How business leaders should react to the AI revolution

"It took 24 hours to replicate a product that was absolutely sci-fi, almost alien technology five months ago. That’s how fast we’re moving."

by Bill Borrows
Last Updated: 23 May 2023
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Within five minutes of waking up, has mailed me with ‘5 AI Movies Humans Love’, the Medium Daily Digest is leading with ‘5 Ways I’m Using AI to Make Money in 2023’ while the BBC News website wants to reveal ‘How Artificial Intelligence Is Matching Drugs To Patients’. It is beginning to feel like the tedious hype surrounding cryptocurrencies, the blockchain and, more recently, the metaverse.

“It’s not hard to imagine why people might assume ‘AI’ is just the same old bullshit cycle all over again,” acknowledges tech journalist James O’Malley on B2B website “After all, a lot of the breathless AI coverage makes eerily similar revolutionary claims about how this new technology, that few people really understand, is going to change the world.”

However, he cautions, this time the hype is very definitely on point. “It was only last November that OpenAI launched ChatGPT. To me, it felt immediately clear that it marked a new technological epoch. An ‘iPhone moment’ that changes everything that comes next…generative AI has already demonstrated its obvious utility. ChatGPT alone has done that in a few short weeks, and this is before the technology has filtered down into every other piece of software in our lives.”

According to ChatGPT itself: “OpenAI’s GPT models have gained significant attention and recognition in the field of natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence in general, particularly the larger models such as GPT-3.”

Google notes, drily: “[ChatGPT] is attracting an estimated 96 million visitors per month, indicating that it is a popular platform for users seeking answers to queries that Google does not provide.”

The AI revolution is happening now.

American management consultancy Bain & Company adopted OpenAI technologies internally for its 18,000 staff last year. It then announced a global services alliance this February with the news that Coca-Cola would be the first business to engage with the new combined enterprise. Coke’s CEO James Quincey gushed, “We are excited to unleash the next generation of creativity offered by this rapidly emerging technology.”

Coke is not alone. Beyond the tech companies who you might expect to be ahead of the curve – Microsoft and Google are currently building generative AI capabilities into their search engines – almost all Fortune 500 or FTSE 100 companies are also rushing into the space. Some have been in the space for more than two years, including Procter & Gamble (has a partnership with Supahands to improve customer service), JP Morgan Chase (acquired OpenInvest to build customised portfolios) and Ford (signed a deal with Argo AI to develop autonomous vehicles).

“I’m going insane trying to keep up with the speed of developments,” says Gianluca Mauro, the CEO and founder of Copenhagen-based AI Academy (“since way before ChatGPT”) and author of Zero to AI – A Non-technical, Hype-Free Guide to Prospering in the AI Era.

“Right now I can talk to anybody in this office about ChatGPT and they know what it is. ChatGPT was launched in November. It was blocked in Italy one Friday because of privacy concerns but by Saturday evening somebody had replicated it and called it PizzaGPT. And it works the same. It took 24 hours to replicate a product that was absolutely sci-fi, almost alien technology five months ago. That’s how fast we’re moving.” And this, he thinks, is the major issue that business leaders (and others) must manage immediately.

Mauro teaches at Harvard and other universities in Europe but has also trained people at organisations as various as Procter & Gamble, Total and Italian luxury brand Brunello Cucinelli. “When I talk to some businesses, everybody seems so confused,” he says. His experience has led him to draw up four key actions that business leaders should consider immediately:

4 actions for business leaders on AI

1. Educate your teams on AI

“I talked to some executives at [one of the big four international accounting organisations] a few weeks ago, and their main issue was, ‘I’m afraid that people are going to ask me questions, and I have no idea what this stuff is’.” Get everybody up to speed.

2. Think about how you can use AI in your business

“Every time I talk to companies, they say ‘I don’t have any use for this because…’ And then they brainstorm and come up with a list of 55 applications that they could build tomorrow…” Think differently.

3. Keep your eyes open

“This stuff changes constantly so you need to have a framework to keep new information coming in because otherwise you’re going to be outdated in two months… one of my clients has one hour per week where teams are free to experiment with whatever technology they want and that makes them open to whatever new tools are around.” Keep the channels of communication open.

4. Don’t leave your team behind

“AI means there’s great potential for disrupting existing jobs that may get completely automated or changed fundamentally and if you don’t invest in retraining your employees in a scalable way you’re going to be constantly running to try to follow where the nature of work is going.” Stay ahead of the game.

“There’s an old saying that when we get a new tool, we begin by making it fit the old way of working and then we change the way we work to fit the new tool,” he adds.

“If we had a time-travel machine, and we try to imagine how the world is going to look in 20 years, I think we need to move towards completely rethinking the way that we do stuff using AI. It’s not just, ‘Hey, this is how we have been learning all our lives. Now, let’s sprinkle some AI on top.’ I think that’s very limited.

“What we need to move towards is a new way of learning that you can’t even imagine right now and that is why L&D and the application of AI to L&D is absolutely critical.”