November 30, 2022. It’s a date that will go down in history. It’s not just the day that ChatGPT launched publicly. It’s the day that artificial intelligence (AI) effectively went mainstream – and the world hasn’t stopped talking about it since. It has dominated news cycles, generated hype and created more buzz than any technology in recent memory.

The Big Question for Customers

Practically every customer I meet right now wants to know what the AI boom means for their businesses. How can they use AI to improve their productivity and decision-making? What can they automate to save costs? What will the impact be on the workforce of the future? What are the moral and ethical issues around AI?

One of the world’s leading AI experts, Nina Schick, knows more than most about the potential impact of AI on our businesses and our lives. Her background is in geopolitics, where she’s seen first-hand how technology is emerging as a massive influence at global level. So, when she first encountered generative AI in 2017, she knew it was a game changer, and founded a generative AI advisory firm. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with her earlier this year.

Her view is simple: generative AI is a vehicle that’s going to change the future. ChatGPT is only the very beginning. The outputs are going to become significantly better, and they will change every business in the world. But what’s important to realise is that it’s not only about improving efficiencies within the enterprise. It’s going to fundamentally change labour markets and entire economies, which raises far bigger philosophical questions about how we use AI.

What’s interesting is that AI itself is nothing new. At varying levels of sophistication, it’s been built into the systems that are weaved into our everyday lives for several years. From healthcare, to self-driving cars, from financial investments to marketing and from smart assistants to manufacturing robots, embedded AI automates, conserves resources, predicts, and allows for new business models to be developed and actioned.

The Game Changer – Generative AI

Generative AI is a game changer, though. Unlike previous “mainstream” forms of AI, which are mostly about labelling or categorising data, generative AI is about generating or creating new data in practically any digital format. And while we have barely dipped our toes into what it can do, what is clear is that generative AI has the potential to reshape society and business in ways we are only beginning to understand. In fact, Ms Schick predicts that over 90% of online content will be ‘created’ by AI by 2030.

The fear is that left unchecked, AI can become a tool for dodgy practices, like deep fakes. Or that it ends up creating an even bigger economic and digital divide between developed and emerging markets. That’s why it’s critical that we put guard rails in place. Regulators are already turning their attention to AI, with the EU preparing a framework on AI that puts an obligation on those who use it – and that’s going to be all of us – to do so in a way that is trustworthy, responsible, and ethical.

What’s interesting is how big tech firms have responded to generative AI in the past six months. They were all working on AI projects anyway. Then suddenly, Microsoft made a $10 billion investment into OpenAI and brought ChatGPT into its operating system and search engine. Google itself has strategically reoriented, boosting its AI research capabilities and building its own chat bots.

SAP is collaborating with Microsoft, IBM and others on a range of joint generative AI offerings to help solve customers’ most fundamental business challenges. It recently also announced investments into three AI startups – Aleph Alpha, Anthropic and Cohere.

Practically every tech company is releasing models into open source in the belief that they’ll be more influential in the long term because these models will become a fundamental part of the entire ecosystem. These are companies that move markets – and they’re all vying for a slice of the wider enterprise data market.

The question that businesses are increasingly asking is how they can have a ChatGPT-like product in their company, trained on their own proprietary data for their own use cases. Think customer service, sales, marketing – everything can have some layer of automation. The number of use cases that is emerging is simply astounding.

It’s not just highly skilled engineers using generative AI to accelerate design of aircraft components.  It’s companies using their own data to write product descriptions in their brand voice and creating SEO copy. It’s biotech companies that are enabling new drug discoveries. It’s any business being able to run both structured and unstructured data through a generative model that can extract insights for you. The impact is profound.

Of course, the big questions remain. Is AI going to augment me or automate me? It’s going to be both. Will the machines get so intelligent that they take over and we lose agency? Hypothetically that’s possible, says Ms Schick. But it’s not realistic. And by focusing on that narrative, we forget that we have agency. We get to decide how these technologies are integrated into our companies and society.

“I’m not a pessimist. Because I think the top line here is change. And I think the story of our lifetime is that we’re going to experience more tech-led change than the entirety of humanity that came before us. So ultimately, this isn’t a story about technology. This is a story about humanity,” she says.

And that’s something we should all be trying to embrace.