Remember Amara’s Law When Thinking About Generative AI

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The outpouring of enthusiasm for ChatGPT, and the flurry of recent AI-related product announcements from tech companies indicate that generative artificial intelligence will soon play a much larger role in marketing.

But the specific path forward for generative AI in marketing isn’t clear. So, how should marketing leaders be thinking about – and, more importantly, what should they be doing about – generative AI over the next 6-12 months? Here’s one principle to keep in mind.

November 30, 2022 is likely to be remembered as a date on which marketing was profoundly changed.

That’s when OpenAI released ChatGPT to the public. Within five days, it acquired more than one million registered users, according to Greg Brockman, President & Co-Founder of OpenAI. Analysts have estimated that it reached 100 million monthly active users in January of this year.

Most of you already know that ChatGPT is a generative artificial intelligence application. To use ChatGPT, you enter a prompt in natural language, and it will generate a response to your prompt. The kicker is, the response composed by ChatGPT reads as though it was written by a human being.

The explosion of interest in ChatGPT has ignited an arms race among technology companies to develop and roll out new or enhanced applications featuring generative AI capabilities. Product announcements from tech industry heavyweights, including Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, Adobe, and Hubspot, have been coming at a rapid pace for the past several weeks.

The reaction of the marketing community to ChatGPT has also been quite dramatic. There are already dozens, if not hundreds, of articles, blog posts, videos, and other materials describing the potential implications of ChatGPT and other generative AI tools for marketing and marketers.

There’s little doubt that the appearance of generative AI applications like ChatGPT is a pivotal moment for marketing. But, there are still many unanswered questions about how the use of generative AI in marketing will evolve and how quickly the evolution will occur.

So, the most important issue facing marketing leaders today is:  How should we be thinking about – and what should we be doing about – generative AI over the next 6 to 12 months? To address this issue, marketing leaders need to think about generative AI in the context of Amara’s Law.

Remember Amara’s Law

Amara’s Law is an adage named for Roy Charles Amara, an American scientist and futurist. The law states:  We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Some marketing pundits have already made extravagant claims about how generative AI technologies will transform marketing. Some of these claims will probably turn out to be accurate, but generative AI is unlikely to have a transformational impact on the real-world practice of marketing in most companies over the next year or so.

The story over the long term is quite different. I’ve been experimenting with ChatGPT and Bard (Google’s generative AI chatbot) for the past several weeks, and I’ve been amazed by their capabilities. 

As I noted earlier, established tech companies like Microsoft and Google, are making substantial investments in generative AI. Equally important, venture capital firms have been actively funding generative AI start-up companies.

According to PitchBook (a research firm and publisher that covers venture capital and private equity), between 2018 and 2022, natural language interfaces like ChatGPT captured about 29% of VC-backed deals and about 24% of the total dollars invested in the generative AI space. PitchBook estimates that the market for generative AI applications will reach $42.6 billion this year.

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen argued that the first generation of a disruptive technology often has substantial flaws and limited capabilities. The technology then undergoes successive improvement cycles that reduce or eliminate its flaws and add to or expand its capabilities. Generative AI is likely to follow this path, especially given the huge investments being made in the space.

The bottom line here is that advances in generative AI capabilities are likely to come at a breakneck pace over the next few years. The generative AI tools available today aren’t likely to immediately transform how marketers produce most content and otherwise perform marketing activities, but the tools that will become available over the next couple of years are very likely to be transformative. It’s a classic example of Amara’s Law at work.

Therefore, generative AI is a capability that marketing leaders should begin to focus on now. They should designate a member of their team to closely monitor developments in the generative AI space. Given the pace of development, that won’t be a trivial task. Equally important, marketing leaders should also selectively invest in generative AI tools and begin experimenting with those tools to determine whether and/or how they can be used in “live” marketing activities and workflows. 

To paraphrase Amara’s Law, we are probably overestimating the short-term impact of generative AI on marketing, but we are almost certainly underestimating its impact in the slightly longer term. So, the time to begin evaluating generative AI in marketing is already here.

Top image courtesy of deepak pal via Flickr.com (CC).



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