An Optimistic Look at ChatGPT

MEM adjunct professors Mike Watson and Yuri Balasanov talked about the potential of artificial intelligence and its ability to leverage large language models.

Michael Watson has spent his career focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and the supply chain, yet he has never been as excited about a potential technology as he was when he first learned about ChatGPT. 

The natural large language model chatbot launched in late 2022 and brought the topic of AI into mainstream society more than ever before. With news stories about ChatGPT passing law and business school exams and fears about it replacing human workers, it seemed everyone had an opinion about the technology.  

Bill Gates said ChatGPT marked the beginning of the age of AI and called its developmentI "as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone." Gates wrote that AI will reorient entire industries and that "businesses will distinguish themselves by how well they use it." 

It's that potential that excites Watson.   

"I've been in this space a long time, and I've never seen a technology take off like this," Watson said. "It looks like this is going to change the whole landscape of how people do business." 

Watson discussed ChatGPT and its business potential with students from Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program. Watson, an adjunct professor in MEM, was joined by adjunct professor Yuri Balasanov in the discussion, which focused on different frameworks to view ChatGPT and its potential applications. 

During the talk, Walk provided examples of different startup opportunities he considered that would leverage ChatGPT. He also walked students through how they could apply lessons learned in MEM to formulate business ideas of their own.   

While Watson is enthusiastic about ChatGPT and its potential, he said he understood why people might be pessimistic about it and similar AI technologies that leverage large language models. The reason he is more optimistic about it as opposed to other innovative technologies like self-driving cars or NFTs is because people are already finding ways to benefit from it.  

In addition, the technology does not need to be able to solve everything to be useful, he said, unlike self-driving cars, which can not be expected to become commonplace until an array of different variables are addressed.  

"Why are we optimistic?" Watson asked. "People are already using ChatGPT and getting value." 

Despite the optimism, Watson acknowledged the technology is not perfect. There have been concerns about ChatGPT making up answers to questions and demonstrating biases in its responses.  

Balasanov agreed, and made a point to clarify what ChatGPT is — and more importantly, what it isn't.   

"It is not an expert at anything," Balasanov said. "It's a great translator. It's a language model that only predicts the next word if you give the first several words. It is just a smooth talker." 

What makes ChatGPT different from a search engine, Balasanov said, is its ability to understand ambiguity. People speak in ambiguities, he said, and businesses face problems of ambiguity on a daily basis.   

"The role of ChatGPT is not to tell us something or teach us something," he said. "Its ability to understand our ambiguity and translate it into specific language, that's what's key." 

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