorithms.” - Emilie Delquié, Silverchair
- “Compromises to integrity, eroding confidence in technology and at a larger society scale, displacing jobs and loss of originality.” - Phoebe McMellon, GeoScienceWorld
2. AI Will Diminish Creativity and Quality
In the same vein, many publishers are concerned that the prevalence of AI may lead to mass production of unreliable research and low-quality content. As researchers grow more comfortable using AI for writing, as publishers begin integrating it into editing and peer review, and as people grow more comfortable seeing AI-generated content, there is concern that AI will clutter workflows and strip out the creativity and quality only a human touch can bring.
- “Researchers using AI tools to create papers in the hope of career advancement. Even if they don't get published they'll flood publisher workflows.” - Tasha Mellins-Cohen, Mellins-Cohen Consulting
- “May introduce a lack of rigor, deep work and innovative thinking.” - Anjali Chadha, Maverick Publishing Specialists
- “Will lead to more summary skimming and weaker literature reviews.” - Avi Staiman, Academic Language Experts
3. Lack of Control over AI
For an industry dedicated to upholding standards, integrity, and trustworthiness, there are certainly sobering risks requiring thoughtful mitigation. Some of our experts caution that moving ahead too quickly and carelessly will lead to compromises on these fronts. Others point out that inaction poses a great risk as well.
- “It's a cliché at this stage, but [I’m worried] that we’ll overestimate the short term effects and underestimate the long term effects” - Neil Christensen, Morressier
- “While experimentation is important, larger investments need to be strategically planned, and there should be a clear understanding of the skills and processes required for optimization. Careful consideration and preparation are essential to ensure that investment delivers a return on investment.” - Colleen Scollans, Clarke & Esposito
- “Smaller societies may be left behind due to the explosion of use in internal systems from competitors.” - Lou Peck, The International Bunch
- “I’m concerned about the fear of AI preventing it from realizing its full potential due to apprehensions and hesitations in its adoption.” - Christian Grubak, ChronosHub
- “I worry that publishers aren’t going to be the ones setting the agenda for AI in scholarly publishing. If publishers sit back and let Big Tech set the AI agenda, they’ll get dis-intermediated and won’t own the future. As people learn to live with AI as part of their everyday lives, they’ll begin to trust it as a source of truth. If scholarly publishing is on the sidelines for this evolution, those models will be missing vast amounts of human knowledge. To put it another way, the models are the data, and if high quality, peer reviewed content is missing from them, then high quality, peer reviewed content won’t matter to the public at large.” - Tim Barton, Hum
What excites publishers most about the influence of AI?
1. AI Will Drive New Efficiency
Amidst concerns that AI could displace human roles, there’s also tremendous opportunity for AI to augment them! Many of our experts were excited for the promise AI brings to streamline tedious tasks, reduce friction, and free up researchers and publishers to focus on more meaningful work.
- “Use of tools in the peer review workflow to catch issues at submission and alleviate some of the burden on reviewers.” - Tasha Mellins-Cohen
- “Freeing up humans to do what humans do best. I can't wait to see the new roles that develop in this space. Future folks won't believe the stuff we used to do manually!" - Heather Staines
- “Ability to improve tools for non-native speakers of english to improve publishing equity, improve production efficiencies in metadata extraction and tagging, and extract and exploit insights from variety of unstructured and structured content” - Phoebe McMellon
- “The possible collation of findings to point in a more focused direction for researchers. It seems a lot of time and money is wasted repeating scientific studies and publishing results that don't move the needle.” - Ann Link, Linked Strategies
2. AI Will Spur Better Digital Experiences for Readers & Authors
AI offers up new, better ways to serve readers seeking knowledge and authors aiming to broadly share their work. Many publishers are looking forward to experimenting with new AI tools that can uncover unseen connections across disciplines, allow for deeper personalization of content to match reader interests, improve marketing efforts, and expand the reach and impact of research.
- “The introduction of generative AI capabilities to academics through publisher sites. I'm sure the memes will flow as folks see what The Machine has to say about their work. After the memes, I'm excited to see how AI tools help make interdisciplinary connections and shape proposals of the future based on works of the past.” - Will Fortin, Hum
- “I’m excited to see how AI intersects with audience understanding and personalization. We’ll be able to understand how readers are traversing this landscape, and what they want to read next or what areas of research may be coming on the horizon. Layering in how people like to consume their content, publishers will be able to take the same peer reviewed research and produce different formats that will expand the reach of the researcher and the publisher.” - Tim Barton
- “Implementation of "always-on" marketing capabilities, which enables marketing campaigns to automatically trigger and personalize based on audience and customer data. This empowers lean marketing teams to maximize their impact. A focus on advanced testing and optimization allows for more precise messaging by experimenting with different messages, timing, creatives, etc. This enables us to move from blunt personas to testing messages to highly segmented audiences. And improved understanding of how marketing activities directly influence author submissions, providing valuable insights into the effectiveness of marketing efforts in this specific area. These strategic priorities will significantly enhance marketing efforts and outcomes.” - Colleen Scollans
- “AI will democratize publishing opportunities for global researchers, leveling the playing field for English as an Additional Language researchers.” - Avi Staiman
3. Infinite possibilities!
We’ve only just scratched the surface of AI. The opportunities are boundless, and many publishers are excited about potential applications that we haven’t even considered yet!
- “I'm most excited about the opportunities to evolve that may emerge from this. We would be selling ourselves short if we thought that the future involved just doing more of the same in incremental fashion.” - Neil Christensen
- “Endless possibilities and the real opportunity to be creative. Plus, [AI can] give content a second life in some cases.” - Emilie Delquié
- "I'm most excited about the practical application of AI in scholarly publishing, where AI transitions from a concept to tangible tools that can be adapted for real-world use. The prospect of harnessing AI's potential and truly understanding its impact is what holds the most promise, taming this technology to make it genuinely useful." - Christian Grubak
What do you think?
As publishers continue to embrace these technologies, maintaining focus on core values must remain top priority. The future remains unwritten, but it is ours to shape.
Publishers have a unique opportunity to help direct these technologies towards human-centric ends that uphold creativity, quality, and integrity, and accomplishing that will require thoughtful collaboration across the industry and beyond. The challenges are great, but so is the opportunity to leverage these tools to propel global research and understanding to new heights.