What ChatGPT and the acceleration of AI means for business

If you ever worked with Office 97, you’ll remember Microsoft’s iconic assistant Clippy. The animated AI-based paperclip would pop up in your document and offer to help you format whatever you were working on. Clippy would analyse and structure words in your document and help you format it according to what you were working on. For example, if anything vaguely resembled a resume, you would be prompted with “It looks like you’re writing a resume! Perhaps a resume template will help?”

In 2023, Clippy’s legacy lives on in our everyday lives, manifested in the form of much more advanced personal digital assistants powered by emerging techniques in AI. One such example is OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which has led to a growing public awareness of AI and its impending impact on business, industry, and society. Some experts are even calling it a watershed moment, as significant as the invention of the printing press or the advent of the World Wide Web.

For businesses that are already comfortable in the digital realm and happily using time-saving features powered by AI, the public release of ChatGPT has sparked excitement over the possibilities it unlocks. However, for those who have yet to explore the world of human-machine augmentation and AI, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. You may even feel apprehensive about the changes it could bring to the way you do business.

AI, warts and all, is here to stay. As a species, we just don’t lock genies back into bottles. However, it’s also important to note that ChatGPT and associated rollouts like Bard and AI-enabled Bing, while seemingly close to magical in their abilities, are only a way station along the road as AI continues to evolve at pace. More significant changes are definitely coming and the AI techniques hitting prime time today could have broad implications for the types and methods of work conducted by businesses in the near future.

That is why it’s vital to understand its uses and limitations now, to set your business up for success.

What actually is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT belongs to a class of AI techniques known as generative modelling. It’s trained to mimic the complex statistical relationships that exist between words in a language, hence its technical name, Large Language Models (LLM). By using these learned statistical relationships, LLMs can produce responses to a broad range of questions and look like they could have been written by a human.

LLMs can communicate in plain English, write and revise text, and even write code. This opens up the potential for businesses to produce work faster than ever before. For example, ChatGPT’s ability to generate boilerplate text for proposals and other types of writing could prove especially useful for business owners who are less fluent in the dominant language of their market or less comfortable with writing in general.

Why all the buzz now?

For many AI professionals, generative AI is nothing new. What makes ChatGPT noteworthy and exciting is not the underlying models themselves, but rather the simple and “human-accessible” interface that is currently available to the public for free. This accessibility means that anyone can experiment with the impressive capabilities of ChatGPT without being an AI expert or a programmer, which has helped to capture the public’s imagination.

While LLMs have been in use for some time, the end-to-end ChatGPT user experience (which, critically, includes an intuitive, easy-to-use user interface) has truly changed the game. As Ethan Mollick noted in HBR, “It’s genuinely useful for a wide range of tasks… While previous generations of the system could technically do these things, the quality of the outputs was much lower than that produced by an average human. The new model is much better, often startlingly so.”

ChatGPT is not without its limitations, as many enthusiastic tinkerers have discovered. As with most new products, many aspects need further development and there are rough edges that need sanding off. However, the tempting smorgasbord of real world applications presented has been met with a wave of investment and hype, and led to a race among the major players. How many of these applications have a commercially robust business model once the hype subsides will play out over the next year or so.

So, what does this mean for my business?

For now, ChatGPT is proving to be a useful tool for generic writing purposes, particularly for those who need some inspiration, help breaking writer’s block, or those who need a head start to translate technical documents into layman’s terms. In the next 12 months, we will likely see a wave of applications built on top of generative AI models like GPT3 (the model that sits behind ChatGPT).

Some will save us so much time that we’ll forget how we used to live without them. Some will be solutions looking for problems and many will simply be out there with no sustainable business model aside from being bought out by a bigger company. To distinguish between the useful, the shonky, and the revolutionary, businesses should approach ChatGPT in the following ways:

  1. Experiment, but with caution
    The best place to start is with experimentation. There is value to be had in playing around with the tool to test its knowledge, limitations, and boundaries. First-hand experience of the tool can help you understand how it could be used in your business and the wider industry. But a word of warning: As with all technology that is free and open, if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. And the usage model (free to use, right now) could change at any time and without warning.
  2. Think of it as a business tool
    One way to think about ChatGPT is as a tool alongside the many other tools you use every day in your business. For some businesses, ChatGPT and other language models may seamlessly integrate into their existing business platforms, and work behind the scenes to speed up existing processes. It will likely integrate into digital experiences they’re already familiar with, like generating reports.

    But remember, just like you need many tools to build a cabinet, ChatGPT should be used in conjunction with other business tools; it can’t be relied upon in isolation.
  3. Analyse the likely impact
    ChatGPT has the potential to create new business models, jobs, and workflows. Businesses should consider the tools and processes at the heart of their business and how AI technology could assist, for example, in automating customer service and responding to customer requests. This means understanding not only how the technology could be used in chatbots, SMS, and email for personalised messages but also how AI could free up teams to focus on improving the customer experience.

We’re just at the beginning of this AI epoch and there’s no telling for sure where it will lead us. By being open to adapting and experimenting, arming yourself with knowledge and working with advisors to decode its impact and opportunities, you’ll be better placed to incorporate AI into your business in a way that genuinely adds value to your bottom line.