The tech industry appears to be in the doldrums, plagued by widespread layoffs at big tech companies and a sluggish economy, but that mood of doom was not apparent at a meeting of tech and investors in San Francisco on Tuesday.
Instead, there was an overarching sense of optimism.
They were there to discuss the latest trend catching the attention of the tech world: generative artificial intelligence. The technology is known to the wider world through ChatGPT, which has captured the imagination with its ability to generate creative text via written prompts.
Generative AI is a collective term for programs that use artificial intelligence to create new material from complex queries, such as “
While AI more generally refers to software programs that can improve themselves by “learning” from new data and have been used behind the scenes in all types of software for years, generative AI is a new, consumer-oriented twist on the concept.
About 1,000 people from around the world, including AI researchers and content marketers, attended Tuesday’s Gen AI Conference organized by startup Jasper. It was a lavish affair, taking place at Pier 27 on the Embarcadero overlooking San Francisco Bay.
Attendees enjoyed free farm-to-table lunches and bonbon bouche deli items, and drank their coffee from mugs, not the disposable cups that are typical of most tech events. In the Art Experience room, guests could focus on the computer-generated images that covered the walls, depicting scenes of colorful cityscapes and abstract, shifting shapes.
“To me, it feels like cracking in a way that Web3 felt in 2021,” said Ken Walton, vice president of growth at Azra Games, which embraces blockchain technologies and is backed by Andreessen Horowitz.
“There’s a sense of wide open possibility,” he told CNBC.
Rising interest rates and the resulting cryptocurrency collapse in 2022 hit the tech industry as venture capital-backed titans like FTX and BlockFi imploded and many digital coins plummeted in value.
The mood in Silicon Valley and the surrounding San Francisco Bay Area was depressed.
Then came ChatGPT, out Microsoft-supported startup OpenAI. The underlying AI software that powers ChatGPT, a type of machine learning technology known as the “Large Language Model,” isn’t new. But the chat program’s easy-to-use interface meant the masses could now play with cutting-edge software previously reserved for AI researchers and techies.
Suddenly the tech sector seemed exciting again. The venture capital community poured $1.4 billion into startups specializing in the tech last year, amplifying the rhetoric.
As Sameer Dholakia of Bessemer Venture Partners told the audience, generative AI “could transform the lives of billions of people.”
Conference organizer Jasper raised $125 million in October from investors including Bessemer, Coatue and IVP. Jasper integrates technologies from OpenAI and others into its software, which among other things creates advertising copy for marketers.
But the field of generative AI is so new that startups are still trying to discover viable business use cases and figure out how to monetize it. As language models like OpenAI’s GPT family of software have gotten much better at producing human-readable text, investors believe that content marketing is an easy sell.
conference participants Arshavir Blackwell, a machine learning expert and director at Arvoinen Consulting, told CNBC that he’s interested in using generative AI technologies like ChatGPT to create more compelling Facebook ads for clients as part of his consulting business. Blackwell said he believes copywriting software has improved so much that it may be possible for advertisers to create copy that resonates with users in ways they never imagined.
Blackwell credits OpenAI and ChatGPT with showing people what’s possible with generative AI and putting the spotlight on the industry at large.
“They weren’t afraid to take risks,” Blackwell said, noting that the AI startup kept releasing new iterations of the software despite its penchant for generating inaccurate information and occasionally making offensive comments.
At the same time, advances in computer technology, particularly the development of a type of computer chip known as a GPU, have facilitated the development of machine learning software that allows these programs to create more realistic text and images.
“The bottleneck was data processing,” Blackwell said.
Still, he notes that training these massive AI technologies “costs about $5 million.” For now, startups like OpenAI and Stability AI, which have developed a popular open-source image generation tool, depend on large investors to provide them with the money to develop their tools.
During a conference session, Dario Amodei, the CEO of AI startup Anthropic, told the audience that companies are becoming more comfortable spending big bucks on AI because they see the software getting more powerful every day.
Up until a year ago, Amodei said “you could only justify a few million dollars for AI projects.” “People are spending $100 million now,” he said.
Still, generative AI software can prove unwieldy, especially when users force it to perform tasks it wasn’t designed to do. For example, Microsoft’s recently released experimental chat tool for its Bing search engine generated bizarre and sometimes disturbing conversations based on certain prompts.
“The model sometimes attempts to respond or reflect in the tone in which it is asked for answers, which may result in a style that we did not intend,” Microsoft said in a blog post addressing the debacle.
It’s part of the mystery of developing and using Generative AI.
“I’ve never seen technology produced as such, where on the one hand you put in all this data, you have thousands of GPUs, it costs $10 million, maybe $100 million to train, and once you do it has trained, you don’t necessarily know everything it can do,” Amodei told attendees.
As Jai Das, a president and partner at Sapphire Ventures, noted on Twitter, “Generative AI is an interesting alternative for content creation, but let’s face it, the content is very boring and generic.”
“Basically it’s just a tool,” he added in another tweet.
But for a day in San Francisco, generative AI was more than just a tool. It was the next leap forward in computer technology.
“We know we’re in one of those moments,” Dholakia told attendees. “This is, as we’ve seen with previous generations, a technological leap forward – like cloud computing, like mobile, like the internet – that is fundamentally changing the way we work.”
As tech enthusiasts and investors debate its importance, we can delight in the results, such as: B. ChatGPT’s effort to write a Robert Frost-style poem about monkeys:
In the woods where trees stand tall and grand,
A gang of monkeys roams the land
With nimble hands and playful eyes,
They chatter, jump and swing on vines.
In the midst of the green they find their fun,
In a world where joy never ends
Where every tree is a new playground
And every fruit is a prize to pursue.
Like mischievous goblins they flit and dance,
With a joy that seems to take a risk
And in her playful, wild devotion,
You seem to be laughing at the demands of life.
But there is wisdom in her eyes
A knowing gleam that underlies
Their antics, pranks and playful ways,
A lifestyle that lasts for days.
So let’s learn fairly from these creatures
And let our hearts fly
With playful spirits, like wild monkeys,
In a world that is happy, free and mild.
Regard: Charlie Munger weighs in on ChatGPT3.