New York (CNN) In a few months, you will be able to ask A virtual assistant to transcribe meeting notes on a business call, summarize long threads to quickly draft suggested responses, quickly create a specific chart in Excel, and turn a Word document into a PowerPoint presentation in seconds.
And that’s only on Microsoft’s 365 platforms.
Over the past week, a rapidly evolving landscape of artificial intelligence has seemed to take another leap forward. Microsoft and Google each unveiled new AI-powered features for their flagship productivity tools and OpenAI showed off its next-gen version of the technology that powers its viral chatbot tool, ChatGPT.
Suddenly, AI tools, which have long operated in the background of many services, are now more powerful and more visible on a wide and growing range of work tools.
New features from Google, for example, promise to help “brainstorm” and “proofread” work written in Docs. In the meantime, If your workplace uses the popular chat platform Slack, you’ll be able to have its ChatGPT tool talk to your colleagues for you, optionally asking it to write and reply to new messages and summarize conversations in canals.
OpenAI, Microsoft and Google are at the forefront of this trend, but they are not alone. IBM, Amazon, Baidu and Tencent are working on similar technologies. A long list of startups is also developing AI writing assistants and image generators.
The rhetoric from tech companies is clear: AI can make you more productive and eliminate tedious work. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a presentation on Thursday, “We believe this next generation of AI will unlock a new wave of productivity growth: powerful co-pilots designed to take the drudgery out of our daily tasks and jobs, allowing us to rediscover the joy of creation.”
But the number of new options hitting the market is both dizzying and, as with so many in the tech industry over the past decade, raises the question of whether they will live up to the hype or lead to unintended consequences, including allowing cheating and eliminating the need for certain roles (although that may be the intention of some adopters).
Even the promise of greater productivity is unclear. The rise of AI-generated emails, for example, could increase sender productivity, but decrease it for recipients inundated with computer-generated messages that are longer than necessary. And of course, just because everyone has the ability to use a chatbot to communicate with colleagues doesn’t mean everyone will choose to do so.
Embedding this technology “into the foundational productivity software most of us use every day will have a significant impact on how we work,” said Forrester analyst Rowan Curran. “But this change won’t erase everything and everyone tomorrow – learning how to best use these capabilities to improve and adjust our existing workflows will take time.”
A rapid evolution of work tools
Anyone who has ever used an auto-complete option when typing an email or sending a message has already experienced how AI can speed up tasks. But the new tools promise to go much further.
The new wave of AI product launches began almost four months ago when OpenAI released a version of ChatGPT on a limited basis., wow users by generating human-sounding responses to user prompts, passing exams at prestigious universities, and writing compelling essays on a range of topics.
Since then, the technology – in which Microsoft invested “several billion dollars” earlier this year – has only improved. Earlier this week, OpenAI unveiled GPT-4, a more powerful version of the technology that powers ChatGPT, and promises to blow previous iterations out of the water.
During initial testing and a corporate demonstration, GPT-4 was used to write lawsuits, create a functional website from a hand-drawn sketch, and recreate iconic games such as Pong, Tetris or Snake with very little to no prior coding experience.
GPT-4 is a large language model that has been trained on vast amounts of online data to generate responses to user prompts.
It’s the same technology that underpins two new features from Microsoft: ‘Co-pilot’, which will help edit, summarize, create and compare documents across its platforms, and Business Chat, an agent that essentially accompanies the user as they work and try to understand and make sense of their Microsoft 365 data.
The agent will know, for example, what’s in a user’s email and on their calendar for the day, as well as what documents they’ve been working on, presentations they’ve made, people he meets and the discussions taking place on their Teams platform, according to the company. Users can then ask Business Chat to perform tasks such as writing a status report summarizing all documents across all platforms for a certain project and then writing an email that could be sent to their team with an update.
Curran just said How much these AI-powered tools will change the job depends on the application. For example, a word processing app could help generate plans and drafts, a slideshow program can help speed up the design and content creation process, and a spreadsheet app should help more users. to interact and make decisions based on data. According to him, the latter will have the most significant impact on the workplace in the short and long term.
Discussion of the impact of these technologies on jobs “should focus on tasks rather than jobs as a whole,” he said.
Although OpenAI’s GPT-4 update promises fixes to some of its biggest challenges – from its potential to perpetuate bias, to being factually incorrect at times, and to responding aggressively – it’s still possible that some of these problems are found in the workplace, especially when it comes to interacting with others.
Arijit Sengupta, CEO and founder of AI solutions company Aible, said a problem with any large language model is that it tries to please the user and generally accepts the premises of the user’s statements. .
“If people start gossiping about something, they’ll accept it as the norm and then start generating content [related to that]”Sengupta said, adding that it could escalate interpersonal issues and turn into office bullying.
In a tweet earlier this week, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman wrote that the technology behind these systems is “always flawed, always limited, and always looks more impressive on first use than after spending more time with it”. The company reiterated in a blog post that “great care should be taken when using language model outputs, especially in high-stakes contexts.”
Arun Chandrasekaran, an analyst at Gartner Research, said organizations will need to educate their users about the strengths of these solutions and their limitations.
“Blind faith in these solutions is as dangerous as a complete lack of faith in their effectiveness,” Chandrasekaran said. “Generative AI solutions can also invent facts or present inaccurate information from time to time – and organizations must be prepared to mitigate this negative impact.”
At the same time, many of these applications are not up to date (the GPT-4 data on which it is trained cutting around September 2021). It will be up to users to do everything from checking for accuracy to changing the language to reflect the tone they want. It will also be important to gain buy-in and support from all workplaces for the tools to take off.
“Training, education, and organizational change management are very important to ensure that employees support efforts and that tools are used in the intended way,” Chandrasekaran said.