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Think generative AI is impactful now?

Wait until you meet the AI Native generation. As the future of society and work transform thanks in part ot the impact of AI, these AI natives will be at the vanguard of it.

You’re probably familiar with their counterparts, digital natives. Digital natives don’t remember life without the web or email.

That generation is growing up. They’re starting to turn 30 now – they’re the trialing millennials and the entirety of Generation Z.

Consider someone born in 1994. They don’t remember much before 1999, and the rise of Google coinciding with their elementary school years led some to panic about how they’d ever remember anything again. 

There’s another wave that we don’t talk about much but should: mobile natives.

Mobile natives’ lives have been shaped by the ubiquitous access to information, and the explosion of consumer choice. YouTube and Netflix’s streaming service launched right around when the iPhone did (the first model debuted in 2007).

Given how all those technologies took a few years to become ubiquitous, the mobile generation won’t recall much of what life was like before 2010. So, if they entered grade school around then, mobile natives are just starting to turn 20.

The speed of AI adoption means that Generation Alpha is the AI Generation. I know a little bit about this, and I have a claim to fame here: I was the first person to write about Generation Alpha in Ad Age back in 2016, and I did so two years before the next reference there.

It’s one of my favorite pieces – and it’s the only satire Ad Age let me publish (thanks to the trust from then editor Michael Learmonth). My “13 Things to Know about the Alpha Generation” skewered the inanity of typical cohort research. It started after inspiration from a joke I made to a colleague about what we can infer about a whole generation based on observations of my toddler.

I wrote in Ad Age, “They hate the sharing economy. Anyone you meet in the Alpha Generation is likely to be decidedly anti-sharing. In fact, ethnographies have revealed that not a single member of this generation wants to share anything.”

All of Generation Alpha will be AI natives. My daughter was in third grade when ChatGPT debuted, and her peers will have a hard time remembering what it was like before you could digitally create anything you could imagine.

It will be like my memory of life before cordless phones, answering machines, cable TV, and CGA displays. We know what it’s like, but it feels like ancient history. (Remember when we went from CGA to EGA to VGA? Some of you, my people, are bursting with nostalgia vibes right now. I can feel ‘em from here.)

That means that we’re making native generational leaps every decade, and we could take it back steps further too. Someone born in 1984, for instance, probably doesn’t remember what life was like before they had easy access to personal computers. But let’s keep looking forward instead of back.

Looking at trailing Gen Z’ers (the mobile generation), they’re just about to enter the workforce. They will never know what work was like before generative AI. And they will in turn not know what it was like to have a source of disposable income without AI.

They will not have gone on dates post-college without AI. Most will not have bought a car on their own without AI built right into the dashboard, let alone all the sensors throughout. And they’re used to platforms like Netflix, Spotify, and TikTok powered by machine learning algorithms that are designed to give you exactly what you want – even if you didn’t know you wanted it.

So what’s that going to mean for businesses trying to hire an AI-native workforce and market to an AI-native consumer base?

A lot, but we can expect a few trends:

1) Personalize or Perish: What’s the ideal call-to-action to put on your homepage? What is the right mix of perks and benefits to offer a new hire? What does a menu even look like at a restaurant? AI-powered personalization will pervade all kinds of touchpoints. In the past, chains like In-N-Out might have used secret menus to juice word-of-mouth marketing. Soon, you’ll be getting secret menus customized only to you. Lindsay, Corey, Beth, and Gary might be eating at the same table, but they’ll all see different specials designed for them (pasture-raised protein and organic veggies for Lindsay, soup dumplings for Gary).

I’m a big believer in Newton’s Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We will be driven by competing forces of hyperpersonalization while joining the masses to be part of global spectacles like the Eras Tour. It won’t just be one or the other, and Newton would likely say you can’t have one without the other. Newton was pretty bussin’ like that (as my source of Gen Alpha intel would say).

2) Harness the Tools: Were you at one of those companies in the 2000s, maybe early 2010s, that would tell staff they couldn’t use social media at work? If anything, that accelerated mobile adoption of apps like Facebook. The same will apply to ChatGPT and other conversational AI platforms. There is a lot of work that should not be done using AI, but increasingly, a lot of busywork can be offboarded to AI in ways that don’t pose any security or privacy threats. Tell an AI native that’s forbidden, especially at a place that doesn’t have the same security protocols as the Pentagon, and you’re all but asking for someone to figure out a workaround.

That means you won’t be able to come up with a list of all the tools that can’t be used and all the ways that they’re forbidden. Instead, you’ll have to come up with lists of all the ways you’re providing access to best-in-class tech, and how staff can use that to their advantage.

3) Skills and Interests Become Fungible: Your best data scientist in the future may not have any data science training – they might be a journalist who knows the right questions to ask of the data. The most creative strategy might come not from a strategist but someone on the legal team who now has more creative ways to storyboard bold ideas that still fit within what’s kosher at that organization. The most rabid fan of a Civil War saga might not be a history scholar but someone who’s been geeking out on having conversations with Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.

The downside is that people will be harder to pigeonhole. The upside is that if you can recognize how to harness skills and passion, you can unleash that in ways never before possible.

It’s like how I always say about my resident Generation Alpha’er that I know her about as well as anyone possibly could, but she manages to surprise me every single day.

A lot of surprises are ahead for us all with the AI generation. For those of us who count ourselves as digital natives, PC natives, and earlier cohorts, we can work on tapping into their strengths and adapting to their needs.

We’ll have to be nimble though. As I said about Gen Alpha in Ad Age:

“They’re constantly changing. It’s hard enough targeting this cohort, given the differences between leading and trailing alphers. What’s worse is that they’re changing all the time. By the time you complete a creative brief, they’re exhibiting new behaviors… Alphers [and now the AI generation] have a way of vexing even the most seasoned marketers.”


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