Jeff Maggioncalda, the CEO of online learning provider Coursera, said that when he first tried ChatGPT, he was “dumbstruck.” Now, it’s part of his daily routine.
He uses the powerful new AI chatbot tool to bang out emails. He uses it to craft speeches “in a friendly, upbeat, authoritative tone with mixed cadence.” He even uses it to help break down big strategic questions — such as how Coursera should approach incorporating artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT into its platform.
“I use it as a writing assistant and as a thought partner,” Maggioncalda told CNN.
Maggioncalda is one of thousands of business leaders, politicians and academics gathered in Davos, Switzerland this week for the World Economic Forum. On the agenda is an array of pressing issues weighing on the global economy, from the energy crisis to the war in Ukraine and the transformation of trade. But what many can’t stop talking about is ChatGPT.
The tool, which artificial intelligence research company OpenAI made available to the general public late last year, has sparked conversations about how “generative AI” services — which can turn prompts into original essays, stories, songs and images after training on massive online datasets — could radically transform how we live and work.
Some claim it will put artists, tutors, coders, and writers (yes, even journalists) out of a job. Others are more optimistic, postulating that it will allow employees to tackle to-do lists with greater efficiency or focus on higher-level tasks.
It’s a debate that’s captivated many C-suite leaders, often after they tested the tool themselves.
Christian Lanng, CEO of digital supply chain platform Tradeshift, said he was blown away by the capabilities displayed by ChatGPT, even after years of exposure to Silicon Valley hype.
He’s also used the platform to write emails and claims no one has noticed the difference. He even had it perform some accounting work, a service for which Tradeshift currently employs an expensive professional services firm.
To date, ChatGPT has mostly been treated as a curiosity and a harbinger of what’s to come. It relies on OpenAI’s GPT-3.5 language model, which is already out of date; the more advanced GPT-4 version is in the works and could be released this year.
Critics — of which there are many — are quick to point out that it makes mistakes, is painfully neutral and displays a clear lack of human empathy. One tech news publication, for example, was forced to issue several significant corrections for an article written by ChatGPT. And New York City public schools have banned students and teachers from using it.
Yet the software, or similar programs from competitors, could soon take the business world by storm.
Microsoft, an investor in OpenAI, announced this week that the company’s tools — including GPT-3.5, programming assistant Codex and image generator DALL-E 2 — are now generally available to business clients in a package called Azure OpenAI Service. ChatGPT is being added soon.
“I see these technologies acting as a copilot, helping people do more with less,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told an audience in Davos this week.
Maggioncalda has a similar perspective. He wants to integrate generative AI into Coursera’s offering this year, seeing an opportunity to make learning more interactive for students who don’t have access to in-person classroom instruction or one-on-one time with subject matter experts.
He acknowledges challenges such as preventing cheating and ensuring accuracy need to be addressed. And he’s worried that increasing use of generative AI may not be wholly good for society — people may become less agile thinkers, for example, since the act of writing can be helpful to process complex ideas and hone takeaways.
Still, he sees the need to move quickly.
“Anybody who doesn’t use this will shortly be at a severe disadvantage. Like, shortly. Like, very soon,” Maggioncalda said. “I’m just thinking about my cognitive ability with this tool. Versus before, it’s a lot higher, and my efficiency and productivity is way higher.”