ChatGPT is an AI inflection point — Canadians must embrace it

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ChatGPT has taken the world by storm, amassing 100 million users in just two months. With its promise of faster and cheaper content retrieval, synthesis and generation, it is set to revolutionize the way we work, learn and play. If Canadian businesses are to remain competitive, it is crucial that they eagerly embrace it.

ChatGPT is an inflection point in the development and adoption of artificial intelligence. A clear indication of the technology’s transformative power is the shake-up it has triggered among the technology giants.

Alphabet Inc.’s chief executive has internally declared a “code red” and the company is accelerating the deployment of BardAI, its own chat engine. Microsoft Corp., in a clear bid to gain market share in the “search” space, has rushed to incorporate the technology into its Bing search engine, and invested an additional US$10 billion in OpenAI LLC, the developers of ChatGPT.

Yet the technology’s potential goes well beyond search. Yes, it facilitates the retrieval of information, but it can also synthesize large amounts of data. For example, you can ask it to list the major players in a given industry and summarize their principal activities. Most impressive, however, is its ability to generate text in seemingly any format and style, and on any subject. It can write emails, internal briefs, reports, essays and just about anything else.

ChatGPT’s ability to retrieve, synthesize and generate content will find applications across many industries, business functions, products and occupations. It is already being used by marketing departments to write copy, by hiring managers to sift through resumes and by programmers to write code.

In the legal field, it could soon produce memos summarizing previous case law, effectively replacing much of the work performed by clerks, paralegals and legal assistants. In health care, it may one day be the initial point of contact into our health-care system, diagnosing and prescribing treatment for some of the most common ailments, while sending the more complex cases to primary care physicians.

The choice before executives is whether to proactively embrace its productivity-enhancing potential, or to ignore it and let other nimbler firms slowly eat at their business. Proactive adoption implies, as a first step, the critical analysis of the firm’s entire operations by identifying content retrieval, synthesis and generation tasks that the new technology can do better, faster or more cheaply. These can then be automated, starting with the ones that promise the highest return on investment.

Yet to truly leverage the power of generative artificial intelligence, executives will need to consider how the technology might allow a fundamental rethink of their business model. For example, as researching potential clients and producing copy become cheaper with subsequent versions of the technology, marketing firms may proactively create copy as a way to win new accounts. Recruiters may forgo posting vacancies altogether, and instead use the technology to gather data on millions of individuals, identify promising candidates and generate personalized invitations to interview.

To be sure, executives cannot alone transform their business. They will require a workforce that is comfortable using the latest productivity-enhancing tools. Educators must therefore resist the urge to ban ChatGPT; history would look upon such a prohibition no more favourably than past attempts to ban tools such as calculators and spell checkers. Instead, our schools, colleges and universities must embrace ChatGPT and ensure students are learning to leverage its immense potential.

Canada has a less-than-enviable record on innovation and technology adoption, and this is the main reason for our lagging productivity. ChatGPT gives us an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and alter our course. Doing so will require determination, not just on the part of executives that must lead industry adoption, but also on the part of educators and governments that must play a supporting role through what is likely to be a tumultuous transition. We can build a better and more prosperous Canada, but for that we must embrace change.

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