Last year, ChatGPT reached 1 million users in five days, making it the fastest-growing online platform in history. It was an astonishing feat. By comparison, the most popular social media platforms ranged anywhere from several months to years to reach that same milestone. But more importantly, it’s a signal of what’s to come: Generative artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to reshape our society.
Generative AI—which can create novel text, images, or audio—is impressive. Not only are people adopting it in droves, but unlike social platforms, its business applications appear infinite. When ChatGPT announced it would open its technology to third-party developers, pundits heralded the breakthrough.
We’re on the precipice of an explosion in new technology. No tool, however sophisticated, can advance a thriving world on its own. Business leaders should look beyond what the buzzy technology is and grapple with how and why to leverage it—beginning with putting AI on the agenda in the boardroom.
Here are three questions boards should ask of their companies
Do you have a generative AI strategy?
Until now, sophisticated technologies have been the domain of CIOs and IT teams. Generative AI is changing that. You don’t need a data scientist’s expertise to operate it. Its accessibility and high functionality mean that any creative employee with an internet connection can try it or deploy it during everyday tasks—and judging from adoption numbers, many already have. We’re seeing the democratization of AI on a massive scale. But for the unsuspecting business, this could create chaos.
The explosion of any nascent technology follows a similar pattern: The beginning stage is filled with excitement, followed by a period rife with complexity and moral, ethical, and legal quandaries before any serious potential is realized. Navigating this “messy middle” requires a gameplan. That’s why boards must encourage their executives to look beyond a CIO-exclusive strategy and develop an organization-wide strategy—and quickly. This technology is maturing fast, and real opportunities for businesses are months, not years, away.
How will you use generative AI to challenge your existing business model?
We’ve all read the stories. ChatGPT can write book reports, explain complex theories, even pass an MBA exam. But impressive as they are, these headline-grabbing feats only hint at the profound possibilities that lay on the horizon for businesses and society.
Generative AI can process massive datasets and produce new, enterprise intelligence. That means, in the near future, employees will be able to have “conversations” with AI about any information or insights within their company. Some businesses have already implemented these capabilities to great effect. International law firm Allen & Overy uses AI to access large volumes of legal content and generate insights, recommendations, and predictions. Meanwhile, Syntegra, a health-care technology company, uses generative AI to share statistical patterns of medical data without exposing patients’ private medical information.
All this is to say: While it’s easy to foresee thousands of tiny generative AI use cases, boards must urge companies to think bigger. Forrester predicts AI spending will double from US$33 billion in 2021 to US$64 billion by 2025. This is an opportunity to challenge—or change—your business model. Companies should consider ways to leverage their unique dataset, optimize their operations, or differentiate within their industry. Ultimately, successful companies will embrace strategies that grow their competitive edge.
Do you have a plan in place to mitigate risks?
Despite the excitement and experimentation around generative AI tools, they’ve raised real questions about creation, ownership, bias, misinformation, and job displacement. Some issues are already bubbling up in creative industries: Getty Images recently brought a copyright infringement lawsuit against an AI company for using its photography collection to produce AI-generated images. Meanwhile, French DJ David Guetta managed to write a song using AI and replicate Eminem’s voice, though he has no plans to release the track commercially.
The future is here. Businesses waiting to implement a risk mitigation strategy do so at their own peril. If companies want to realize the promise of generative AI, they need to eliminate its downside. That means having a comprehensive plan to train employees, implement rules, and identify future threats. Ultimately, AI can be a tool to improve human capability and unlock creativity, so it’s imperative we design policies that put humans at the center.
Generative AI’s legacy won’t be the words it writes or the pictures it draws. Rather, it’ll generate new possibilities for the way we work, connect, and live. Business leaders who can transform their strategy and business model to harness opportunities—while managing risk—will gain a foothold in this new era and continue to advance our thriving world.
This article was first published by the Milken Institute on 5 April 2023.
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