Generative AI is Changing Business

Whether we're ready for it or not

By Chris Varosy
Generative ai image of a futuristic base jumper in command center during apocalypse.

Preparing for a future with artificial intelligence

The artificial intelligence (AI) genie is out of the magic lamp.  What are you going to ask of it?  What is it going to ask of you?  How will this impact your business, product and career?  So many questions, and so few answers…  Yet.

AI will disrupt many of the workflows in our lives, which has many people scared they will be replaced by machines. But let’s face it, some of the stuff we do at work makes our soul die a little.  And if AI can help with the worst tasks, I say have at it.

What is generative AI?

Generative AI (or GenAI if you are in a hurry) is software that can create stuff like text, images, code, music, video and other digital content. You tell it what you want (in the form of a prompt) and it uses a huge amount of “training data” to give back content that looks legit.

And plugins are enabling AI to not just write a poem for you, but to actually DO things in the services you currently use by hand (or mouse?), such as arranging travel in Expedia, ordering groceries in Instacart and making a dinner reservation in OpenTable.

So do you still want to hog all the menial garbage you have to do?  It’s not a time to be selfish with the tedious.  Maybe this AI disruption isn’t such a bad thing.

At work, the disruption is going to come at us from both ends: in the context of getting our job responsibilities done and in the context of serving our customers.  Here are some ways we can surf the chaos in each.

Lego looking dude with techy backpack walks in a futuristic workplace.

Getting our jobs done

Get familiar with AI and how it could potentially speed up your job.  It probably will, and it might as well be you that knows about it first.  ChatGPT from OpenAI is a good place to start, and it’s already incorporated into Bing. Google is close behind with Bard.  This AI Tools Directory is a good resource to see what can be done, and some of it is free, at least for now.

Target your most non-preferred tasks!  Automate what you would love to get out of doing. Analysis, research, business writing, editing, compiling and summarizing are things it can help you with immediately.  Need an image for a blog post?  Try Catbird.  Need to make an image wider?  Try DALL-E’s outpainting.  I used both of these to make the images in this article.

Use it to inform your decision-making process.  AI can arm you with information that exists in the wild, especially pre-2021.  Don’t expect it to make the decision for you, but it can certainly help gather the supporting points for you.  Now you can back up your crazy claims with supporting evidence.

Generative AI is developing rapidly. It will allow you to use AI to interact with the services you used to use the old way.  It will also allow AI to leverage real-time information better.  Keep tabs on availability of plugins and put them into your workflow as you can. At the time this was published,  there were 11 for ChatGPT.  You may need to join the waitlist to use them, so sign up.  One that intrigues me is the Zapier plugin, because it’s like a gateway plugin to all sorts of productivity mischief you can stir up by connecting it to other tools, like Google Docs, Slack, Salesforce, Mailchimp and thousands of others.  Generative AI is also getting embedded into the tools you may already have. Some notable examples include Firefly for the Adobe Creative Suite, Einstein for Salesforce or Copilot in Microsoft Office.  Github has a version of Copilot for helping developers write code.

AI prompt engineering is part of your job now.  Every job posting from now on will require it.  If you’re good at it, you will be more valuable in just about any position.  There is a lot of free training out there right now on the topic.  Here’s a good article from Zapier.

The productivity expectations of us are going to increase.  As you learn and change what you can do, keep a dialogue open with leaders to keep those expectations from inflating out of control.  Show that you’re working on it, and you might even become an expert advisor on AI for leadership. This article by CommandBar suggests some good AI tools to help you increase productivity.

Some jobs really are at risk from AI.  I’ve heard speculation all over the place on whose jobs will be over in the next few years.  Everything from actuaries and paralegals to customer service and technical instructors are mentioned.  But there is a lot of dust that needs to settle before we know for sure.  If your job is marked for death, start hedging your bets by training yourself in managing the AI that will do your job, or by looking for another specialty.  Here is one take on some of the most at-risk job fields.

Customers of the future in a wicked looking circular showroom.  It's AI generated so the people's faces look a little janky.

Serving customers

If you have a product or service business, you should be looking at integrating into ChatGPT and/or other AI services. Leverage it to make it easier for people to become your customers.  If you can let customers use AI to buy your stuff, it will lower the effort required to do so, and your sales will go up.  Consider building a plugin or using the OpenAI API to bolt AI superpowers onto your products and services.

Let it be your front line in customer service.  Forget “questions you can ask me.”  The chatbots you’ve been fighting with for the last several years are not real AI and are obsolete now, and what’s currently called AI is a quantum leap from those.  People can ask whatever and however they want instead of choosing from a curated list of preloaded topics.  Imagine if ChatGPT were your “level 0” support instead of the people in your call center.  AI can solve many of the repetitive problems your customers have before people have to be involved.  And it can also help give suggestions to your reps if the issue needs human intervention.  Companies like Zendesk and LivePerson have recently announced integration with ChatGPT, so you can also investigate if your customer service platform has or is expecting to release AI functionality that you can leverage.

The way people expect to interact with your products and services is about to get a lot more conversational and personalized.  This means your customer experiences need to adapt quickly.  Your competitors are going to beat you if you don’t.  Look at incorporating ways for people to simply type and tell your application what they want.  Let customers tell you who they are, and use AI to serve them more relevant content offerings based on what they said.  It’s going to be a lot easier than using the old inference engines to try and guess what they want.  And what’s more, conversational UI can make your products and services accessible.  Here is an interesting article on the topic.

AI integration has to be done securely and privately. You don’t want your proprietary IP and your customers’ personal information out there for the world to see and use. You need to carefully consider how you connect your knowledge repository with AI, and you may want to have a private AI model for sensitive data.  But the benefits are huge.  AI can make quick sense of a lot of unstructured information, and can even help keep your knowledge store up to date.  You will also need to address any concerns about bias, ethics and regulatory compliance as it relates to your business.  Once again, AI can help take your compliance rules, automate checks, and identify problem areas.

Make the most of GenAI

Right now is an important and exciting time.  AI is going to bring big changes to our lives, and the best way to end up on top of it is to lean into it and learn what we can to take maximum advantage of these advancements.  

As a product designer, I’m studying ways I can help companies grow AI superpowers.  And I need to keep reading, because this article is probably obsolete already.

The good news is that it’s early, so it’s not hard to become a leader in this space.  And the competition is also freaking out, so let’s just calmly dip our toes in the water and jump in, shall we?