Generative AI and the Age of Summaries

Generative AI and the Age of Summaries


4 min read

A few years ago, well before AI reached the impressive level we know today, I discovered Blinkist, an app that offers great summaries of non-fiction books. Initially, I was impressed and very excited about the idea of "reading" dozens of books every month. It seemed like the perfect solution to optimize time and absorb as much knowledge as possible.

Maybe you haven't heard of this app, or you haven't fallen for this extremely misguided idea ๐Ÿ˜… But have you been seeking other ways to consume compacted information quickly, such as watching 10 to 15-minute videos on YouTube or reading short articles on complex topics? If the answer is yes, you've fallen into the same trap I did.

We live in an era of accelerated information consumption, striving to simplify and optimize how we interact with knowledge. Generative AI has boosted this trend, and today we not only look for articles instead of books or short videos instead of full classes, but we also use new technology to summarize emails, articles, and even summaries, creating a "summary of the summary" ๐ŸคŒ

We lack time for everything, and the promise of saving time and increasing productivity is incredibly seductive, but what is the cost?

Summaries, whether in text, audio, or video, cannot convey the nuances and details that give depth to knowledge. This incessant pursuit of super-condensed information is leading us to a concerning cognitive impoverishment. Just look at the level and quality of the content that has become increasingly popular on YouTube, not to mention TikTok.

Anyone who has read Plato's "The Republic" will remember the famous allegory of the cave, which talks about a group of prisoners who, chained since birth, see only shadows projected on the wall. The shadows are the only reality they know. In the age of summaries, we become like these prisoners, content with simplified and superficial versions of reality. The true light of knowledge remains out of reach for most, reserved for those willing to dedicate the necessary time to delve deep.

George Orwell's classic "1984" also comes to mind, depicting a dystopia where language is manipulated and impoverished as a tool for thought control. As we get used to consuming information quickly and superficially, we become susceptible to this kind of control. The reduction of language and critical thinking, driven by the search for summaries and dependence on AI to formulate our ideas, makes us more vulnerable to manipulation and less capable of questioning the world around us.

Conscious use of AI and summaries

To be clear: I'm not saying we should avoid summaries and generative AI. These are powerful tools when used discerningly. I myself am a subscriber to GPT Pro and GitHub Copilot. Generative AI offers significant benefits when used for:

  • Questioning and reflection: AI can challenge the ideas in a piece of content or presentation you've written, helping to identify weaknesses and surfacing opportunities to delve deeper and strengthen your arguments. You can also use AI to simulate different audiences with varying levels or areas of knowledge, obtaining feedback on how they might interpret or react to your work.

  • Content recommendations: Use AI to get recommendations for books, videos, and channels relevant to a specific topic. My book backlog has grown significantly after some great recommendations aligned with my current interests. AI also functions as a super search engine (often better than Google) and can suggest scientific articles, blogs, and other educational resources you might not have found otherwise.

  • Initial evaluation: Before buying a book, I generate a summary of it in ChatGPT. This is very useful to me as a preview, not to mention that I can ask if the book covers this or that topic, as if I were asking someone who read the book, evaluating if it's worth investing time to read it in full. The summary also serves as a memory aid for books I've already read. AI can also create comparisons between different books or sources on the same topic.

  • Entry point: Summaries and articles are great for giving an overview of a subject, allowing you to understand the basic concepts without investing much time. I even have a YouTube channel where I strive to present technical programming content in an accessible and practical way, facilitating initial understanding. But it shouldn't stop there; it's necessary to go deeper.

To illustrate, imagine visiting an incredible place like Iguazu Falls (here in Brazil) and taking photos. These photos are great for capturing the experience and can transport you back to the location, recalling the best memories. But if you've never visited the Falls, the photos won't be enough to convey the richness of the place. Similarly, summaries and condensed information can serve as reminders or introductions, but they don't replace the depth and experience of fully engaging with the content.

Don't outsource your ability to think and articulate ideas! If we don't exercise critical thinking, we lose it. True wisdom is built through reflection and deep analysis, not through shallow and fragmented knowledge.

Use summaries and generative AI as complementary tools, not as substitutes for building your knowledge. Don't be content with just the photographs; explore, question, and dive into the complexity of the world around you. Only then can we build a more informed, critical, and wise society.