A.I. tools like ChatGPT are exploding on the internet—and one VC believes companies could be using it in every department someday

A.I. tools like ChatGPT are exploding on the internet—and one VC believes companies could be using it in every department someday

These days my Twitter feed is dominated by two things: a host of A.I.-generated images of the people I follow, courtesy of Lensa.ai, and screenshots of elaborate answers produced by the new, buzzy A.I. chatbot, ChatGPT, born out of research startup OpenAI. While it’s all good fun to marvel at how thoughtful and eerily humanlike the answers to various prompts plugged into ChatGPT are, such tools have massive potential to transform the way companies operate, one venture capital investor told me over coffee last week.

Brian Ascher, a partner at storied VC firm Venrock, told me he thinks “every department” of a company “eventually could be using it.” As an investor, Ascher focuses on A.I./ML (artificial intelligence and machine learning), among other things, and has already made bets on several A.I. companies, like 6sense, which focuses on A.I. for revenue teams, and Socrates.ai, which caters to HR. 

While there’s been plenty of ink spilled on whether ChatGPT could become the next Google or at least pose a threat to the search engine, what is less hypothetical is that ChatGPT is already being used by one of Ascher’s portfolio companies, 6sense, for salespeople to automate emails to prospects, he told me.  

The “big opportunity” for A.I. broadly, Ascher argues, “is to take an application like Salesforce, which is wonderful, and everyone needs it, but it’s a lot of work. It’s no secret that salespeople complain about it because they have to enter the data,” Ascher says. “When all that becomes more automated, and you just get the value out of the software with a lot less work as the input, then it’s a game changer.” Practically, it’s “looking for patterns in huge data sets, incorporating learning loops to improve over time. There are already a bunch of companies trying to monitor sales calls, email communications, and Zoom sessions to pull out the salient points for input” into Salesforce, he notes. “A.I. definitely does the heavy lifting of distilling a long exchange into the most relevant phrases and data points.”

Apart from sales, Ascher argues ChatGPT and similar generative A.I. tech could overhaul the often wonky and old-fashioned HR department or even parts of IT. He argues employee handbooks are “a disaster” and are missing information (for example, requiring booster vaccine shots). “An A.I. could be the interface, similar to when you’re on a shopping site, and they say, ‘Can I help you?’” It could answer those questions like how to reset a password or when you’re eligible for a new laptop, he notes. “All these things are just barriers to employees being supported so they can do their day job, and we should automate as much of that as possible,” argues Ascher. He even goes so far as to say “There is a virtually endless number of use cases for generative A.I.”

Given all the buzz, it’s no surprise OpenAI appears to be a hot commodity in the VC space. Ascher told me ChatGPT is a big topic in his A.I. circles (“people were blown away,” he says). Meanwhile, the startup OpenAI, which previously was a non-profit whose founders include Elon Musk and ex-Y Combinator Sam Altman, and became a capped-profit entity in 2019, is reportedly in talks to raise more funding. Microsoft plowed $1 billion into the company three years ago.

Whether or not ChatGPT is destined to become the next Google or automate a big portion of salespeople’s tasks, one thing’s for sure: The tech is still new. When I asked Ascher whether we are “there yet” in terms of this tech being able to fill in those HR and customer relations functions seamlessly, he said it’s “close enough,” or about 80% of the way. What’s more, as Fortune and other publications have noted, ChatGPT still occasionally spews incorrect or misguided answers, which could be harmful to a company’s brand and to consumers. 

“We do have to worry about A.I. going too far,” says Ascher, but “as far as putting it into consumer internet and B2B [business-to-business] internet applications, I don’t think that’s the worry.” 

See you tomorrow,

Anne Sraders
Twitter: @AnneSraders
Email: anne.sraders@fortune.com
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