What is Generative AI and Why Does it Matter?
Generative AI refers to a category of AI systems focused on creating new content and artifacts. Unlike analytic AI that is used to understand data, generative AI can produce original text, code, images, audio, video and more.
The Rise of Large Language Models
The explosive interest in generative AI lately is driven by breakthroughs in a particular type of generative model - large language models (LLMs). LLMs like GPT-3 and ChatGPT can understand language context and generate coherent, long-form text respones on a staggering range of topics.
Whereas early AIs might generate simple sentences or paragraphs, modern LLMs can craft essays, poems, conversational text and even computer code that rivals human output. Their versatility and performance are opening up new possibilities.
From Novelty to Wide Impact
What began as novel showcases of LLMs beating benchmarks has caught the attention of enterprises. The potential to automate business text generation at scale and augment human capabilities is tremendous.
Areas seeing early adoption span content creation, coding, customer service and more. As the models rapidly improve, so will the breadth and impact of their applications.
Innovation Enabling New Possibilities
Three key innovations in recent years set the stage for this generative AI revolution:
- Availability of vast datasets and compute power - LLMs require digesting billions of text examples during training, enabled by internet scale data and cloud infrastructure.
- Novel neural network architectures - Models like GPT-3 introduced transformer-based architectures better at learning relationships in text.
- Increase in model parameters - State-of-the-art models have trillions of trainable parameters, allowing more contextual knowledge to be encoded.
Together these innovations unlocked new long-form text generation capabilities not possible previously. The future applications of generative AI are only just beginning to be explored.
The Evolving Landscape of AI and Generative Models
Artificial Intelligence has seen rapid transformation over the past decade. A look at its history and recent breakthroughs provides context on where generative AI models came from and where they are headed.
The Long Road of AI Progress
- 1950s - Early days of AI research exploring basic reasoning & problem solving
- 1960s-70s - First neural networks built but required massive compute power
- 1980s - Expert systems and machine learning advances made
- 1990s-2000s - Machine learning sees some industry adoption (e.g. recommender systems) but AI winter limits progress
The Rise of Deep Learning
- Mid-2000s - Growth of the internet and big data fuel resurgence in neural networks
- Early 2010s - GPUs unlock orders of magnitude more compute power for model training
- Mid 2010s - Deep learning breakthroughs rapidly improve computer vision and speech recognition
- Late 2010s - Transformer models like BERT lead to leap in natural language processing skills
The Dawn of Foundation Models
- 2020 - GPT-3 release displays new level of language understanding and creativity
- 2021 - Increasing model size seen to correlate with higher performance
- 2022 - Models with trillions of parameters set new benchmarks across domains
- 2023 - Foundational generative models can be adapted to many downstream tasks
As models grew in size and compute available to train them increased exponentially, they achieved new breakthroughs:
- Millions of parameters - Simple interfaces and APIs
- Billions of parameters - Human parity on some language tasks
- Trillions of parameters - Sophisticated reasoning, common sense skills
Their expanding capabilities made applying generative models increasingly attractive for real world usage.
Evaluating Generative AI
The meteoric rise of models like DALL-E for imagery and ChatGPT for language has sparked equal parts excitement and apprehension. As enterprises explore embracing these tools, risk considerations warrant balancing the optimism.
Transformative Potential Across Sectors
Generative AI promises to transform existing workflows and even enable entirely new offerings:
- Content and creative services can leverage automated text, images, video and music generation
- Coding and software development functions can integrate autocoding and documentation features
- Conversational interfaces and virtual assistants can provide more responsive, nuanced customer engagements
- Personalization, recommendations and search can become more contextual and relevant to end users
The possibilities span nearly every industry. Established FAANG companies and startups alike are investing heavily based on this potential.
Lingering Concerns Around Ethics
However, there are also ethical dangers inherent in deploying such powerful generative technologies irresponsibly:
- Bias - Models can further perpetuate harmful biases encoded in data
- Toxicity - Abusive or unsafe content can be unleashed at scale
- Misinformation - Factual inaccuracies and fake media undermine credibility
- Security - Systems open to data theft or malicious attacks
Without thoughtful governance, generative models risk causing real-world harm.
Mitigating Risks Through Governance
Organizations exploring generative AI can mitigate these dangers by:
- Conducting impact assessments for planned uses
- Enabling human-in-the-loop oversight
- Implementing cybersecurity best practices
- Promoting responsible design principles internally and across teams
Striking the Right Balance
With careful governance, companies can responsibly progress AI advances for positive gain. The prudent path lies between unchecked enthusiasm and excessive caution around emerging innovations.
Cultivating Ethical Generative AI Systems
As the adage goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.” The incredible capabilities unlocked by generative models also require conscientious governance to develop safely, ethically and beneficially.
Shifting Left to Prioritize Values Earlier
Instead of treating ethics as an after-thought once systems are built, responsible AI embeds it into the development lifecycle itself. This “values-first” approach is known as shifting left.
Some tenets of this philosophy include:
- Making design choices to consciously address bias, transparency, accountability upfront
- Conducting impact assessments on how systems affect different communities
- Enabling oversight, notification and consent features as appropriate
Setting Guidelines During Design Stages
Cross-functional teams should collaborate to align on acceptable use guidelines for a project, during initial design stages.
This provides guiding rails for engineers and product managers to evaluate tradeoffs and make value-based instead of purely technical decisions around topics like:
- Data sourcing and labeling practices
- Choice of model architectures and hyperparameters
- Use case constraints to attune for safety
Communities Committed to Ethics
Surveys indicate developers themselves desire more governance and tools to build benign systems. Progress depends on cultivating this innate sense of moral responsibility.
Responsible mentorship, best practice sharing across teams, incentives and a comprehensive ethics code of conduct further cement a culture valuing societal good.
Cohesive Regulations Evolving
Thoughtful regulations are beginning to emerge providing frameworks for legally compliant development, without impeding innovation. Efforts around algorithmic audits, risk level classifications and transparency requirements help provide outer guardrails.
Navigating Generative AI Integration
With multiple pathways emerging to leverage generative models, companies need sound strategies to adopt solutions fitting their unique needs. Key considerations span customization, flexibility, partnerships and capability building.
Blending Custom and External AI
Rather than taking an “all or nothing” approach, a hybrid model balancing internal and external AI assets offers advantages:
- Leverage third-party APIs from vendors when suitable
- Develop custom models for core IP or specialized tasks
- Maintain transparency and control for mission-critical systems
- Free internal teams to focus innovation on differentiating capabilities
Carefully mapping use cases to the appropriate sourcing empowers enterprises to move fast without compromising reliability or security.
In an evolving landscape, retaining flexibility allows pivoting as vendor offerings change and new techniques emerge:
- Avoid over-reliance on any one provider or model architecture
- Design modular pipelines to swap components like datasets, models, etc.
- Watch for breakthroughs from open source communities to incorporate
- Ensure licensing and terms of service permit sufficient latitude
Tapping the Community
Developer forums, conferences and partnerships with external experts provide invaluable knowledge sharing:
- Open source contributions enhance product capabilities
- Industry working groups help align on best practices
- Vendor advisory relationships offer implementation guidance
- Research consortiums let teams stay on cutting edge
Building Internal Muscle
Having in-house capacity in MLOps, trust and safety, applied research etc. creates institutional maturity:
- Grow multi-disciplinary generative AI talent
- Promote technical awareness across the org
- Instill ethical mindfulness as part of engineering culture
- Smooth hand-offs between prototyping to production
The Future of AI is Generative
Despite the rapid recent progress of models like DALL-E 2 and ChatGPT, experts believe the age of generative AI has just begun. Sustained investments to spur responsible innovations can usher in an era of business transformation.
Unlocking Creativity at Scale
The one-two punch of self-learning algorithms combined with an ability to produce novel coherent output unlocks new sources of value:
- Automate rote business document creation
- Fan out creative idea generation
- Enable on-demand content localization
- Dynamically customize offerings to micro-segments
- Continuously tune recommendations to usage
And these applications only scratch the surface of what's possible.
Intelligence Augmentation for Enterprise
Beyond pure automation, generative AI augments human abilities to drive leverage across organizations:
- Conversational interfaces that feel more intuitive
- Code suggestions speeding up developers
- Insights identifying revenue opportunities
- Testing edge cases through model simulations
- And much more...
The compounding effects of many knowledge workers achieving more have enormous economic implications.
Steering Towards Beneficial Outcomes
To maximize generative AI's potential as a positive societal force, prudent governance and care is vital:
- Sustained investment in safety-focused R&D
- Incentives aligning with ethical priorities
- Partnerships between stakeholders on best practices
- Feedback loops to course-correct issues
With collaborative oversight, the transformative power of the technology can be ethically channeled.
Applying Generative AI - With Care and Responsibility
The advent of large language models and foundation models enables unprecedented text, image, video and audio generation capabilities. Their potential for augmenting workflows and even catalyzing new product offerings makes investment compelling.
However, as with any powerful technology, prudent governance balancing innovation and risk mitigation remains vital. Rushing headlong without addressing ethical considerations risks consequences from bias perpetuation to security vulnerabilities.
- Generative AI promises to transform business functions through automation and enhancement
- Benefits must be weighed against potential dangers from misuse and unintended outcomes
- Responsible development demands proactively embedding values into design processes
- Hybrid adoption blending customization and leveraging marketplace offerings provides flexibility
- Cultivating internal generative AI skills establishes organizational maturity
What Should Businesses and Organization Do?
Businesses exploring generative AI integration should:
- Catalog specific promising use cases balanced against risk assessments
- Craft guidelines aligning teams on acceptable practices
- Pursue a mix of build vs buy oriented by strategic priorities
- Foster cross-functional literacy and capabilities in modern AI
- Participate in industry communities to exchange best practices
The window for gaining competitive advantage is narrow. Organizations laying responsible foundations today can thrive in the emerging generative economy.