The trajectory of "AI" features

I've been working for bay area style SaaS providers for a bit over a decade now, which means I've seen some product cycles come and go. Something struck me today that I want to share, and it relates to watching product decisions get made and adjusting to market pressures.

All the AI-branded features being pushed out by everyone that isn't ChatGPT, Google, or Microsoft all depend on one of the models from those three companies. That, or they're rebranding existing machine learning features as "AI" to catch the marketing moment. Even so, all the features getting pushed out come from the same base capabilities of ChatGPT style large language models:

  • Give it a prompt, it generates text.

Okay, that's the only capability. But this one capability is driving things like:

  • Rewriting your thing to be grammatical for you!
  • Rewriting your thing to be more concise!
  • Suggesting paragraphs for your monthly newsletter!
  • Answering general knowledge questions!

That's about it. We've had about half a year of time to react to ChatGPT and start generating products based on that foundation, and the above is what we're seeing. A lot of these are one to three engineering teams worth of effort over the course of a few months, with a month or three of internal and external testing. These are the basic features of LLM-based machine learning, also known right now as AI.

We don't yet know what features we'll have in two years. "Suggest text from a prompt" went from hot new toy to absolute commodity table-stakes in 8 months, I've never seen it before. Maybe we've fully explored what these models are capable of, but we sure haven't explored the regulatory impacts yet.

The regulatory impacts are the largest risk to these tools. We've already seen news stories of lawyers using these tools to write briefs with fictional citations, and efforts to create deep fake stories "by" prolific authors. The European Union is already considering regulation to require "cite your sources", which GPT isn't great at. Neither are GPT-based models good about the Right To Be Forgotten enshrined in EU law by GDPR.

The true innovation we'll see in coming years will be in creating models that can comply with source-citing and enable targeted excludes. That's going to take years, and training those models is going to keep GPU makers in profit margins.