Artificial Intelligence: What to Make of the Technical Tsunami
March 1, 2023
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If the initialisms AI or ChatGPT sound familiar, it’s because artificial intelligence — specifically, the recent advancements made by OpenAI — have captured the attention of Silicon Valley and Main Street business leaders. The promise of advanced technology capable of supplementing or even replacing “knowledge work” has long dominated the imagination not only of futurists, but society writ-large courtesy of countless media manifestations of smart homes, flying cars, all-knowing robot assistants and more.
Global consulting firm McKinsey recently took to its blog to describe potential impacts to all sorts of business functions, and we’ve summarized the most salient points with a bit of our own filter as a workflow automation company.
Since OpenAI’s ChatGPT product has been in the limelight for some time now, let’s do a quick refresher on what it is: a generative language model capable of creating novel content based on individual user prompts. For instance, you could ask ChatGPT to write a specific sympathy message to a friend who just lost a parent, and drawing on millions of data points and relative context, it’d formulate a note that sounds surprisingly human. The implications are enormous. Looking beyond easily automated, repetitive tasks, AI offers a new tool (or threat) to a whole host of creative and knowledge work. Could it write a successful screenplay drawing on an enormous library of content, reviews and pop culture information? Time will tell, but you start to see where things might be heading.
A Continuous Evolution
In its blog cost, McKinsey referenced an article from its past which distilled economic activity into three categories: production, transactions and interactions. Machines and automation have clearly transformed human labor, starting with the Industrial Revolution and continuing into this century. Transactions have similarly evolved, most recently through digitization (i.e. ecommerce) and automation (i.e. stock trading).
But interactions have largely remained human, with the exception of some annoyingly unsophisticated chat bots. That may change in a major way, allowing humans to get work done faster and better. And then, perhaps as the final frontier, AI will find its place in breakthrough creative work, generating entirely new content based on what it has learned from all of the source data. The ways in which this could impact society are almost too immense to fully grasp.
The Next Frontier
Let’s start by highlighting the business cases examined in the McKinsey post:
As you can see from this non-exhaustive list, there are a multitude of applications across numerous professions (and functions within) which could be enhanced or transformed by more mature AI technology. A key word from that statement, though, is mature.
Since ChatGPT thrust AI into the zeitgeist, numerous instances of inaccuracies and mistakes have been called out. Legal and personal privacy issues persist, and systemic biases may inadvertently steer the tools in the wrong direction. Some of the issues may take decades to fully unpack (or litigate), but there’s no doubt we’re at the precipice of an exciting new frontier in technology. All of a sudden, knowledge work could benefit from the same productivity advances the Industrial Revolution provided to manufacturing. For a company like Vsimple, which first focuses on optimization of work before even addressing the automation component, AI offers a wide variety of applications. Take for instance our ability to “read” documents or emails and pull salient information into our platform, then drive action based on its contents. It’s a simple use case, but one that dramatically improves the speed and accuracy of the work many of our customers perform every day. And in a plot twist, that’s already embedded in our product. If you go a step further, users may one day have a Vsimple product capable of composing messages, advising on strategic decisions and synthesizing data in a more directive way.
Regardless of how this shakes out, we look forward to leading the way for our customers wherever technology can advantage their businesses. And who knows, maybe our next blog post will be written (or at least proofread) by an AI assistant.
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