AI is having a moment—here's how businesses can lean in

As generative AI becomes increasingly popular in the mainstream, here's a behind-the-scenes look at how AI is transforming businesses in tech and beyond.

AI is having a moment—here's how businesses can lean in

In recent weeks, generative AI seems to have popped up everywhere in the mainstream--via the popularity of ChatGPT, the proliferation of text-to-image tools, and as avatars in our social media feeds. But beyond fun smartphone apps and handy ways for students to shirk essay-writing assignments, global adoption of AI will fundamentally change the way businesses operate, innovate, and scale in the near future.

Babson College Professor Thomas Davenport and Nitin Mittal, head of U.S. artificial intelligence growth at Deloitte, are the authors of All In on AI: How Smart Companies Win Big With Artificial Intelligence, which will be published in late January 2023. Their book examines how companies including Alphabet, Ping An, Airbus, Walmart, and Capital One leverage AI in business strategy, key processes, change management, and competition.

Here, Davenport and Mittal provide Fast Company with a primer on Generative AI along with an excerpt from their book offering an overview on AI archetypes, capabilities, and general principles.

What is Generative AI and how will most businesses and individuals use it in the near future?

Generative AI refers to artificial intelligence that can generate novel content, rather than simply analyzing or acting on existing data. Generative AI models produce text and images: blog posts, program code, poetry, and artwork. The software uses complex machine learning models to predict the next word based on previous word sequences, or the next image based on words describing previous images. In the shorter term, we see generative AI used to create marketing content, generate code, and in conversational applications such as chatbots.

What are some of the most useful capabilities of Generative AI?

Generative AI can already do a lot and are incredibly diverse. They can take in such content as images, longer text formats, emails, social media content, voice recordings, program code, and structured data. They can output new content, translations, answers to questions, sentiment analysis, summaries, and even videos. These universal content machines have many potential applications in business, and today marketing applications are among the most common uses of generative AI. In the future, there is potential for generative AI to make an impact in health care and life sciences--to make diagnoses, for example, or find new cures for disease.

What are some secondary or tertiary ways that Generative AI will manifest in our lives?

Not surprisingly, many of the early uses of generative AI began with large tech, or digital native, companies. Over the next several years, we see generative AI permeating traditional industries, like manufacturing, health care, and pharmaceuticals, for example. Once a generative model has been trained, it can be fine-tuned for specific content domains with much less data. We are now starting to see specialized generative models for biomedical content, legal documents, and translated text, which will give rise to additional use cases in those industries and domains. They may help organizations to manage their knowledge and content more effectively so that it can be easily accessed by employees and customers.

What are some concerns around Generative AI that businesses and individuals should be aware of?

There are some potential legal and ethical concerns related to generative AI. One is the ability to easily create 'deepfakes'--images or video created by AI that appear realistic but are false or misleading. Additionally, generative AI raises questions about what is original and proprietary content and may have a significant impact on content ownership.

Excerpt from All In On AI

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from All In On AI: How Smart Companies Win Big With Artificial Intelligence by Thomas H. Davenport and Nitin Mittal.

The General Path to Being AI Fueled

The path to becoming all-in on AI is not particularly well trodden; we've estimated that fewer than 1 percent of large organizations would meet our definition of the term. However, there are capability maturity models for virtually every business capability, and we will describe a similar approach for AI. Advancing maturity in AI is based on a variety of factors, including:

Breadth of AI use cases across the enterprise

Capability maturity models tend to have five levels, and we see no reason to depart from that standard. They also tend to have low capabilities at Level 1 and high ones at Level 5, and we follow that pattern as well.

AI Fueled (Level 5). All or most of the components we've described above, fully implemented and functioning--the business is built on AI capabilities and is becoming a learning machine;

Transformers (Level 4). Not yet AI fueled but relatively far along in the journey with some of the attributes in place; multiple AI deployments that are creating substantial value for the organization;

Pathseekers (Level 3). Already started on the journey and making progress, but at an early stage--some deployed systems, and a few measurable positive outcomes achieved;

Starters (Level 2). Experimenting with AI--these companies have a plan but need to do a lot more to progress; they have very few or no production deployments;

Underachievers (Level 1). Started experimenting with AI but have no production deployments and have achieved little to no economic value.

We might also add a 'Level 0' to describe companies that have no AI activity whatsoever, but this is certainly a minority category among large firms in sophisticated economies. The key difference with other maturity models is that we're offering three alternative archetypes for the use of AI, but a company can be at various levels no matter what the primary focus of their efforts.

We would argue that in talking about AI-fueled enterprises, we are almost always describing Level 5 organizations. Like our examples, they are companies that have a wide variety of AI technologies and use cases in place, along with specialized technology platforms to support them. They do experiment, and companies striving to create may do more experimentation than those seeking operational improvements. The goal of all these organizations, however--usually achieved--is to actually do business with AI by putting AI systems into production deployment. New business processes are employed. New products and services are introduced to the marketplace and used by customers. Senior executives are engaged and active in identifying use cases and monitoring performance. They have established data science groups, modernized their digital infrastructures, and identified large volumes of data for training and testing models.

Perhaps most importantly, there are alternative archetypes for employing AI, and somewhat different versions of capability models for different strategies. As we noted earlier, our view is that the three major archetypes can be summarized as 1) creating new businesses, products, or services; 2) transforming operations; and 3) influencing customer behavior. While operational improvements are the most common objective for AI according to our survey research, it's clear that at least some companies don't just use AI to make their existing strategies, operations, and business models somewhat more efficient. Instead, they use it to enable new strategies, radically new business process designs, and new relationships with customers and partners. Those companies would assess their capabilities in terms of the degree to which they have successfully developed new strategies, business models, or products. Operationally focused AI objectives would involve achievement of substantial operational improvements, and customer behavior objectives would focus on how much actual customer behavior change has actually been achieved. Of course, that level of business transformation requires the active engagement and participation in strategic deliberations by senior management that Level 5 organizations typically display.

Thomas H. Davenport is the President's Distinguished Professor of Information Technology & Management at Babson College, a visiting professor at Oxford's Said Business School, a research fellow at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy, and a senior adviser to Deloitte's Analytics practice. His bestselling books include Competing on Analytics and Big Data at Work.