In 2019, I was in San Francisco for an investors annual meeting and one of the sessions was about AI. The featured speaker was Sam Altman with OpenAI. I was sitting on the front row listening intently to understand the long-term strategy of the company and how they intended to monetize the business. I was neither skeptical nor enamored by the company; just curious about the business model and where they might first apply their technology.
Fast forward to today and Open AI (and AI in general) is all the rage. I think artificial intelligence is helpful and I think we should embrace it. However, I also struggle with the idea of creating technology that we think may be better or smarter than actual human beings at some point.
In March 2022, Pew Research Center released data from a survey that asked Americans how they felt about AI. See an excerpt from the study below:
In broad strokes, a larger share of Americans say they are “more concerned than excited” by the increased use of AI in daily life than say the opposite. Nearly half of U.S. adults (45%) say they are equally concerned and excited. Asked to explain in their own words what concerns them most about AI, some of those who are more concerned than excited cite their worries about potential loss of jobs, privacy considerations and the prospect that AI’s ascent might surpass human skills – and others say it will lead to a loss of human connection, be misused or be relied on too much.
But others are “more excited than concerned,” and they mention such things as the societal improvements they hope will emerge, the time savings and efficiencies AI can bring to daily life and the ways in which AI systems might be helpful and safer at work. And people have mixed views on whether three specific AI applications are good or bad for society at large.
Despite the paradox, Chat GPT, which OpenAI created, continues to rise in popularity. The use cases for the technology are expansive. ChatGPT (or Generative AI) can be used to generate text into images, write legal briefs & computer code, act as a virtual assistant, create marketing text for mailing lists and correct common grammatical errors when writing.
In the last few years, investors have directed significant amounts of capital to AI-focused startups. According to Crunchbase, AI-focused startups raised $42 Billion in 2022 and $19 Billion as of May 2023. Eric Hippeau, co-founder of Lerer Hippeau said in an interview with Crunchbase, “VCs are basically throwing good money after anything with AI in the title and it’s too early to tell which companies have defensible business.”
In my opinion, there is (a lot) more work to do before Chat GPT achieves “human-like” status. For one, there are concerns the technology infringes on people’s intellectual property and in some cases it can be discriminatory and incorrect. Oddly enough you could say that humans do all these same things. The difference though is the breadth and scope by which the technology gathers information. In its current state, Chat GPT lacks context and wisdom. It is an information gathering tool that derives and weaves together solutions based on pre-existing information. The speed by which it does these things is remarkable, and that in part is one reason why people like it so much.
At the end of the day, there is nothing inherently wrong with AI or Chat GPT. They are tools designed to (hopefully) make our lives and society better. Some people are afraid that AI is going to eliminate jobs and cause the downfall of society. I am indifferent. Throughout history there have been other revolutionary technologies such as the Gutenberg Press, railroads, the combustible engine, computers, cell phones (to name a few) that have significantly changed society for the better.
People adapt to change. That’s what we do. Startups would be wise to focus on building useful and profitable, long-term businesses that harness the power of AI (when and if necessary). Ultimately, businesses that lack staying power, regardless of whether or not they utilize AI, can and do fail for lack of substance or longevity.
AI and Chat GPT are tools, plain and simple. We should embrace them and use them to augment what we do, but not blindly rely on them.