AI’s Promise Realized?

A new chatbot hitting the market could be the breakthrough in AI business leaders have been waiting for—or not. 

Andy Warhol once said that anticipating something makes getting it more exciting. That sort of explains why everyone has gone gaga over the latest chatbot to hit the market. 

After years of waiting, the future of artificial intelligence came one step closer last week with the release of ChatGPT, a new chatbot that mimics human conversation. In less than a week, more than one million people have rushed to try out the bot, asking it to write poems, explain successful approaches to dating, teach physics lessons, and respond to other prompts—all of which it did instantaneously and in natural language. So advanced is the chatbot, created by the firm OpenAI, that it makes all other chatbots look as primitive as Pong, the original video game, says Chris Cantarella, global sector leader for software at Korn Ferry. Cantarella describes the chatbot’s ability to access real-time information through conversation in glowing terms.  “This could be one of the biggest evolutions in the human experience,” he says. 

Companies are betting heavily on it, investing more resources than ever into developing and deploying chatbots. According to research firm Gartner, nearly half of all organizations will use chatbots for customer care in the next couple of years, up from about 23% now. Estimates suggest that the worldwide market for chatbots will exceed $3 billion by 2025.

After years of AI frustrating consumers and failing to live up to its potential, ChatGPT represents a breakthrough that business leaders hope will transform the chatbot—which is currently regarded as the ultimate digital annoyance—into a revenue generator for organizations and a fast and convenient problem-solver for customers. “Consumers increasingly don’t care if they are talking to a bot or a human, so long as it provides the answers they need in a timely manner,” says Cantarella. 

There’s still a ways to go, however. Right now, as anyone using chatbots knows, their functionality is limited to common questions and predictable answers. The technology is great at handling simple tasks like telling a bank customer their account balance or serving up a link to a company’s travel policy. But chatbots aren’t so great at answering open-ended questions. Ask a chatbot what options are available to change an airline flight or how to alter the investments in a 401(k), and the spiral of misery begins.

ChatGPT isn’t immune to these same issues. Already, users have found ways to circumvent built-in defenses against “discriminatory, offensive, or inappropriate” requests to make it return racist or sexist replies, for instance. Because the bot’s responses are based on material combed from across the internet, even its creators have conceded that it has a tendency to return incorrect, inaccurate, or misleading answers. “With AI you have to be careful not to over-index on speed at the expense of quality and accuracy of information,” says Jamen Graves, global co-leader of Korn Ferry’s CEO and Enterprise Leadership Development practice. 

Then there are the omnipresent concerns about AI, such as its ability to understand context, think critically, and gauge emotions, says Graves. He says ChatGPT can amplify and support creative endeavors, but that it shouldn’t be leveraged for critical decisions anytime in the near future. “Advances like ChatGPT reinforce the important role that leaders play in guiding employees in the effective use of AI,” says Graves.