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It was a week. AI-powered self-driving cars got kicked to the curb, with the shuttering of Argo AI. Big Tech had a tough time, with earnings wipeouts for Amazon, Microsoft and Google. And Meta’s big bet on the metaverse has the company in free fall, at least for now.
However, none of that negative-nellie news seems to stop the FOMO – the fear of missing out – at least in the world of AI. This time the hyped-up anxiety is not about autonomous cars (the “not” in the Hot or Not), but generative AI – a suddenly-sexy sector described with words like “miraculous,” “transformative” and “a coming-out party” [subscription required].
Business customers are flocking to get on board with AI-driven content-generation startups with enterprise applications like Jasper, a generative AI platform designed to auto-generate promotional blog posts and other marketing materials. Investors, meanwhile, are on the lookout for the next AI unicorn like Stability AI, which launched its text-to-image generator Stable Diffusion only a couple of months ago but already boasts a billion-dollar valuation by investors. And Sequoia Capital’s Sonya Huang called the hype around generative AI “absolutely justified.”
But for enterprise leaders dealing with severe feelings of FOMO, Ritu Jyoti, IDC’s group vice president of AI and automation research, would like a word.
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“They need to be rational and responsible,” she told VentureBeat. “They need to understand that data and automation is not just a nice-to-have, but they also don’t need to freak out and start applying AI that leads to unrealistic expectations and ‘gotchas.’”
Focus AI on business problems
Instead, she emphasizes the need for organizations to calm down and focus on their business problems and what they are trying to solve.
“Anybody who’s not being strategic in these times will be challenged,” she said. “We’re hearing from our end users that they are investing in AI not for short-term ROI, but for future-proofing your business for being resilient, for being the disrupter. That’s where the game will lie.”
Jyoti recalled speaking at an end-user conference where customers asked whether text-to-image generators were useful or just “completely stupid.” “Is this just creating pictures of cats and dogs? I was trying to help them understand because the majority of people were naysayers back then,” she explained.
But any C-suite executive in the Fortune 1000, she says, understands the power of AI beyond the mainstream media hype around generative AI or the future of AGI, for example.
“I would say don’t be distracted by AI’s potential – instead, focus on your business requirements and outcomes, and then use AI and automation appropriately, whether it’s improving your operational efficiency and revenue, expanding into new markets, dealing with supply chain issues or doing some innovation,” she said.
Enterprises will be conservative with AI
The question of investing in AI no longer exists in enterprise business, she emphasized. Not having an AI strategy is “not an option.”
“You have to be competitive, to be relevant to the industry,” Jyoti said.
But she seemed unconcerned about the possibility of enterprises playing into the hype around generative AI.
For example, she said that products like OpenAI’s DALL-E would not be used by enterprises as-is.
“They will be used in a very controlled way with the right guardrails,” she said. “In my opinion, enterprises are going to be much more conservative. No enterprise would like to get a headline tomorrow that customers were discriminated against, or be sued or get fined or get a bad reputation.”
Relax, the hype cycle is normal
Overall, said Jyoti, the cycle of hype, and even hubris, around AI is not abnormal. Even the demise of Argo AI is “pretty normal,” she said.
“It’s what happens with any kind of new technology which has a large amount of potential and then it takes a lot of time,” she said.
But as hyped-up as the space currently seems, Jyoti maintains that the reality around adoption in the enterprise is far more mundane.
“AI is one of the most disruptive technologies that we have ever developed, but having said that, today, it’s being done only in point solutions,” she said. “That real transformative disruption is not really happening – people will argue with me, but there are very small pockets where AI is really in net new processes and net new things.”
Generative AI and adoption overall, she concluded, is not hype. “The speed, the pace, the velocity … that is where it has changed.”
But still, she added, it will take decades before organizations feel the full transformative impact, going beyond the surface of what these technologies can do. For now, “Start with what your business problem is, and explore where AI and automation can be used in an efficient way, in the most responsible way, she said.”
Basically, as the classic 1939 British motivational poster said, keep calm. And carry on.