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The next ‘Next Big Thing’ is here - and what it means for our future

The next ‘Next Big Thing’ is here - and what it means for our future

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In the past few years, we have read about how new technologies like blockchain, Web 3.0 and the metaverse are going to revolutionise the way we live our lives and do business. 

Often it is difficult to properly comprehend the true impact of new technologies, to differentiate between hype and reality and to establish which of these shiny, new ideas are going to live up to their lofty expectations. But every now and then, a technology arrives that immediately catches your attention and stretches your mind around its potential implications, both positive and negative. 

Chat GPT is one such technology. 

I was introduced to Chat GPT in early December when a colleague sent a response to a strategic question he had asked it from the perspective of the head of an asset management business (i.e. pretending to be me). The answer was in his words “scary good”, created in less than 30 seconds and written in prose far more eloquent than I am capable of. 

Chat GPT became my party trick during the holiday period. Over a glass of wine, I challenged fashion merchandisers, football coaches, digital marketing executives, IT coders, Masters students and anyone I could rally to ask me a question in their field of expertise. I promptly entered it in the dialogue box and consistently blew people away reading out an extremely coherent and convincing response - within seconds. 

Gaining momentum 

While Netflix took 3.5 years to get to one million users, Facebook took 10 months and Instagram 75 days, Chat GPT was launched on 30 November 2022 and 5 days later on the 4th of December, it had breached the one 1 million mark! By the end of January, it had 100 million users and over 13 million daily active users. 

In January, Microsoft announced in a complex deal structure that it was investing $10 billion into OpenAI, the company that owns Chat GPT which valued the company at $29 billion. Not bad for a company established in 2015, with less than 300 employees, whose founder investors include Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Reid Hoffman, and Sam Altman. It’s also worth mentioning that the company was supposed to be a non-profit created to “promote and develop friendly AI in a way that benefits all humanity”. 

So, what exactly is Chat GPT and why is attracting so much attention? 

In simple terms, Chat GPT is a sophisticated artificial intelligence system that can generate human-like responses to a wide range of questions and prompts. 

We all know that computers are exceptional (much better than humans) at analysing things. We have experienced this in banks being able to calculate credit scores in seconds, to Spotify recommending the next best song to listen to or to Waze determining your fastest route home. This is called analytical artificial intelligence (AI). 

The turning point here, is that until now humans have “owned” the creative process in areas such as writing, coding, design, creating art or even poetry. This new form of AI, called generational artificial intelligence is allowing machines to generate something new that did not exist before such as unique piece of art or a poem. Already, machines are starting to get remarkably good at creating sensical and beautiful things and will likely continue to get better and better. 

What are some real-world implications? 

The implications are will be material. Many industries and jobs will be impacted, with some functions being completely replaced and others benefitting from a tight working relationship between human and machine. For example, the machine might create the first draft of code or a script, which the human then iterates and improves on – a process that is almost certainly much better, faster and cheaper than a pure human approach. 

It is simply not an option to ignore this phenomenon. While the hype around Chat GPT might be peaking, the potential applications of this kind of AI are only just emerging. We should all be thinking where we can use this new tool to be more efficient, creative, and productive to find new and better solutions. 

Of course, there are any concerns and challenges to be worked through – some valid and some simply rooted in the natural anxieties that disruptive changes bring. Just as previous generations feared that the calculator would stop students being able to do mental arithmetic and that the internet would prevent students being able to perform research, so this new tool comes with its own concerns. This is particularly true in the educational system where Chat GPT recently passed the Wharton MBA exams. 

What are a few of the potential user cases? 

This is a very open-ended question and no doubt there will be much innovation and brainstorming particularly amongst innovative entrepreneurs as to the application of this AI.As things currently stand, here are three of the more obvious ones: 

  • It will enable rapid content creation with the potential for mass personalisation in areas such as marketing and customer support. This will impact areas such as newsletters, promotional collateral, legal contracts, and client responses. Chatbots should become exponentially more powerful in servicing clients effectively. 
  • It has the potential to speed up and democratise code generation. Already applications help developers improve productivity (Github estimates savings of more than 50%) but the bigger opportunity is opening access to coding for consumers. 
  • OpenAI also owns an image AI business called DALL-E. It has the entire world of art history and pop cultures encoded which allows anyone to explore themes and styles that previously would have taken a lifetime to master. Simply type in a description, a style, and a mood - and in seconds it produces a few impressive images to choose from. These can then be used by agencies to create new images, logos and campaigns at a fraction of existing costs. 
The next big thing and the next big risks 

Social media has been full of examples where users have got Chat GPT to come up with false, inconsistent, biased, or misleading answers. Chat GPT itself highlights several potential shortcomings on its landing page “may occasionally generate incorrect information”, “may occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content” and “limited knowledge of world and events after 2021”. 

One obvious pitfall is that it generates remarkably sensible and coherent sounding answers but does not provide any references (different to searching a question on google where the user can assess the veracity). This means that for the uninformed or non-expert user it can be almost impossible to distinguish between what part of the answer is correct or absolute nonsense. 

And then there are the bigger societal questions around the impact that this will have on the educational system (it can do your homework in minutes better than you can and it is very difficult to pick up plagiarism), employment and inequality and the debate around the influence and world views of a few OpenAI developers and founders. 

Elon Musk, probably one of the most knowledgeable in this area has warned about the risk of AI especially if the owners are not benevolent. The following two quotes sum-up some of his thoughts. 

“AI will be the best or worst things ever for humanity”. 

“I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at a national and international level, just to make sure we don’t do something very foolish.” 

Don’t get left behind Generative AI is still in the early stages of development and I have no doubt it will improve exponentially. 

After just a few minutes of exploring the technology, which I highly recommend you do as it is super easy and free, and you have seen a machine produce complex functioning code, brilliant images or a beautiful poem, it’s hard to imagine a future where machines don’t play a fundamental role in how we work and create. The implications are both exciting and scary. 

In my view, this is one of the technologies that may well live up to its hype so it is worth being as informed and prepared as possible. 

“Artificial intelligence is the new electricity” – Andrew Ng, Co-founder of Google Brain and Stanford AI Lab