While the implications of ‘new’ technology Artificial Intelligence (AI) are currently dominating the airwaves, boardrooms, legislative assemblies, and dinner tables around the world, at Springer Nature we have been using AI for over 10 years. Working with our communities and partners we have been exploring how AI and other emerging technologies can help us meet our mission to accelerate solutions to the world’s urgent challenges; to unlock the potential of science and research, advance knowledge and to inspire and improve the lives of generations to come.
Technology has been central to how we have grown and developed, enabling us to deliver tangible benefits to the research community. Investing €370m in technology since 2020 alone has helped us take friction out of publishing research. We have been able to make our content more accessible with all our journal content and over 300,000 books available digitally, more open with over 1.25 million articles published open access, and easier to find, use and cite with an average article downloaded twice as many times as five years ago. It has also made it easier for authors to publish with us by supporting systems which are now able to manage more than 1.5 million article submissions and over 400,000 publications a year. We also published the first academic books written by machines back in 2019 and earlier this year undertook an experiment which resulted in us publishing the first book written using generative AI. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise – the research community have always been early adopters of technology - the internet itself being created by scientists for scientists to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between universities and institutes around the world.
This is why we are optimistic. We see rapidly developing technologies such as AI offering enormous potential for our communities because, when managed carefully with human oversight, they have the potential to advance the way in which publishers and researchers work. This was highlighted in a recent survey undertaken by Nature which found that more than 50% of researchers said they believe AI tools will be very important or essential to them in their work and over half already think AI has the potential to save scientists money. Anything that we can do to make their lives easier is something we want to explore.
But we are fully aware that AI is different to technologies that have come before which is causing concern. Our job therefore is to ensure responsible and ethical use of these tools in the interests of scientific discovery and research. We have developed author policies around authorship and images to help guide them as this technology develops and have created an AI governance process to guide and work alongside our innovation process. Supported by five principles, this covers areas such as respect, harm, fairness, transparency, accountability and privacy, to make sure we go at the right pace for our communities and that humans remain in the driving seat.
This commitment sits alongside the fact that a third of our workforce are now in technology roles, enabling us to build on our years of experience to explore how AI tools could further help the research community. Partnering with some of today’s leading AI experts and investing in an in-house Emerging Technologies team, we have already integrated a number of AI-led tools into our workflows and continue to see potential across the publishing process. For example, it takes non-native English speaking researchers 50% longer to write up research. Our AI-supported language editing services are helping to create a level playing field for these authors so that their research has the best chance of being accepted for publication. Our peer reviewer finder tool is supporting editors in finding the best peer reviewers more quickly and therefore speeding up the time it takes authors to get published, and our new AI-driven Nature Research Intelligence service is helping research offices around the world measure the impact of the research they have funded and identify upcoming research needs and trends. Partnering with the likes of iThenticate and Slimmer AI, whose science division recently became part of Springer Nature, we are also using AI to build ever more sophisticated integrity checks to safeguard the scientific record, as unfortunately this new technology is also making fraud and exploitation easier to do and harder to detect.
Ultimately we believe AI will augment human intelligence - not replace it. And for AI to truly have the impact and benefit that we suspect it can have on the sector and for our community, it must be done effectively and responsibly with ethical considerations taken into account.
*As part of the AI and Big Data expo held in London, members of our senior executive team spoke with ITN Business about the role AI is and will play in publishing.