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Leadership Thoughts - Tech Value Degradation - Could it Happen to Large Language Models?

Updated: May 18, 2023

In the early days of the internet, new platforms and services sprung up, providing unprecedented value to users. Search engines, social media platforms, and e-commerce sites offered novel experiences, enhancing convenience, connectivity, and access to information. However, as these tech services matured and sought sustainable business models, many users began to notice a decline in quality, a phenomenon some might call the "degradation" of the value of tech. A pertinent question that arises is whether this could happen to newer technologies, specifically Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT.

In the beginning!

LLMs, such as ChatGPT, offer significant value to users, with their advanced ability to understand context, generate human-like text, and facilitate a wide range of tasks, from content creation to customer service. Users have been drawn to these models for their potential to revolutionize many aspects of work and daily life.

Let's make some money: Shift to Monetization and Potential Quality Decline

Despite the initial value proposition, any tech service's sustainability depends on successful monetization. Common strategies include introducing advertisements, offering premium subscriptions, and selling anonymized usage data. However, in a bid to increase revenue, services often risk sacrificing user experience. A chatbot application, for instance, may start inserting ads into conversations or pushing for paid features, which could lead to a perceived decline in service quality.

A more significant concern is if monetization strategies influence the responses that an LLM generates. Much like how sponsored products on Amazon get prioritized in search results, an LLM could theoretically be programmed to favor certain products, services, or companies in its responses. Do you remember the last time you searched for a specific product on Amazon and it gave you the *best* result? More likely, you got a host of other lesser desired results that were the prioritized because of some kind of promotion. This could just as easily happen to a LLM result and risk of damaging user trust.

Profit > User Experience

Striking the right balance between profitability and user experience is a challenge that all tech services face. Lean too far toward profit, and user experience suffers, potentially leading to a loss of users and damaging the service's reputation. In the case of LLMs, if users perceive that the AI's responses are biased due to financial incentives, it could lead to a significant loss of trust in the system. That said - in a near monopolistic market - the customer may not have much choice in finding better alternatives.

Competition, Alternatives, and User Advocacy

User dissatisfaction often leads to the rise of competition. As with other tech services, if users become dissatisfied with a chatbot application, they may seek alternatives. This could either be a different application using the same LLM but providing a better user experience, or a completely different AI model.

User advocacy also plays a critical role. Users and advocacy groups can push for more transparent and ethical practices in the development and use of these applications. Public pressure can often lead to change, ensuring that tech services stay aligned with user needs and ethical considerations.

Regulation? Don't get your hopes up

Regulation is another significant factor. As AI technology advances, it's essential that regulatory frameworks keep pace. That said - the risk that regulation does more harm than good is high - or that the scope of regulation does little to solve the problem.

Eyes Wide Open

The "degradation" of tech serves as a cautionary tale for the AI industry. As Large Language Models continue to evolve and find their place in our digital ecosystem, it's essential to prioritize user trust, transparency, and ethical considerations alongside business interests. Monetization, while necessary for the sustainability of any tech service, should not compromise the integrity and quality of the service offered. It's crucial to remember that the true value of these models lies in their ability to provide unbiased, reliable, and useful responses. Preserving this while navigating the path to profitability is the challenge that stands before the developers and users of these powerful tools. In doing so, we can hope to avoid the pitfalls of "degradation" and instead witness the continued growth and enhancement of this transformative technology.

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