Confusion is rocking the AI industry. Business leaders developing an AI strategy should—in most, but not all, cases—continue as they did before the last big news story.
OpenAI’s board fired Sam Altman as CEO on Friday, November 17, 2023, and company president Greg Brockman resigned shortly thereafter. Three days later, Microsoft announced that “Sam Altman and Greg Brockman will join Microsoft to lead a new advanced AI research group with their colleagues.”
The business world was stunned by the rapid turnaround, but perhaps it shouldn’t have been too surprised. The latest advances in artificial intelligence have come at a rapid pace and have made many computational activities fluid. The technical capabilities of large language models have grown rapidly, with fast-moving implications for AI end-user business experiences. Meanwhile, new relationships have been forged between AI startups and big tech companies. AI enterprises like OpenAI and Anthropic need cloud computing providers, while corporations with cloud operations need AI for other business areas.
The rapid change is not surprising for a fast-growing industry that uses new technology to boost sales. Past generations saw this with railroads, oil, and automobiles. This will not be the last change in the industry. This may be the last change for Thanksgiving week, but probably not the last change of 2023.
Key people like Sam Altman are important, but how much is debatable. Historians dispute this issue. Do great men make history or does history make great men? Most of the best business innovations evolve as technological capabilities evolve. A great leader might see an opportunity and take it at first, but eventually someone else would do the same.
Business leaders about to land a major AI deal with OpenAI or Microsoft may want to pause and learn more. In all other cases, companies should continue to develop their AI implementation strategies. Right now, the best advice is to focus on specific programs that use artificial intelligence to improve employee productivity in narrow activities. Microsoft includes ChatGPT in its current products, while many startups develop very specific applications that use the large language model to perform very specific business tasks.
These special programs will be more useful than title capture tools like Chat-GPT. Applications typically use ChatGPT or one of the other chatbots to access other data and format the output in the way the end user needs.
Since this is a time of testing and learning, companies shouldn’t worry about locking into the wrong AI provider. Good software using ChatGPT will continue to be good software even if Sam Altman leaves OpenAI. If a particular Microsoft program is running poorly now, it will eventually improve, but it’s not worth putting up with today.
The current shake-up highlights an important implementation issue of the early days strategy: don’t plan on using the same tools for long. Things change very quickly. This is dangerous if an application requires operational changes that cannot be easily rolled back. Planning for application agility will help the company survive future upheavals in the AI industry.
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