Image caption: Sam Altman at APEC the day before being fired at OpenAI. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via … [+] AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
Turmoil is rocking the artificial intelligence industry. Business leaders developing an AI strategy should—in most but not all cases—continue as before the recent big news.
The board of OpenAI fired Sam Altman as CEO on November 17, and the company’s president, Greg Brockman, resigned soon after. Three days later, Microsoft announced, “Sam Altman and Greg Brockman, together with colleagues, will be joining Microsoft MSFT -1.2% to lead a new advanced AI research team.”
The business world was stunned by the rapid turnaround, but maybe should not have been too surprised. The latest advances in AI came quickly, throwing a great deal of computing activity into a state of flux. The technical capabilities of large language models have grown rapidly, with fast-moving implications for business practices of end-users of AI. In between, new relationships between the AI startups and the major tech companies were forged. AI businesses such as OpenAI and Anthropic need cloud computing providers, and the corporations with cloud operations need AI for their other business lines.
Rapid change is not surprising for a fast-growing industry using new technology to power sales. Past generations saw it with railroads, petroleum and automobiles. This will not be the last change in the industry. It might be the last change for the week of Thanksgiving, but probably not even the last change of 2023.
Key people, such as Sam Altman, matter. But how much they matter is quite debatable. Historians argue this issue. Do great people make history, or does history make great people? Most of the top business innovations developed as technological opportunities advanced. A great leader may see the opportunity and implement it first, but someone else would eventually have come along to do the same.
Business leaders about to ink a major deal with OpenAI or Microsoft related to AI might want to pause and learn more. In all other cases, companies should continue developing AI implementation strategies. The best advice right now is to focus on specific apps that utilize AI to improve employee productivity in narrow activities. Microsoft has been incorporating ChatGPT into its current products, while many startups have developed very specific apps that utilize a large language model to help with very specific business tasks.
Those specific apps will be far more useful than headline-grabbing tools such as ChatGPT. The apps typically use ChatGPT or one of the other chatbots while accessing other information and formatting the result exactly how the end user needs it.
Because this is a time for testing and learning, businesses should not be concerned about locking in to the wrong AI provider. A good app that uses ChatGPT will continue to be a good app even with Sam Altman gone from OpenAI. And if in a specific instance a Microsoft app works poorly now, it will improve eventually but isn’t worth putting up with today.
The current upheaval does highlight an important implementation issue of the early days strategy: don’t plan on using the same tools for a long time. Things are changing too quickly. If an app will require operational changes that won’t be easily reversed, that’s dangerous. Planning for flexibility in implementation will help a company survive future upheavals in the AI industry.