Earlier this year, Mark Austin, AT&T’s vice president of data science, noted that some of the company’s developers had started using the ChatGPT chatbot at work. When the developers got stuck, they asked ChatGPT to explain, fix or sharpen their code.
It looked like it was going to be a game-changer, Mr. Austin said. But since ChatGPT is a publicly available tool, he wondered if it was safe for companies to use.
So in January AT&T tried a product from Microsoft called Azure OpenAI Services that allows companies to build their own AI-powered chatbots. AT&T used it to create its own AI assistant, Ask AT&T, which helps the developers automate their coding process. AT&T customer service representatives also began using the chatbot to summarize their calls, among other things.
“Once they realize what it can do, they love it,” said Mr. Austin. Forms that once took hours to complete took just two minutes with Ask AT&T, freeing employees to focus on more complicated tasks, he said, and developers using the chatbot increased their productivity by 20 to 50 percent.
AT&T is one of many companies eager to explore ways to harness the power of generative artificial intelligence, the technology that powers chatbots and has gripped Silicon Valley in recent months. Generative AI can produce its own text, photos and video in response to prompts, capabilities that can help automate tasks such as meeting minutes and reduce paperwork.
To meet this new demand, tech companies are rushing to introduce products for businesses that include generative AI. Over the past three months, Amazon, Box, and Cisco have unveiled plans for generative AI-powered products that produce code, analyze documents, and summarize meetings. Salesforce also recently rolled out generative AI products used in sales, marketing, and its Slack messaging service, while Oracle announced a new AI feature for human resources teams.
These companies are also investing more in AI development. In May, Oracle and Salesforce Ventures, the venture capital arm of Salesforce, invested in Cohere, a Toronto start-up focused on generative AI for business. Oracle also resells Cohere’s technology.
“I think this is a complete breakthrough in enterprise software,” said Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, of Generative AI. your data in a way that was not possible before.”
Many of these tech companies follow Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT. In January, Microsoft made Azure OpenAI Service available to customers, who can then access OpenAI’s technology to build their own versions of ChatGPT. In May, the service had 4,500 customers, said Microsoft vice president John Montgomery.
For the most part, tech companies are now rolling out four types of generative AI products for businesses: features and services that generate code for software engineers, create new content such as sales emails and product descriptions for marketing teams, search company data to answer employee questions, and summarize meeting minutes and long documents.
“It becomes a tool that people use to accomplish what they already do,” said Bern Elliot, vice president and analyst at IT research and consulting firm Gartner.
But using generative AI in the workplace comes with risks. Chatbots can produce inaccuracies and misinformation, provide inappropriate responses and leak data. AI remains largely unregulated.
In response to these issues, tech companies have taken some steps. To prevent data leaks and improve security, some have developed generative AI products so that they don’t retain a company’s data and have instructed the AI models to only answer questions based on the data source.
When Salesforce introduced AI Cloud, a service with nine generative AI-powered products for businesses, last month, the company added a “layer of trust” to obscure sensitive business information and promised that what users typed into those products would not be used to reveal the underlying AI model.
Similarly, Oracle said customer data would be kept in a secure environment while training its AI model and added that it would not be able to see the information.
Salesforce offers AI Cloud starting at $360,000 per year, with costs increasing depending on the amount of usage. Microsoft charges for Azure OpenAI service based on the version of OpenAI technology a customer chooses, as well as the amount of usage.
For now, generative AI is mostly used in low-risk workplace scenarios — rather than highly regulated industries — with a human in the loop, said Beena Ammanath, the executive director of the Deloitte AI Institute, a research center of the consulting firm. A recent Gartner survey of 43 companies found that more than half of respondents have no internal policies around generative AI
“It’s not just about being able to use these new tools efficiently, but it’s also about preparing your workforce for the new types of work that may evolve,” said Ms Ammanath. “New skills will be needed.”
Panasonic Connect, part of Japanese electronics company Panasonic, started using Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI service to create its own chatbot in February. Today, employees ask the chatbot 5,000 questions a day about everything from composing emails to writing code.
While Panasonic Connect had expected its engineers to be the main users of the chatbot, other departments – such as legal, accounting and quality assurance – also turned to him to summarize legal documents, brainstorm solutions to improve product quality and other duties, said Judah Reynolds, Panasonic Connect’s head of marketing and communications
“Everyone started using it in ways we didn’t even foresee,” he said. “So people are really taking advantage of it.”