As companies demand AI in the workplace, tech companies are rushing to provide it

Earlier this year, Mark Austin, vice president of data science at AT&T, noted that some of the company’s developers had begun using the ChatGPT chatbot at work. When developers stalled, they asked ChatGPT to explain, fix, or refine their code.

Mr. Austin said it was a game-changer. But since ChatGPT is a publicly available tool, he wondered if it was safe for companies to use.

So in January, AT&T experimented with a Microsoft product called Azure OpenAI Services that lets companies build their own AI-powered chatbots. AT&T used it to create a proprietary AI assistant, Ask AT&T, which helps its developers automate their coding process. AT&T customer service representatives have also begun using a chatbot to help summarize their calls, among other tasks.

“Once they realize what he can do, they love him,” Mr. Austin said. He said forms that used to take hours to complete needed just two minutes with AT&T Ask so employees could focus on more complex tasks, and developers who used the chatbot increased their productivity by 20 to 50 percent.

AT&T is one of many companies eager to find ways to harness the power of generative artificial intelligence, the technology that powers chatbots that has gripped Silicon Valley with excitement in recent months. Generative AI can produce its own text, images and videos in response to prompts, capabilities that can help automate tasks like taking meeting minutes and reduce paperwork.

To meet this new demand, tech companies are racing to offer companies products that integrate generative AI. Over the past three months, Amazon, Box, and Cisco have revealed plans for AI-powered products that generate code, analyze documents and summarize meetings. Salesforce also recently introduced generative AI products used in its sales and marketing and messaging service Slack, while Oracle announced a new AI feature for HR teams.

These companies are also investing more in the development of artificial intelligence. In May, Oracle and Salesforce Ventures, the venture capital arm of Salesforce, invested in Cohere, a Toronto startup focused on generative AI for business use. Oracle also resells Cohere technology.

“I think this is a complete breakthrough in enterprise software,” Aaron Levy, Box CEO, said of generative AI, which he described as “this incredibly exciting opportunity where, for the first time ever, you can actually start in understanding what’s inside your data in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Many of these tech companies follow Microsoft, which has invested $13 billion in OpenAI, the maker of ChatGPT. In January, Microsoft made the Azure OpenAI service available to customers, who could then access the OpenAI technology to build their own versions of ChatGPT. John Montgomery, vice president of Microsoft, said that as of May, the service had 4,500 customers.

For the most part, tech companies are now rolling out four types of generative AI products to companies: features and services that create code for software engineers, create new content like sales emails and product descriptions for marketing teams, search company data to answer employee questions, and summarize feedback. Meeting and lengthy documents.

“It’s going to be a tool that people use to get what they’re already doing,” said Bern Elliott, vice president and analyst at IT research and advisory firm Gartner.

But the use of generative AI in the workplace carries risks. Chatbots can generate inaccurate and false information, provide inappropriate responses, and leak data. Artificial intelligence is still largely unregulated.

In response to these issues, tech companies have taken some steps. To prevent data leakage and enhance security, some have designed generative AI products so that they do not retain customer data.

When Salesforce last month introduced AI Cloud, a service with nine AI-powered products for businesses, the company included a “trust layer” to help mask sensitive company information to stop leaks and promised not to use what users typed into those products to retrain the underlying AI model.

Similarly, Oracle said customer data will be kept in a secure environment while it trains its AI model and added that it won’t be able to see the information.

Salesforce offers AI Cloud starting at $360,000 per year, with the cost going up depending on how much you use. Microsoft charges for the Azure OpenAI service based on the version of OpenAI technology that the customer chooses, as well as the amount of usage.

Right now, generative AI is mainly used in low-risk workplace scenarios — rather than highly regulated industries — with a human in the loop, said Bina Ammanath, executive director of the Deloitte AI Institute, a think tank affiliated with a consulting firm. . A recent Gartner survey of 43 companies found that more than half of respondents had no internal policy on generative AI.

“It’s not just about being able to use these new tools efficiently, it’s also about preparing your workforce for the new types of work that may develop,” said Ms Ammannath. “New skills will be needed.”

Panasonic Connect, part of Japanese electronics company Panasonic, began using Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI service to build its chatbot in February. Today, its employees ask the chatbot 5,000 questions a day about everything from crafting emails to writing code.

While Panasonic Connect expected its engineers to be the main users of the chatbot, other departments — such as legal, accounting, and quality assurance — also turned to it to help summarize legal documents, brainstorm ideas for improving product quality, and other tasks, Gowda said. Reynolds, Head of Marketing and Communications, Panasonic Connect.

“Everyone started using it in ways we wouldn’t even have predicted ourselves,” he said. “So people are really taking advantage of it.”