These days my Twitter feed is dominated by two things: a myriad of AI-generated images of the people I follow, courtesy of Lensa.aiand screenshots of elaborate responses produced by the new, lively AI chatbot, ChatGPT, born from the research startup OpenAI. While it’s a lot of fun to marvel at how thoughtful and eerily human the responses to the various tips connected to ChatGPT are, such tools have enormous potential to transform the way businesses operate, a venture capital investor told me last week in front at a cafe.
Brian Ascher, a partner at longtime VC firm Venrock, told me he thinks “every department” of a company “could eventually use it.” As an investor, Ascher focuses on AI/ML (artificial intelligence and machine learning), among other things, and has already bet on several AI companies, such as 6sense, which focuses on AI for revenue teams , and Socrates.ai, which caters to human resources.
While there has been a lot of ink spilled about whether ChatGPT could do this become the next Google or at least pose a threat for the search engine, what’s less hypothetical is that ChatGPT is already being used by one of Ascher’s portfolio companies, 6sense, for salespeople to automate emails to prospects, he told me.
The “big opportunity” for AI in general, says Ascher, “is to take an application like Salesforce, which is wonderful, and everyone needs it, but it’s a lot of work. It’s no secret that salespeople complain about having to enter data,” says Ascher. “When that becomes more automated and you get the value out of the software with a lot less work as input, then that’s a game changer.” In essence, he is “searching for patterns in huge data sets, incorporating learning cycles to improve over time. There are already a handful of companies looking to monitor sales calls, email communications and Zoom sessions to extract highlights for input “in Salesforce, he observes. “AI definitely does the heavy lifting of distilling a long exchange into the most relevant sentences and data points.”
Aside from sales, Ascher argues that ChatGPT and similar generative AI technology could overhaul the often flaky and antiquated HR department or even parts of IT. He says employee handbooks are “a mess” and lack information (for example, requiring booster shots). “An AI could be the interface, similar to when you’re on a shopping site and they say, ‘Can I help you?'” It could answer questions like how to reset a password or when you’re eligible for a new laptop, he notes . “All of these things are just barriers to supporting employees so they can do their day-to-day work, and we should automate as much of that as possible,” Ascher says. He even goes so far as to say “There are a virtually infinite number of use cases for Generative AI”
Given all the hype, it’s no surprise that OpenAI appears to be a flagship product in the VC space. Ascher told me that ChatGPT is a hot topic in his AI circles (“people were blown away,” he says). Meanwhile, startup OpenAI, which was formerly a non-profit whose founders include Elon Musk and former Y Combinator Sam Altman, and became a limited-for-profit entity in 2019, is reportedly in talks to raise more funds. Microsoft plowed $1 billion in the company three years ago.
Whether or not ChatGPT is set to become the next Google or automate much of the tasks of sellers, one thing is certain: the technology is still new. When I asked Ascher if we’re “still there” in terms of this technology’s ability to fill HR and customer relationship functions smoothly, he said it’s “close enough” or about 80 percent of the path. Also, how Fortune and other publications have noted, ChatGPT still vomits occasionally incorrect or misleading responses, which could be harmful to a company’s brand and consumers.
“We have to worry about AI going too far,” says Ascher, but “as far as consumer internet and B2B are concerned [business-to-business] Internet applications, I don’t think that’s the concern.
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