We know that the rate of change in the world is accelerating, but lately I was feeling like things were slowing down as COVID evolved from a global pandemic to an endemic disease.
COVID was a hideous tragedy for so many people (more than 1.1 million U.S. deaths according to the CDC) but one of its positives (if I may be permitted to look for silver linings) is that it accelerated countless technological and workforce trends.
Business video conferencing went from roughly 10 M people per day to over 500 M people per day (50x), considering just Zoom and MS Teams. Work from home (WFH) went from roughly 5% of U.S. workdays to roughly 20% of U.S. workdays (4x). Remote workers jumped from approximately 1-in-67 U.S. workers to roughly 1-in-7 (10x). Telemedicine … Curbside pickup … Home delivery …
All that said, during the year 2022 things seemed to me to be slowing down … until November 30th.
In my professional lifetime, I count just five things as technological quantum leaps. 1) Personal computers (my parents bought a TRS-80 Model II in early 1980), 2) Browsers (I first experienced Netscape Navigator in 1994), 3) Apple iPhones (I didn’t recognize the power at first but purchased one in late 2007 and have generally upgraded on Day 1 since then), 4) Tesla’s Full Self Drive software (which until recently seemed to be taking roughly one step backward for every step forward, although the recent releases seem to be doing better), and … ChatGPT. Yes, it’s that big a “new, new” thing.
You’ve probably heard of ChatGPT by now but here’s how to think of it. Imagine having a new friend who is a free, unbiased consultant with PhDs in Accounting, English, Computer Science, French Literature, Engineering, Law, Taxes, etc. You can ask them (it) anything!
For example, as a test I said, “I have an employee who is sexually harassing another employee. Based on our Employee Handbook, please draft a letter that I can send to the harassing employee. This is our policy.” Then I pasted in three pages of text copied from Section 5 of my handbook, the part covering the “Policy Against Workplace Harassment”. (Note: ChatGPT currently accepts up to 3,000 words of input. The next version will support up to 25,000 words of input.)
Maybe 10 seconds later, I had a fabulous two-page letter that cited the appropriate sections of the policy and had to make just two substitutions: Dear [Harassing Employee] at the beginning and [Your Name] at the end. ChatGPT had even extracted my company name correctly from the Employee Handbook. A task that might have taken hours before 11/30/22 was now completed in minutes.
Any content creation process (every job position has some of this and I’m especially thinking “software development”) and any research project is now easier, faster and, frankly, better. Here are some other things I’ve done, just to spur your imagination:
“What are the chief complaints about [competitors’ names here]?”
“Generate marketing copy for [product name here], a new product that [features and benefits here].” Yes, I’m working on a new software product, building a website that you’ll see later this year.
“What are the benefits of tagging files instead of filing hierarchically?” I’m getting help with my new product positioning from ChatGPT.
“How should my company, [name and/or website address here], be using AI this year?” Feel free to use acronyms fearlessly. ChatGPT knows that “AI” means Artificial Intelligence, “SMB” means Small and Medium Size Business, etc. After all, it’s “read” 175 billion Internet words and parameters.
“I’m filing my taxes, but my mom wants to claim me as a dependent on her return. How do I do this?” I was helping my niece who is a full-time college student still living at home and I had never encountered this situation myself. Yes, I could have “Googled” it and spent hours reading through convoluted, obtuse, opaque, arcane IRS publications. Instead, I had the specific answer in seconds. For those who are curious, see the checkbox on Form 1040 that says, “Someone can claim you as a dependent.” Who knew?
By the way, I was struggling with how to describe IRS publications in the previous paragraph and asked ChatGPT “What’s a good synonym for complex or unhelpful, as in IRS publications?” Of course: convoluted, obtuse, opaque, arcane, any one of which would have sufficed but they’re all so good that I couldn’t pick just one.
Whoops, I’m up against my word count limit for this column. So ChatGPT, “Please finish this column for me with a nice wrap-up.” [copy/paste everything above]. Here it is (unedited):
“While the world may have felt like it was slowing down, the emergence of ChatGPT has opened up new opportunities for faster, easier, and better content creation and research. With its ability to provide unbiased and accurate answers to a wide range of questions, ChatGPT is quickly becoming a game-changer for businesses and individuals alike. Its potential is vast, and its impact is already being felt across a variety of industries, making it one of the most exciting technological advancements of our time.”
I literally couldn’t have said it better myself!