4 ways to detect generative AI hype from reality

Every IT vendor is banging the drum for generative AI. Here's how to make sure the technology you use is in rhythm with your company's wider aims.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
AI Technology in data room
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Attend any keynote speech by a tech CEO and you can be sure of one thing: generative AI will get a mention.

Since the launch of Open AI's ChatGPT late last year, the IT industry has been fixated on the application and exploitation of artificial intelligence.

I went to an IT conference in London recently where the expo floor was dominated by a sales booth with signage at the top that said 'ChatGPT' in massive, flashing letters.

Also: Generative AI will soon go mainstream, say 9 out of 10 IT leaders

I think it was an attempt by the organizers to piggyback on the cacophonous hype of the big tech trend of the moment.

In fact, having attended the keynote speech at the start of the day -- where the CEO made regular references to the importance of AI, but without making any product announcements -- an attempt to put an AI-enabled stake in the ground was clearly the flavor of the event.

But this unnamed IT vendor is far from alone in its desire to be associated with all things generative AI.

Take Sundar Pichai and his senior colleagues at Google, who mentioned AI roughly 143 times over the course of the company's recent two-hour keynote presentation at Google I/O, according to CNET estimates.

If talking as much as possible about generative AI is good enough for Google, then you can bet your bottom dollar it's going to be good enough for every other IT executive.

However, if you're a professional who's charged with making sense of emerging technology, then you're going to need a way to sort the generative AI wheat from the chaff.

Also: Generative AI should be more inclusive as it evolves, according to OpenAI's CEO

And with every tech company trying to bolt on AI services, how can professionals work out which vendors and products will provide value to their businesses, both today and long into the future?

Four business leaders give us their best-practice tips.

1. Start your explorations now

Working out which vendor will provide the most value through AI is far from straightforward, says Tulia Plumettaz, director of machine learning at e-commerce giant Wayfair.

"There's a lot of speculation," says Plumetta. " would say at this point that it's extremely difficult to predict the direction that the field is going to take."

Despite all the uncertainty, Plumettaz recognizes professionals can't afford to sit back while rivals use generative AI to develop a competitive advantage.

Also: Most workers want to use generative AI to advance their careers but don't know how

For this reason, professionals should start exploring generative AI and look for vendor partners to investigate potential use cases.

Plumettaz explained to ZDNET how her company is working with Snorkel AI to boost the quality of the online search experience it provides to consumers -- and just as Wayfair is dabbling in machine learning, so the company will also explore generative AI.

"I think there is going to be a lot of learning and bets on how AI will impact productivity," she says.  

"There's also a lot of hypotheses -- we know it's going to move fast. What are going to be the differentiators for the enterprise? Is it going to be about a few models ruling the field? That's one of the journeys that we are embarking on with Snorkel AI right now."

2. Focus on aims and cultures

Kavin Mistry, head of digital marketing and personalization at TSB Bank, is another professional who's helping his organization explore generative AI -- and he also recognizes the cacophonous hype surrounding the subject.

"I share your horror in the sudden influx of AI-related pitches in the emails that I get sent."

Mistry's team is currently thinking about the use of AI as part of a much wider data strategy. As part of these efforts, the bank is working with Adobe.

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He advises other professionals who are looking to sort the AI wheat from the chaff to focus on two core elements: aims and cultures.

"It's like any process. First, it's about understanding our need -- our end state -- and what we want our model to be," says Mistry.

"Then, we typically go through our procurement process to find the appropriate vendor. For me, it's important that you have the right-scale organization and technology that's aligned to your company's needs. There needs to be a strong cultural fit."

3. Stick to the classic rules 

The focus on business requirements as the key to exploiting generative AI resonates with Wulstan Reeve, head of data marketplace at Legal & General Investment Management.

His team is using the Cloudera Data Platform to bring data together as a platform for insight-led experimentation in other areas, including potentially AI.

Reeve says any attempts to move into generative AI via vendor partnerships in the future will involve sticking to what he calls "classic rules".

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"It's all about business value. If there's no killer use case that you can start to apply, then playing is fine, right? But you're only ever going to get a certain amount of money to play," he says.

"The key is starting to make very tangible links to how you can generate revenue or reduce costs. So, I think a lot of these classic rules will continue to apply to this stuff. But it is right that lots of companies should be safely experimenting in AI."

4. Build some solid foundations

Lalo Luna, global head of strategy and insights at Heineken, says the brewing giant is using Stravito's technology to share insights through an internally branded platform known as Knowledge & Insight Management (KIM).

One of his team's priorities during the next few months is to think about how they start exploiting AI. Luna anticipates Stravito being an important partner in this journey.

"We are really looking to develop this capability. But we're a decentralized business and we have many different things that are happening all around the world," he says.

Also: The best AI chatbots: ChatGPT and other noteworthy alternatives

"So, what happens if you have information in many different places? If you want to take full advantage of AI, I think you need to connect all these places."

Stravito recently added a proprietary generative AI engine to try and improve the search experience for employees.

Luna says these kinds of enhancements should help his company to explore emerging technology such as generative AI from a solid, standardized base.

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"When it comes to the democratization of insights for knowledge management, it's better to have one main platform," he says.

"We can connect everything and Stravito is going to be the heart of this ecosystem. We can then access different tools from the center, and we don't need to log into every specific tool to consult information." 

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