Earlier this year, Mark Austin, the vice president of data science at AT&T, noticed that some of the company’s developers had started using the ChatGPT chat room at work. When the developers got stuck, they asked ChatGPT to clarify, fix or improve their code.

It seemed to be a game changer, Mr. Austin said. But since ChatGPT is a publicly available tool, he wondered if it was safe for businesses to use.

So in January, AT&T tested a Microsoft product called Azure OpenAI Services, which lets businesses build their own AI-powered chatbots. AT&T used it to create a proprietary AI assistant, Ask AT&T, that helps its developers automate their coding process. AT&T’s customer service representatives also started using the chat to help summarize their calls, among other tasks.

“Once they realize what it can do, they love it,” Mr. Austin said. Forms that once took hours to complete took just two minutes with Ask AT&T, so employees could focus on more complicated tasks, he said, and developers who used the chat increased their productivity by 20 to 50 percent.

AT&T is one of many companies looking to find ways to harness the power of generative artificial intelligence, the technology that powers chatbots and has gripped Silicon Valley with excitement in recent months. Generative AI can produce its own text, photos and videos in response to prompts, capabilities that can help automate tasks like taking meetings and cutting down on paperwork.

To meet this new demand, technology companies are racing to introduce products for businesses that include generative AI. Over the past three months, Amazon, Box and Cisco have unveiled plans for generative AI-powered products that generate code, analyze documents and summarize meetings. Salesforce also recently launched generative AI products used in sales, marketing and its Slack messaging service, while Oracle announced a new AI feature for human resources teams.

These companies are also investing more in AI development. In May, Oracle and Salesforce Ventures, the venture capital arm of Salesforce, invested in Cohere, a Toronto startup focused on generative AI for business use. Oracle also resells Cohere’s technology.

“I think this is a complete breakthrough in enterprise software,” Box chief Aaron Levie said of generative AI. He called it “this incredibly exciting opportunity where, for the first time, you can actually understand what’s inside. your data in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

Many of these tech companies are following Microsoft, which invested $13 billion in OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT. In January, Microsoft made Azure OpenAI Service available to customers, who can then access OpenAI’s technology to build their own versions of ChatGPT. In May, the service had 4,500 customers, said John Montgomery, a Microsoft corporate vice president.

For the most part, technology companies are now developing four types of generative AI products for businesses: functions and services that generate code for software engineers, create new content such as sales emails and product descriptions for marketing teams, search for company data to answer an employee. questions, and summarize meeting notes and long documents.

“It’s going to be a tool that people use to accomplish what they’re already doing,” said Bern Elliot, vice president and analyst at the IT research and consulting firm Gartner.

But using generative AI in workplaces has risks. Chatbots can produce errors and misinformation, provide inappropriate responses and leak data. AI remains largely unregulated.

In response to these problems, technology companies have taken a number of steps. To prevent data leakage and improve security, some have created generative AI products so that they do not store company data and instruct the AI ​​models to answer only questions based on the data source.

When Salesforce last month introduced AI Cloud, a service with nine generative AI-powered products for businesses, the company included a “trust layer” to help obfuscate sensitive corporate information and promised that what users typed into these products would not be used to retrain the company information. underlying AI model.

Similarly, Oracle said that customer data will be stored in a secure environment while training its AI model and added that it will not be able to view the information.

Salesforce offers AI Cloud starting at $360,000 annually, with the cost rising depending on the amount of usage. Microsoft charges for Azure OpenAI Service based on the version of OpenAI technology a customer chooses, as well as the amount of usage.

Currently, generative AI is used primarily in workplace scenarios that carry low risks — rather than highly regulated industries — with a human in the loop, said Beena Ammanath, the executive director of the Deloitte AI Institute, a research center for the consulting firm. A recent Gartner survey of 43 companies found that more than half of respondents do not have an internal policy on generative AI

“It’s not just about being able to use these new tools effectively, it’s also about preparing your workforce for the new types of work that might evolve,” Ms Ammanath said. “There will be new skills needed.”

Panasonic Connect, part of the Japanese electronics company Panasonic, started using Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service to make its own chatbot in February. Today, its employees ask the chat room 5,000 questions a day about everything from drafting emails to writing code.

While Panasonic Connect expected its engineers to be the main users of the chat, other departments — such as legal, accounting and quality assurance — also turned to it to help summarize legal documents, brainstorm solutions to improve product quality and other tasks, Judah said. Reynolds, Panasonic Connect’s marketing and communications chief

“Everyone started using it in ways we didn’t even foresee ourselves,” he said. “So people are really taking advantage of it.”

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