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 Navigating the Jagged Frontier in AI
[AI Use Cases, 1-Person Companies, Experimentation]
Sharing an essay from our Evolving Internet Insights Newsletter unpacking how the best use cases will be discovered in AI.
(P.S. For the summary and further breakdown of this essay, follow me on Twitter)
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Note: Some sections of this essay were originally released on my Evolving Internet Insights newsletter.
One of the common questions we hear about ChatGPT and generative (gen) AI technologies is: what are they good for?
When people first discover these tools, there is often a magical “wow” moment that quickly subsides and transforms into mental fatigue, leaving new users wondering what else can these tools help them accomplish?
When new technologies come out, it is almost impossible to know what they will actually be useful for in the long-term. In the beginning, most of the use cases are skeuomorphic — using new technological tools in obvious ways (Check out our previous 🧠 Brainfood 9 issue where we cover AI’s skeuomorphic phase).
By definition, fundamental technologies enable a wide range of new paradigms and use cases, but it takes a while to discover what exactly they are. The only way to really uncover those use cases is to dive in, understand where user’s problems lie, and experiment with solutions.
Gen AI is one of those technologies that benefits from rapid experimentation.
The Jagged Frontier
Recently, researchers from leading universities collaborated with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) on a study that put ChatGPT’s usefulness to the test. In the study, they had consulting teams at BCG use ChatGPT in a variety of different ways. One of the findings from the working paper was how useful ChatGPT is depends on the specific use case. For example, when ChatGPT is asked to “summarize this body of text,” it does a decent job. But when we ask it to “count the number of words in this essay” it fumbles.
This begs the question: what are the right use cases for these technologies and how are they most helpful? The authors of the paper considered this dilemma to be along a Jagged Frontier.
One of the co-authors of the paper, Ethan Mollick, described the Jagged Frontier this way (in his blog):
“Imagine a fortress wall, with some towers and battlements jutting out into the countryside, while others fold back towards the center of the castle. That wall is the capability of AI, and the further from the center, the harder the task. Everything inside the wall can be done by the AI, everything outside is hard for the AI to do. The problem is that the wall is invisible, so some tasks that might logically seem to be the same distance away from the center, and therefore equally difficult – say, writing a sonnet and an exactly 50 word poem – are actually on different sides of the wall. The AI is great at the sonnet, but, because of how it conceptualizes the world in tokens [(basic units of text or code that an LLM AI uses to process and generate language)], rather than words, it consistently produces poems of more or less than 50 words. Similarly, some unexpected tasks (like idea generation) are easy for AIs while other tasks that seem to be easy for machines to do (like basic math) are challenges for LLMs.”
While AI is a powerful technology in principle, how we use it will reveal its value in practice. It is experimentation with the technology that will allow us to discover new use cases, and ultimately, guide founders and developers within this ecosystem to improve AI’s capabilities, making the frontier of this technology “less jagged.”
So what does this mean in terms of who will push the adoption of this technology forward?
Somewhat counterintuitively, the discovery of these use cases will not necessarily take place within corporations and traditional institutions. Large institutions are often laggards in technology adoption—in fact many companies have banned or limited their employee’s usage of ChatGPT. We believe the preeminent use cases will come from individual users using and experimenting with ChatGPT and other generative AI technologies.
Enabling “1-Person Companies”
Beyond just discovering new features or applications, by enabling more people to access tools to create with less (in every sense of the word) is where the real value is. AI tools allow people from all walks of life to develop and distribute their ideas and creations without the need for extensive technical knowledge or resources.
AI drastically lowers the cost of production—which removes barriers to participation and experimentation. With a lower cost of production, any individual that has a brilliant idea can test it with gen AI tools. Through trial and error (read: experimentation), they discover use cases that allow them to “punch above their weight,” scaling themselves and their businesses to inconceivable levels given their (lack of) traditional resources (e.g. headcount, funds, technical ability).
All of this catalyzes the “1-person company.” Imagine being a solo entrepreneur or a content creator. With AI, you might not need the resources of a large organization to achieve all of your business goals.
Smoothing Out the Jagged Frontier
So, what does the rise of 1-person companies tell us about the Jagged Frontier?
It suggests that enthusiasts, tinkerers, content creators, solo entrepreneurs, and small companies could actually be the ones who discover gen AI’s preeminent use cases out of necessity. Without the bureaucratic inertia that comes from large institutions, they can rapidly test, adapt, and find novel applications—perhaps even stumbling upon "killer use cases" that larger entities overlook.
As the Jagged Frontier of AI capabilities continues to expand through experimentation and discovery, the traditional architecture of companies is poised for a big shift. Over time, generative AI will eliminate much of the need for humans to carry out knowledge based work, allowing businesses to operate with fewer resources. This challenges the conventional wisdom that “bigger is better.”
In this new paradigm, small, agile operations that can pivot and adapt to rapid changes, empowered by AI, might hold the competitive edge.
The way we see it, it’s worth it to learn how to navigate the Jagged Frontier.
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This post is provided for educational and informational purposes only. Nothing written in this post should be taken as financial advice or advice of any kind. The author(s) may own some of the NFTs, art and/or collectibles mentioned in this post. The content of this post are the opinions of the authors and not representative of other parties.
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