AI’s Breakout Year?

ChatGPT by OpenAI displayed on a smartphone

What was that? Obviously, that was 2023, which is now conveniently receding in the rearview.

A more focused and analytical answer would be that we just witnessed a turning point in our tech lives called the pivot to AI.

Or did we?

For sure, 2023 will go down as the year that ChatGPT and other large language model generative AI tools hit the ground running, which put most CRM vendors in a full sprint to catch the newest wave. It also put some of us into a tizzy about the future of human life. To that, I say, whoa, horsey!

I have no doubts that AI will become hugely important in the years ahead, but I am also highly skeptical that the future will manifest in 2024. The reason is simple: claiming a territory and settling it are two very different things.

It shows my age somewhat, but I will say it anyhow. Where we are today reminds me of the original PC revolution, the rise of SaaS and then cloud computing, or how social media first rose to prominence and has more recently been consuming itself. Each follows a similar but different capitalist path.

Echoes of the Past

PCs overwhelmed mini-computers and mainframes, eventually displacing them. That’s one kind of capitalist path. But PCs needed software, networking, and ultimately servers — and that took more than a decade.

SaaS was a straight-up new invention, and early on, it had as many flavors as Ben and Jerry. But one by one, they crashed and burned, except for the Salesforce model. By 2005, I didn’t think Salesforce had any real competition, but it took another decade before the San Francisco company convinced the world of its capabilities, especially its security proficiency.

By then, SaaS was called cloud computing, and it loomed as a completely new tree in the forest, shading out other models. Today, it has replaced other models of software delivery. What’s different about PCs and cloud computing is that one is a durable good while the other is a genuine service. I can’t remember a service taking primacy like that.

Social has been a disappointment in reverse. We all trumpeted social’s potential and its early wins but then lost touch with it while it grew its more sinister side. Most social companies made money in the first decade of the century; they were wildly popular, too. They were the world’s soapbox where anyone with an idea could bloviate and perhaps catch on.

Then you know what happened. Outside forces corrupted social, and some of the biggest players couldn’t restrain themselves from wanting more, more, more. User lists were compromised, money changed hands quite legally, and suddenly, social media became the most powerful drug on the planet, turning otherwise reasonable people into zombies.

AI’s Uncharted Territory

It’s too early to say what path AI is going to take. Will it take our jobs? Will it simply take over? Or will it settle into the background like hardware? It’s too early to tell — though from what I have seen, the vendors have come a long way very fast by using AI’s generative power to make more AI. But the biggest hurdle for AI, as with all new introductions, is likely to be user adoption.

It seems the AI infrastructure rollout will look something like what happened to the PC in the 1990s. I doubt it will have the virality of social. The rollout will be aided by AI, but there is still much work to be done. But also, the human factor is an absolute wild card.

Over the summer, Hollywood actors dug their heels in and forced the entertainment industry to come to grips with the idea that AI will not equal free lunch for the studios. I expect more confrontations between workers and capital over AI’s deployment.

Then there are the unknown unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld liked to say, the black swans. What black swans will we encounter with AI? Will business workers push back? What about higher education? Both students and educators will have things to say.

AI’s Journey, Beyond the Hype

What I feel I can say with confidence is that 2024 isn’t going to be AI’s breakout year. There’s too much to do, too many people to convince, and at least one good crash to make us realize that the AI tree isn’t about to grow to the moon. Think about the bust.

In 2024, AI will pepper our language with interesting ideas and suppositions, and it will have some successes; it might have some IPOs. But as I said at the beginning, there is a significant difference between claiming territory and settling it. At this point in its rollout, regular people, you and I, can have a disproportionate influence on AI’s evolution.

We blew it with social media with a too Pollyannaish fascination and belief that we were witnessing something big and cool that could only do good. The stakes are higher now with AI, and we have been somewhat numbed by the last major model changes — all the more reason to remain watchful in the year ahead.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry analyst, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. Email Denis.

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