It’s coming. Generative AI will change the nature of how we interact with all software, and given how many brands have significant software components in how they interact with customers, generative AI will drive and distinguish how more brands compete.
In our last HBR piece, “Customer Experience in the Age of AI,” we discussed how the use of one’s customer information is already differentiating branded experiences. Now with generative AI, personalization will go even further, tailoring all aspects of digital interaction to how the customer wants it to flow, not how product designers envision cramming in more menus and features. And then as the software follows the customer, it will go to places that range beyond the tight boundaries of a brand’s product. It will need to offer solutions to things the customer wants to do. Solve the full package of what someone needs, and help them through their full journey to get there, even if it means linking to outside partners, rethinking the definition of one’s offerings, and developing the underlying data and tech architecture to connect everything involved in the solution.
Generative AI can “generate” text, speech, images, music, video, and especially code. When that capability is joined with a feed of someone’s own information, used to tailor the when, what, and how of an interaction, then the ease by which someone can get things done, and the broadening accessibility of software, goes up dramatically. The simple input question box that stands at the center of Google and now, of most generative AI systems, such as in ChatGPT and DALL-E 2, will power more systems. Say goodbye to drop down menus in software, and the inherently guided restrictions they place on how you use them. Instead, you’ll just see: “What do you want to do today?” And when you tell it what you want to do, it will likely offer some suggestions, drawing upon its knowledge of what you did last time, what triggers the systems knows about your current context, and what you’ve already stored in the system as your core goals, such as “save for a trip,” “remodel our kitchen,” “manage meal plans for my family of five with special dietary needs,” etc.
Without the boundaries of a conventional software interface, consumers will just want to get done what they need, not caring whether the brand behind the software has limitations. The change in how we interact, and what we expect, will be dramatic, and dramatically more democratizing.
So much of the hype on generative AI has focused on its ability to generate text, images, and sounds, but it also can create code to automate actions, and to facilitate pulling in external and internal data. By generating code in response to a command, it facilitates the short cut for a user that takes them from a command to an action that simply just gets done. No more working through all of the menus in the software. Even questions into and analyses of the data stored in an application will be easily done just by asking: “Who are the contacts I have not called in the last 90 days?” or “When is the next time I am scheduled to be in NYC with an opening for dinner?” To answer these questions now, we have to go into an application and gather data (possibly manually) from outside of the application itself. Now, the query can be recognized, code created, possibilities ranked, and the best answer generated. In milliseconds.
This drastically simplifies how we interact with what we think of as today’s applications. It also enables more brands to build applications as part of their value proposition. “Given the weather, traffic, and who I am with, give me a tourist itinerary for the afternoon, with an ongoing guide, and the ability to just buy any tickets in advance to skip any lines.” “Here’s my budget, here’s five pictures of my current bathroom, here’s what I want from it, now give me a renovation design, a complete plan for doing it, and the ability to put it out for bid.” Who will create these capabilities? Powerful tech companies? Brands who already have relationships in their relevant categories? New, focused disruptors? The game is just starting, but the needed capabilities and business philosophies are already taking shape.
A Broader Journey with Broader Boundaries
In a world where generative AI, and all of the other evolving AI systems proliferate, building one’s own offering requires focusing on the broadest possible view of one’s pool of data, of the journeys you can enable, and the risks they raise:
Bring data together.
Solving for a customer’s complete need will require pulling from information across your company, and likely beyond your boundaries. One of the biggest challenges for most applications, and actually for most IT departments, is bringing data together from disparate systems. Many AI systems can write the code needed to understand the schemas of two different databases, and integrate them into one repository, which can save several steps in standardizing data schema. AI teams still need to dedicate time for data cleansing and data governance (arguably even more so), for example, aligning on the right definitions of key data features. However, with AI capabilities in hand, the next steps in the process to bring all the data together become easier.
Narrative AI, for example, offers a marketplace for buying and selling data, along with data collaboration software that allows companies to import data from anywhere into their own repositories, aligned to their schema, with merely a click. Data from across a company, from partners, or from sellers of data, can be integrated and then used for modeling in a flash.
Combining one’s own proprietary data with public data, data from other available AI tools, and from many external parties can serve to dramatically improve the AI’s ability to understand one’s context, predict what is being asked, and have a broader pool from which to execute a command.
The old rule around “garbage in, garbage out” still applies, however. Especially when it comes to integrating third-party data, it is important to cross-check the accuracy with internal data before integrating it into the underlying data set. For example, one fashion brand recently found that gender data purchased from a third-party source didn’t match its internal data 50% of the time, so the source and reliability really matters.
The “rules layer” becomes even more critical.
Without obvious restrictions on what a customer can ask for in an input box, the AI needs to have guidelines that ensure it responds appropriately to things beyond its means or that are inappropriate. This amplifies the need for a sharp focus on the rules layer, where the experience designers, marketers and business decision makers set the target parameters for the AI to optimize.
For example, for an airline brand that leveraged AI to decide on the “next best conversation” to engage in with customers, we set rules around what products could be marketed to which customers, what copy could be used in which jurisdictions, and rules around anti-repetition to ensure customers didn’t get bombarded with irrelevant messages.
These constraints become even more critical in the era of generative AI. As pioneers of these solutions are finding, customers will be quick to point out when the machine “breaks” and produces non-sensical solutions. The best approaches will therefore start small, will be tailored to specific solutions where the rules can be tightly defined and human decision makers will be able to design rules for edge cases.
Deliver the end to end journey, and the specific use cases involved.
Customers will just ask for what they need, and will seek the simplest and/or most cost-effective way to get it done. What is the true end goal of the customer? How far can you get? With the ability to move information more easily across parties, you can build partnerships for data and for execution of the actions to help a customer through their journey, therefore, your ecosystem of business relationships will differentiate your brand.
In his impressive demo of how Hubspot is incorporating generative AI into “ChatSpot,” Dharmesh Shah, CTO and founder of Hubspot, lays out how they are mingling the capabilities of HubSpot with OpenAI, and with other tools. Not only does he show Hubspot’s interface reduced to just a single text entry prompt, but he also shows new capabilities that extend well beyond Hubspot’s current borders. A salesperson seeking to send an email to a business leader at a target company can use ChatSpot to perform research on the company, on the target business leader, and then draft an email that incorporates both information from the research and from what it knows about the salesperson themselves. The resulting email draft can then be edited, sent, and tracked by HubSpot’s system, and the target business leader automatically entered into a contact database with all associated information.
The power of connected information, automatic code creation, and generated output is leading many other companies to extend their borders, not as conventional “vertical,” or “horizontal” expansion, but as “journey expansion.” When you can offer “services” based on a simple user command, those commands will reflect the customer’s true goal and the total solution they seek, not just a small component that you may have been dealing with before.
Differentiate via your ecosystem.
Solving for those broader needs inevitably will pull you into new kinds of partner relationships. As you build out your end-to-end journey capabilities, how you construct those business relationships will be critical new bases for strategy. How trustworthy, how well permissioned, how timely, how comprehensive, how biased is their data. How will they use data your brand sends out? What is the basis of your relationship, quality control, and data integration? Pre-negotiated privileged partnerships? A simple vendor relationship? How are you charging for the broader service and how will the parties involved get their cut?
Similar to how search brands like Google, ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon, and recommendation engines such as Trip Advisor become gateways for sellers, more brands can become front-end navigators for a customer journey if they can offer quality partners, experience personalization, and simplicity. CVS could become a full health network coordinator that health providers, health tech, wellness services, pharma, and other support services will plug into. When its app can let you simply ask: “How can you help me lose 30 pounds,” or “How can you help me deal with my increasing arthritis,” the end-to-end program they can generate and then completely manage, through prompts to you and information passed around their network, will be a critical differentiator in how they, as a brand, build loyalty, capture your data, and use that to keep increasing service quality.
Prioritize safety, fairness, privacy, security, and transparency.
The way you manage data becomes part of your brand, and the outcomes for your customers will have edge cases and bias risks that you should seek out and mitigate. We are all reading stories of how people are pushing Generative AI systems, such as ChatGPT, to extremes, and getting back what the application’s developers call “hallucinations,” or bizarre responses. We are also seeing responses that come back as solid assertions of wrong facts. Or responses that are derived from biased bases of data that can lead to dangerous outcomes for some populations. Companies are also getting “outed” for sharing private customer information with other parties, without customer permissions, clearly not for the benefit of their customers per se.
The risks — from the core data, to the management of data, to the nature of the output of the generative AI — will simply keep multiplying. Some companies, such as American Express, have created new positions for chief customer protection officers, whose role is to stay ahead of potential risk scenarios, but more importantly, to build safeguards into how product managers are developing and managing the systems. Risk committees on corporate boards are already bringing in new experts and expanding their purviews, but more action has to happen pre-emptively. Testing data pools for bias, understanding where data came from and its copyright/accuracy/privacy risks, managing explicit customer permissions, limiting where information can go, and constantly testing the application for edge cases where customers could push it to extremes, are all critical processes to build into one’s core product management discipline, and into the questions that top management routinely has to ask. Boards will expect to see dashboards on these kinds of activities, and other external watchdogs, including lawyers representing legal challenges, will demand them as well.
Is it worth it? The risks will constantly multiply, and the costs of creating structures to manage those risks will be real. We’ve only begun to figure out how to manage bias, accuracy, copyright, privacy, and manipulated ranking risks at scale. The opacity of the systems often makes it impossible to explain how an outcome happened if some kind of audit is necessary.
But nonetheless, the capabilities of generative AI are not only available, they are the fastest growing class of applications ever. The accuracy will improve as the pool of tapped data increases, and as parallel AI systems as well as “humans in the loop” work to find and remedy those nasty “hallucinations.”.
The potential for simplicity, personalization, and democratization of access to new and existing applications will pull in not only hundreds of start-ups, but will also tempt many established brands into creating new AI-forward offerings. If they can do more than just amuse, and actually take a customer through more of the requirements of their journey than ever before, and do so in a way that inspires trust, brands could open up new sources of revenue from the services they can enable beyond their currently narrow borders. For the right use cases, speed and personalization could possibly be worth a price premium. But more likely, the automation abilities of AI will pull costs out of the overall system and put pressure on all participants to manage efficiently, and compete accordingly.
We are now opening up a new dialogue between brands and their customers. Literally. Not like the esoteric descriptions of what happened in the earlier days of digital interaction. Now we are talking back and forth. Getting things done. Together. Simply. In a trustworthy fashion. Just how the customer wants it. The race is on to see which brands can deliver.
How to Train Generative AI Using Your Company’s Data
Many companies are experimenting with ChatGPT and other large language or image models. They have generally found them to be astounding in terms of their ability to express complex ideas in articulate language. However, most users realize that these systems are primarily trained on internet-based information and can’t respond to prompts or questions regarding proprietary content or knowledge.
Leveraging a company’s propriety knowledge is critical to its ability to compete and innovate, especially in today’s volatile environment. Organizational Innovation is fueled through effective and agile creation, management, application, recombination, and deployment of knowledge assets and know-how. However, knowledge within organizations is typically generated and captured across various sources and forms, including individual minds, processes, policies, reports, operational transactions, discussion boards, and online chats and meetings. As such, a company’s comprehensive knowledge is often unaccounted for and difficult to organize and deploy where needed in an effective or efficient way.
Emerging technologies in the form of large language and image generative AI models offer new opportunities for knowledge management, thereby enhancing company performance, learning, and innovation capabilities. For example, in a study conducted in a Fortune 500 provider of business process software, a generative AI-based system for customer support led to increased productivity of customer support agents and improved retention, while leading to higher positive feedback on the part of customers. The system also expedited the learning and skill development of novice agents.
Like that company, a growing number of organizations are attempting to leverage the language processing skills and general reasoning abilities of large language models (LLMs) to capture and provide broad internal (or customer) access to their own intellectual capital. They are using it for such purposes as informing their customer-facing employees on company policy and product/service recommendations, solving customer service problems, or capturing employees’ knowledge before they depart the organization.
These objectives were also present during the heyday of the “knowledge management” movement in the 1990s and early 2000s, but most companies found the technology of the time inadequate for the task. Today, however, generative AI is rekindling the possibility of capturing and disseminating important knowledge throughout an organization and beyond its walls. As one manager using generative AI for this purpose put it, “I feel like a jetpack just came into my life.” Despite current advances, some of the same factors that made knowledge management difficult in the past are still present.
The Technology for Generative AI-Based Knowledge Management
The technology to incorporate an organization’s specific domain knowledge into an LLM is evolving rapidly. At the moment there are three primary approaches to incorporating proprietary content into a generative model.
Training an LLM from Scratch
One approach is to create and train one’s own domain-specific model from scratch. That’s not a common approach, since it requires a massive amount of high-quality data to train a large language model, and most companies simply don’t have it. It also requires access to considerable computing power and well-trained data science talent.
One company that has employed this approach is Bloomberg, which recently announced that it had created BloombergGPT for finance-specific content and a natural-language interface with its data terminal. Bloomberg has over 40 years’ worth of financial data, news, and documents, which it combined with a large volume of text from financial filings and internet data. In total, Bloomberg’s data scientists employed 700 tokens, or about 350 billion words, 50 billion parameters, and 1.3 million hours of graphics processing unit time. Few companies have those resources available.
Fine-Tuning an Existing LLM
A second approach is to “fine-tune” train an existing LLM to add specific domain content to a system that is already trained on general knowledge and language-based interaction. This approach involves adjusting some parameters of a base model, and typically requires substantially less data — usually only hundreds or thousands of documents, rather than millions or billions — and less computing time than creating a new model from scratch.
Google, for example, used fine-tune training on its Med-PaLM2 (second version) model for medical knowledge. The research project started with Google’s general PaLM2 LLM and retrained it on carefully curated medical knowledge from a variety of public medical datasets. The model was able to answer 85% of U.S. medical licensing exam questions — almost 20% better than the first version of the system. Despite this rapid progress, when tested on such criteria as scientific factuality, precision, medical consensus, reasoning, bias and harm, and evaluated by human experts from multiple countries, the development team felt that the system still needed substantial improvement before being adopted for clinical practice.
The fine-tuning approach has some constraints, however. Although requiring much less computing power and time than training an LLM, it can still be expensive to train, which was not a problem for Google but would be for many other companies. It requires considerable data science expertise; the scientific paper for the Google project, for example, had 31 co-authors. Some data scientists argue that it is best suited not to adding new content, but rather to adding new content formats and styles (such as chat or writing like William Shakespeare). Additionally, some LLM vendors (for example, OpenAI) do not allow fine-tuning on their latest LLMs, such as GPT-4.
Prompt-tuning an Existing LLM
Perhaps the most common approach to customizing the content of an LLM for non-cloud vendor companies is to tune it through prompts. With this approach, the original model is kept frozen, and is modified through prompts in the context window that contain domain-specific knowledge. After prompt tuning, the model can answer questions related to that knowledge. This approach is the most computationally efficient of the three, and it does not require a vast amount of data to be trained on a new content domain.
Morgan Stanley, for example, used prompt tuning to train OpenAI’s GPT-4 model using a carefully curated set of 100,000 documents with important investing, general business, and investment process knowledge. The goal was to provide the company’s financial advisors with accurate and easily accessible knowledge on key issues they encounter in their roles advising clients. The prompt-trained system is operated in a private cloud that is only accessible to Morgan Stanley employees.
While this is perhaps the easiest of the three approaches for an organization to adopt, it is not without technical challenges. When using unstructured data like text as input to an LLM, the data is likely to be too large with too many important attributes to enter it directly in the context window for the LLM. The alternative is to create vector embeddings — arrays of numeric values produced from the text by another pre-trained machine learning model (Morgan Stanley uses one from OpenAI called Ada). The vector embeddings are a more compact representation of this data which preserves contextual relationships in the text. When a user enters a prompt into the system, a similarity algorithm determines which vectors should be submitted to the GPT-4 model. Although several vendors are offering tools to make this process of prompt tuning easier, it is still complex enough that most companies adopting the approach would need to have substantial data science talent.
However, this approach does not need to be very time-consuming or expensive if the needed content is already present. The investment research company Morningstar, for example, used prompt tuning and vector embeddings for its Mo research tool built on generative AI. It incorporates more than 10,000 pieces of Morningstar research. After only a month or so of work on its system, Morningstar opened Mo usage to their financial advisors and independent investor customers. It even attached Mo to a digital avatar that could speak out its answers. This technical approach is not expensive; in its first month in use, Mo answered 25,000 questions at an average cost of $.002 per question for a total cost of $3,000.
Content Curation and Governance
As with traditional knowledge management in which documents were loaded into discussion databases like Microsoft Sharepoint, with generative AI, content needs to be high-quality before customizing LLMs in any fashion. In some cases, as with the Google Med-PaLM2 system, there are widely available databases of medical knowledge that have already been curated. Otherwise, a company needs to rely on human curation to ensure that knowledge content is accurate, timely, and not duplicated. Morgan Stanley, for example, has a group of 20 or so knowledge managers in the Philippines who are constantly scoring documents along multiple criteria; these determine the suitability for incorporation into the GPT-4 system. Most companies that do not have well-curated content will find it challenging to do so for just this purpose.
Morgan Stanley has also found that it is much easier to maintain high quality knowledge if content authors are aware of how to create effective documents. They are required to take two courses, one on the document management tool, and a second on how to write and tag these documents. This is a component of the company’s approach to content governance approach — a systematic method for capturing and managing important digital content.
At Morningstar, content creators are being taught what type of content works well with the Mo system and what does not. They submit their content into a content management system and it goes directly into the vector database that supplies the OpenAI model.
Quality Assurance and Evaluation
An important aspect of managing generative AI content is ensuring quality. Generative AI is widely known to “hallucinate” on occasion, confidently stating facts that are incorrect or nonexistent. Errors of this type can be problematic for businesses but could be deadly in healthcare applications. The good news is that companies who have tuned their LLMs on domain-specific information have found that hallucinations are less of a problem than out-of-the-box LLMs, at least if there are no extended dialogues or non-business prompts.
Companies adopting these approaches to generative AI knowledge management should develop an evaluation strategy. For example, for BloombergGPT, which is intended for answering financial and investing questions, the system was evaluated on public dataset financial tasks, named entity recognition, sentiment analysis ability, and a set of reasoning and general natural language processing tasks. The Google Med-PaLM2 system, eventually oriented to answering patient and physician medical questions, had a much more extensive evaluation strategy, reflecting the criticality of accuracy and safety in the medical domain.
Life or death isn’t an issue at Morgan Stanley, but producing highly accurate responses to financial and investing questions is important to the firm, its clients, and its regulators. The answers provided by the system were carefully evaluated by human reviewers before it was released to any users. Then it was piloted for several months by 300 financial advisors. As its primary approach to ongoing evaluation, Morgan Stanley has a set of 400 “golden questions” to which the correct answers are known. Every time any change is made to the system, employees test it with the golden questions to see if there has been any “regression,” or less accurate answers.
Legal and Governance Issues
Legal and governance issues associated with LLM deployments are complex and evolving, leading to risk factors involving intellectual property, data privacy and security, bias and ethics, and false/inaccurate output. Currently, the legal status of LLM outputs is still unclear. Since LLMs don’t produce exact replicas of any of the text used to train the model, many legal observers feel that “fair use” provisions of copyright law will apply to them, although this hasn’t been tested in the courts (and not all countries have such provisions in their copyright laws). In any case, it is a good idea for any company making extensive use of generative AI for managing knowledge (or most other purposes for that matter) to have legal representatives involved in the creation and governance process for tuned LLMs. At Morningstar, for example, the company’s attorneys helped create a series of “pre-prompts” that tell the generative AI system what types of questions it should answer and those it should politely avoid.
User prompts into publicly-available LLMs are used to train future versions of the system, so some companies (Samsung, for example) have feared propagation of confidential and private information and banned LLM use by employees. However, most companies’ efforts to tune LLMs with domain-specific content are performed on private instances of the models that are not accessible to public users, so this should not be a problem. In addition, some generative AI systems such as ChatGPT allow users to turn off the collection of chat histories, which can address confidentiality issues even on public systems.
In order to address confidentiality and privacy concerns, some vendors are providing advanced and improved safety and security features for LLMs including erasing user prompts, restricting certain topics, and preventing source code and propriety data inputs into publicly accessible LLMs. Furthermore, vendors of enterprise software systems are incorporating a “Trust Layer” in their products and services. Salesforce, for example, incorporated its Einstein GPT feature into its AI Cloud suite to address the “AI Trust Gap” between companies who desire to quickly deploy LLM capabilities and the aforementioned risks that these systems pose in business environments.
Shaping User Behavior
Ease of use, broad public availability, and useful answers that span various knowledge domains have led to rapid and somewhat unguided and organic adoption of generative AI-based knowledge management by employees. For example, a recent survey indicated that more than a third of surveyed employees used generative AI in their jobs, but 68% of respondents didn’t inform their supervisors that they were using the tool. To realize opportunities and manage potential risks of generative AI applications to knowledge management, companies need to develop a culture of transparency and accountability that would make generative AI-based knowledge management systems successful.
In addition to implementation of policies and guidelines, users need to understand how to safely and effectively incorporate generative AI capabilities into their tasks to enhance performance and productivity. Generative AI capabilities, including awareness of context and history, generating new content by aggregating or combining knowledge from various sources, and data-driven predictions, can provide powerful support for knowledge work. Generative AI-based knowledge management systems can automate information-intensive search processes (legal case research, for example) as well as high-volume and low-complexity cognitive tasks such as answering routine customer emails. This approach increases efficiency of employees, freeing them to put more effort into the complex decision-making and problem-solving aspects of their jobs.
Some specific behaviors that might be desirable to inculcate — either though training or policies — include:
- Knowledge of what types of content are available through the system;
- How to create effective prompts;
- What types of prompts and dialogues are allowed, and which ones are not;
- How to request additional knowledge content to be added to the system;
- How to use the system’s responses in dealing with customers and partners;
- How to create new content in a useful and effective manner.
Both Morgan Stanley and Morningstar trained content creators in particular on how best to create and tag content, and what types of content are well-suited to generative AI usage.
“Everything Is Moving Very Fast”
One of the executives we interviewed said, “I can tell you what things are like today. But everything is moving very fast in this area.” New LLMs and new approaches to tuning their content are announced daily, as are new products from vendors with specific content or task foci. Any company that commits to embedding its own knowledge into a generative AI system should be prepared to revise its approach to the issue frequently over the next several years.
While there are many challenging issues involved in building and using generative AI systems trained on a company’s own knowledge content, we’re confident that the overall benefit to the company is worth the effort to address these challenges. The long-term vision of enabling any employee — and customers as well — to easily access important knowledge within and outside of a company to enhance productivity and innovation is a powerful draw. Generative AI appears to be the technology that is finally making it possible.
13 Principles for Using AI Responsibly
The competitive nature of AI development poses a dilemma for organizations, as prioritizing speed may lead to neglecting ethical guidelines, bias detection, and safety measures. Known and emerging concerns associated with AI in the workplace include the spread of misinformation, copyright and intellectual property concerns, cybersecurity, data privacy, as well as navigating rapid and ambiguous regulations. To mitigate these risks, we propose thirteen principles for responsible AI at work.
Love it or loath it, the rapid expansion of AI will not slow down anytime soon. But AI blunders can quickly damage a brand’s reputation — just ask Microsoft’s first chatbot, Tay. In the tech race, all leaders fear being left behind if they slow down while others don’t. It’s a high-stakes situation where cooperation seems risky, and defection tempting. This “prisoner’s dilemma” (as it’s called in game theory) poses risks to responsible AI practices. Leaders, prioritizing speed to market, are driving the current AI arms race in which major corporate players are rushing products and potentially short-changing critical considerations like ethical guidelines, bias detection, and safety measures. For instance, major tech corporations are laying off their AI ethics teams precisely at a time when responsible actions are needed most.
It’s also important to recognize that the AI arms race extends beyond the developers of large language models (LLMs) such as OpenAI, Google, and Meta. It encompasses many companies utilizing LLMs to support their own custom applications. In the world of professional services, for example, PwC announced it is deploying AI chatbots for 4,000 of their lawyers, distributed across 100 countries. These AI-powered assistants will “help lawyers with contract analysis, regulatory compliance work, due diligence, and other legal advisory and consulting services.” PwC’s management is also considering expanding these AI chatbots into their tax practice. In total, the consulting giant plans to pour $1 billion into “generative AI” — a powerful new tool capable of delivering game-changing boosts to performance.
In a similar vein, KPMG launched its own AI-powered assistant, dubbed KymChat, which will help employees rapidly find internal experts across the entire organization, wrap them around incoming opportunities, and automatically generate proposals based on the match between project requirements and available talent. Their AI assistant “will better enable cross-team collaboration and help those new to the firm with a more seamless and efficient people-navigation experience.”
Slack is also incorporating generative AI into the development of Slack GPT, an AI assistant designed to help employees work smarter not harder. The platform incorporates a range of AI capabilities, such as conversation summaries and writing assistance, to enhance user productivity.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Soon hundreds of millions of Microsoft 365 users will have access to Business Chat, an agent that joins the user in their work, striving to make sense of their Microsoft 365 data. Employees can prompt the assistant to do everything from developing status report summaries based on meeting transcripts and email communication to identifying flaws in strategy and coming up with solutions.
This rapid deployment of AI agents is why Arvind Krishna, CEO of IBM, recently wrote that, “[p]eople working together with trusted A.I. will have a transformative effect on our economy and society … It’s time we embrace that partnership — and prepare our workforces for everything A.I. has to offer.” Simply put, organizations are experiencing exponential growth in the installation of AI-powered tools and firms that don’t adapt risk getting left behind.
AI Risks at Work
Unfortunately, remaining competitive also introduces significant risk for both employees and employers. For example, a 2022 UNESCO publication on “the effects of AI on the working lives of women” reports that AI in the recruitment process, for example, is excluding women from upward moves. One study the report cites that included 21 experiments consisting of over 60,000 targeted job advertisements found that “setting the user’s gender to ‘Female’ resulted in fewer instances of ads related to high-paying jobs than for users selecting ‘Male’ as their gender.” And even though this AI bias in recruitment and hiring is well-known, it’s not going away anytime soon. As the UNESCO report goes on to say, “A 2021 study showed evidence of job advertisements skewed by gender on Facebook even when the advertisers wanted a gender-balanced audience.” It’s often a matter of biased data which will continue to infect AI tools and threaten key workforce factors such as diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Discriminatory employment practices may be only one of a cocktail of legal risks that generative AI exposes organizations to. For example, OpenAI is facing its first defamation lawsuit as a result of allegations that ChatGPT produced harmful misinformation. Specifically, the system produced a summary of a real court case which included fabricated accusations of embezzlement against a radio host in Georgia. This highlights the negative impact on organizations for creating and sharing AI generated information. It underscores concerns about LLMs fabricating false and libelous content, resulting in reputational damage, loss of credibility, diminished customer trust, and serious legal repercussions.
In addition to concerns related to libel, there are risks associated with copyright and intellectual property infringements. Several high-profile legal cases have emerged where the developers of generative AI tools have been sued for the alleged improper use of licensed content. The presence of copyright and intellectual property infringements, coupled with the legal implications of such violations, poses significant risks for organizations utilizing generative AI products. Organizations can improperly use licensed content through generative AI by unknowingly engaging in activities such as plagiarism, unauthorized adaptations, commercial use without licensing, and misusing Creative Commons or open-source content, exposing themselves to potential legal consequences.
The large-scale deployment of AI also magnifies the risks of cyberattacks. The fear amongst cybersecurity experts is that generative AI could be used to identify and exploit vulnerabilities within business information systems, given the ability of LLMs to automate coding and bug detection, which could be used by malicious actors to break through security barriers. There’s also the fear of employees accidentally sharing sensitive data with third-party AI providers. A notable instance involves Samsung staff unintentionally leaking trade secrets through ChatGPT while using the LLM to review source code. Due to their failure to opt out of data sharing, confidential information was inadvertently provided to OpenAI. And even though Samsung and others are taking steps to restrict the use of third-party AI tools on company-owned devices, there’s still the concern that employees can leak information through the use of such systems on personal devices.
On top of these risks, businesses will soon have to navigate nascent, varied, and somewhat murky regulations. Anyone hiring in New York City, for instance, will have to ensure their AI-powered recruitment and hiring tech doesn’t violate the City’s “automated employment decision tool” law. To comply with the new law, employers will need to take various steps such as conducting third-party bias audits of their hiring tools and publicly disclosing the findings. AI regulation is also scaling up nationally with the Biden-Harris administration’s “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights” and internationally with the EU’s AI Act, which will mark a new era of regulation for employers.
This growing nebulous of evolving regulations and pitfalls is why thought leaders such as Gartner are strongly suggesting that businesses “proceed but don’t over pivot” and that they “create a task force reporting to the CIO and CEO” to plan a roadmap for a safe AI transformation that mitigates various legal, reputational, and workforce risks. Leaders dealing with this AI dilemma have important decision to make. On the one hand, there is a pressing competitive pressure to fully embrace AI. However, on the other hand, a growing concern is arising as the implementation of irresponsible AI can result in severe penalties, substantial damage to reputation, and significant operational setbacks. The concern is that in their quest to stay ahead, leaders may unknowingly introduce potential time bombs into their organization, which are poised to cause major problems once AI solutions are deployed and regulations take effect.
For example, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) recently announced it was letting go of its hotline staff and replacing them with their new chatbot, Tessa. However, just days before making the transition, NEDA discovered that their system was promoting harmful advice such as encouraging people with eating disorders to restrict their calories and to lose one to two pounds per week. The World Bank spent $1 billion to develop and deploy an algorithmic system, called Takaful, to distribute financial assistance that Human Rights Watch now says ironically creates inequity. And two lawyers from New York are facing possible disciplinary action after using ChatGPT to draft a court filing that was found to have several references to previous cases that did not exist. These instances highlight the need for well-trained and well-supported employees at the center of this digital transformation. While AI can serve as a valuable assistant, it should not assume the leading position.
Principles for Responsible AI at Work
To help decision-makers avoid negative outcomes while also remaining competitive in the age of AI, we’ve devised several principles for a sustainable AI-powered workforce. The principles are a blend of ethical frameworks from institutions like the National Science Foundation as well as legal requirements related to employee monitoring and data privacy such as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the California Privacy Rights Act. The steps for ensuring responsible AI at work include:
- Informed Consent. Obtain voluntary and informed agreement from employees to participate in any AI-powered intervention after the employees are provided with all the relevant information about the initiative. This includes the program’s purpose, procedures, and potential risks and benefits.
- Aligned Interests. The goals, risks, and benefits for both the employer and employee are clearly articulated and aligned.
- Opt In & Easy Exits. Employees must opt into AI-powered programs without feeling forced or coerced, and they can easily withdraw from the program at any time without any negative consequences and without explanation.
- Conversational Transparency. When AI-based conversational agents are used, the agent should formally reveal any persuasive objectives the system aims to achieve through the dialogue with the employee.
- Debiased and Explainable AI. Explicitly outline the steps taken to remove, minimize, and mitigate bias in AI-powered employee interventions—especially for disadvantaged and vulnerable groups—and provide transparent explanations into how AI systems arrive at their decisions and actions.
- AI Training and Development. Provide continuous employee training and development to ensure the safe and responsible use of AI-powered tools.
- Health and Well-Being. Identify types of AI-induced stress, discomfort, or harm and articulate steps to minimize risks (e.g., how will the employer minimize stress caused by constant AI-powered monitoring of employee behavior).
- Data Collection. Identify what data will be collected, if data collection involves any invasive or intrusive procedures (e.g., the use of webcams in work-from-home situations), and what steps will be taken to minimize risk.
- Data. Disclose any intention to share personal data, with whom, and why.
- Privacy and Security. Articulate protocols for maintaining privacy, storing employee data securely, and what steps will be taken in the event of a privacy breach.
- Third Party Disclosure. Disclose all third parties used to provide and maintain AI assets, what the third party’s role is, and how the third party will ensure employee privacy.
- Communication. Inform employees about changes in data collection, data management, or data sharing as well as any changes in AI assets or third-party relationships.
- Laws and Regulations. Express ongoing commitment to comply with all laws and regulations related to employee data and the use of AI.
We encourage leaders to urgently adopt and develop this checklist in their organizations. By applying such principles, leaders can ensure rapid and responsible AI deployment.
3 Steps to Prepare Your Culture for AI
The platform shift to AI is well underway. And while it holds the promise of transforming work and giving organizations a competitive advantage, realizing those benefits isn’t possible without a culture that embraces curiosity, failure, and learning. Leaders are uniquely positioned to foster this culture within their organizations today in order to set their teams up for success in the future. When paired with the capabilities of AI, this kind of culture will unlock a better future of work for everyone.
As business leaders, today we find ourselves in a place that’s all too familiar: the unfamiliar. Just as we steered our teams through the shift to remote and flexible work, we’re now on the verge of another seismic shift: AI. And like the shift to flexible work, priming an organization to embrace AI will hinge first and foremost on culture.
The pace and volume of work has increased exponentially, and we’re all struggling under the weight of it. Leaders and employees are eager for AI to lift the burden. That’s the key takeaway from our 2023 Work Trend Index, which surveyed 31,000 people across 31 countries and analyzed trillions of aggregated productivity signals in Microsoft 365, along with labor market trends on LinkedIn.
Nearly two-thirds of employees surveyed told us they don’t have enough time or energy to do their job. The cause of this drain is something we identified in the report as digital debt: the influx of data, emails, and chats has outpaced our ability to keep up. Employees today spend nearly 60% of their time communicating, leaving only 40% of their time for creating and innovating. In a world where creativity is the new productivity, digital debt isn’t just an inconvenience — it’s a liability.
AI promises to address that liability by allowing employees to focus on the most meaningful work. Increasing productivity, streamlining repetitive tasks, and increasing employee well-being are the top three things leaders want from AI, according to our research. Notably, amid fears that AI will replace jobs, reducing headcount was last on the list.
Becoming an AI-powered organization will require us to work in entirely new ways. As leaders, there are three steps we can take today to get our cultures ready for an AI-powered future:
Choose curiosity over fear
AI marks a new interaction model between humans and computers. Until now, the way we’ve interacted with computers has been similar to how we interact with a calculator: We ask a question or give directions, and the computer provides an answer. But with AI, the computer will be more like a copilot. We’ll need to develop a new kind of chemistry together, learning when and how to ask questions and about the importance of fact-checking responses.
Fear is a natural reaction to change, so it’s understandable for employees to feel some uncertainty about what AI will mean for their work. Our research found that while 49% of employees are concerned AI will replace their jobs, the promise of AI outweighs the threat: 70% of employees are more than willing to delegate to AI to lighten their workloads.
We’re rarely served by operating from a place of fear. By fostering a culture of curiosity, we can empower our people to understand how AI works, including its capabilities and its shortcomings. This understanding starts with firsthand experience. Encourage employees to put curiosity into action by experimenting (safely and securely) with new AI tools, such as AI-powered search, intelligent writing assistance, or smart calendaring, to name just a few. Since every role and function will have different ways to use and benefit from AI, challenge them to rethink how AI could improve or transform processes as they get familiar with the tools. From there, employees can begin to unlock new ways of working.
AI will change nearly every job, and nearly every work pattern can benefit from some degree of AI augmentation or automation. As leaders, now is the time to encourage our teams to bring creativity to reimagining work, adopting a test-and-learn strategy to find ways AI can best help meet the needs of the business.
AI won’t get it right every time, but even when it’s wrong, it’s usefully wrong. It moves you at least one step forward from a blank slate, so you can jump right into the critical thinking work of reviewing, editing, or augmenting. It will take time to learn these new patterns of work and identify which processes need to change and how. But if we create a culture where experimentation and learning are viewed as a prerequisite to progress, we’ll get there much faster.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to create the right environment for failure so that our people are empowered to experiment to uncover how AI can fit into their workflows. In my experience, that includes celebrating wins as well as sharing lessons learned in order to help keep each other from wasting time learning the same lesson twice. Both formally and informally, carve out space for people to share knowledge — for example, by crowdsourcing a prompt guidebook within your department or making AI tips a standing agenda item in your monthly all-staff meetings. Operating with agility will be a foundational tenet of AI-powered organizations.
Become a learn-it-all
I often hear concerns that AI will be a crutch, offering shortcuts and workarounds that ultimately diminish innovation and engagement. In my mind, the potential for AI is so much bigger than that, and it will become a competitive advantage for those who use it thoughtfully. Those will become your most engaged and innovative employees.
The value you get from AI is only as good as what you put in. Simple questions will result in simple answers. But sophisticated, thought-provoking questions will result in more complex analysis and bigger ideas. The value will shift from employees who have all the right answers to employees who know how to ask the right questions. Organizations of the future will place a premium on analytical thinkers and problem-solvers who can effectively reason over AI-generated content.
At Microsoft, we believe a learn-it-all mentality will get us much farther than a know-it-all one. And while the learning curve of using AI can be daunting, it’s a muscle that has to be built over time — and that we should start strengthening today. When I talk to leaders about how to achieve this across their companies and teams, I tell them three things:
- Establish guardrails to help people experiment safely and responsibly. Which tools do you encourage employees to use, and what data is — and isn’t — appropriate to input. What guidelines do they need to follow around fact-checking, reviewing, and editing?
- Learning to work with AI will need to be a continuous process, not a one-time training. Infuse learning opportunities into your rhythm of business and keep employees up to date with the latest resources. For example, one team might block off Friday afternoons for learning, while another has monthly “office hours” for AI Q&A and troubleshooting. And think beyond traditional courses or resources. How can peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, such as lunch and learns or a digital hotline, play a role so people can learn from each other?
- Embrace the need for change management. Being intentional and programmatic will be crucial for successfully adopting AI. Identify goals and metrics for success, and select AI champions or pilot program leads to help bring the vision to life. Different functions and disciplines will have different needs and challenges when it comes to AI, but one shared need will be for structure and support as we all transition to a new way of working.
The platform shift to AI is well underway. And while it holds the promise of transforming work and giving organizations a competitive advantage, realizing those benefits isn’t possible without a culture that embraces curiosity, failure, and learning. As leaders, we’re uniquely positioned to foster this culture within our organizations today in order to set our teams up for success in the future. When paired with the capabilities of AI, this kind of culture will unlock a better future of work for everyone.