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New chatbots are hitting the market; an ASU AI expert explains their differences

July 25, 2023

Move over, ChatGPT — you’ve got competition.

New artificial intelligence chatbots are being made available to the public, researchers and practitioners.

With Google, Meta and Microsoft releasing language models (and with a few minor ones out on the market), the AI space is heating up, and people are commoditizing it. AI will eventually make its way into daily use across a variety of goods and services.

Victor Benjamin, an assistant professor of information systems at the W. P. Carey School of Business, is an expert in the AI field.

Here’s what Benjamin had to say about the new models and how we use machine learning.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Man in glasses wearing jacket and shirt

Victor Benjamin

Question: How do these new models coming onto the market differ from ChatGPT?

Answer: Large language models have two key differences from one another: one, their computational architecture, and two, the data on which they learned.

Regarding computational architecture, we are talking about the math and logic driving the system. All our AI today is rooted in math, and we are finding new ways to push math forward into letting us create machines that can somewhat navigate aspects of the real world and help us do things. That’s all AI is. The math for AI often converges into a subset of techniques that receive most of the attention, and different teams working on AI may try out different tweaks or mathematical tricks to try and further improve their AI. So ChatGPT competitors may use similar math and computational architecture but still possess some differences and twists that produce unique outcomes.

Regarding the data on which AI trained, this is equally important as the math itself. You can have two identical computational architectures for AI but just trained on different data sets, and they will produce two very distinct AI outcomes. Right now, all these large language models rely on text sources from books, magazines, social media, newspapers and whatever they can get their hands on. The exact composition of these sources and how people pre-process them to be fed into AI training produces the second major difference between ChatGPT and its competitors.

To illustrate this, consider a naïve example of a new language model trained exclusively on articles about different sports games. This model would never have received any training regarding other topics, such as musical instruments, and would thus be unable to produce meaningful responses regarding those different topic areas. Likewise, different large language models will have distinct mixtures of input data that can impact their efficacy.

Q: What do those differences mean for the average person and within academia?

A: As more AI services become available, one can expect to receive slightly different outputs from each AI. These different outputs will not be exclusive to large language models; any AI service will have the two aforementioned components of a computational architecture and a large training data set to learn from. So if you are not happy with the results produced by the AI from one vendor, you can always try another.

Q: What is your take on using machine learning or services as a resource for college students?

A: One issue with these AI is that they do not possess ground truth about the real world. Large language models are not conscious of what they are outputting; to the computer, it is regurgitating numbers and statistical patterns. Large language models are just a form of advanced text autocomplete rather than a proper AI. ... (One) dangerous scenario would involve the AI completely misinforming students with inaccurate information, due to lack of ground truth, and the student will believe the misinformation.

I will, however, also speak to the positive potential here. These large language models can eventually be useful educational tools for students. They show promise of being personal tutors and can provide personalized attention for each user. Large language models and related AI could be excellent guides in self-learning environments, such as online courses. The technology will mature eventually, as will the policies regarding AI use.

Q: What’s AI’s impact on the future workforce? Can AI be used to create new industries and career opportunities?

A: AI will just be another tool that lets us do new things. We have a good problem here where AI can help us build new value propositions that have never been considered. We just need time to think about what those new avenues are. It won’t happen overnight, but eventually it will.

These value propositions will include both ways to augment the workforce in traditional roles and help create new career opportunities for the next generation of products and services that AI will enable. Some existing career paths may become obsolete, but AI will create others. It will come just like any other technological change; it just takes time for people to think it through.

Top photo courtesy iStock/Getty Images

Reporter , ASU News


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Professor has a passion for digital technology — and German hip-hop

July 25, 2023

New ASU hire Julian Lehmann says digital technology is rewriting the rules of business and society

Editor's note: New Faces on Campus is a new monthly feature by ASU News showcasing faculty members hired in the 2022–23 academic year.

Julian Lehmann hails from a musical family, has released an album of hip-hop music and has a band but is secretive about its name.

He says they aren’t very good, so he will keep his day job.

Lehmann is an assistant professor with the Department of Information Systems at the W. P. Carey School of Business. He is considered an expert in his field — he helps businesses and startup firms create strategic value from digital technology.

The German-born academic is a new face at Arizona State University, hired last fall.

He has two goals while at ASU: conduct impactful research that supports ASU’s position as a global leader in innovation, and mentor students who wish to become successful entrepreneurs.

ASU News recently spoke to Lehmann to ask about his background, his path to academia and why he’s tight-lipped about his music.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Can you tell us a bit about your background — where you’re from and how you ended up in academia?

Answer: I grew up in Germany and joined ASU in fall 2022. My path into academia was not straightforward. After high school, I had a strong desire to work but I also wanted to continue learning. This passion led me to enroll in a program where I could study information systems while working as a tech consultant at (professional services company) Accenture. My initial engagement involved working with a prominent telecommunications provider, which I found immensely fulfilling. However, my aspirations shifted toward strategy consulting, which required me to pursue a master's degree and, ideally, a doctorate. So I applied to several PhD programs and secured a scholarship for a PhD program at the University of Cologne, where I got my master’s degree. So I was really trying to set myself up for a career in strategy consulting.

Unexpectedly, during a research stay in Australia at the Queensland University of Technology, where I was writing my master's degree thesis, I worked with a remarkable advisor. This advisor later moved to the University of Cologne and became my PhD advisor, and together, we embarked on a captivating research project. Our focus was on hardware ventures, exploring their journey from prototype to final product despite significant resource constraints. This experience opened my eyes to the thrill of conducting research and deepened my passion for the field. That was an eye-opener, and I discovered that I loved doing research. At that moment, I decided to pursue an academic career and have never regretted it.

Q: What is your area of research or academic focus? What are you most excited about regarding your research?

A: My research focuses on the firms that create strategic value from digital technology. Specifically, I explore how firms can reconfigure, enhance and replace their market offerings through the effective use of digital technology. ... What truly captivates me about my research area is the persistent challenges firms face in adapting to digital technology. These challenges encompass how firms interact with their customers, the redesign of their product and service offerings, and the adjustments required to align with the digital landscape.

My goal is to develop novel explanations and theories that shed light on how firms can harness the full benefits of digital technology. Unraveling these complexities and providing insights into effective strategies for leveraging digital technology is at the heart of my research endeavors. Furthermore, researching digital technology allows me to be at the forefront of the transformative force of our time, enabling me to understand its profound impact.

Digital technology is rewriting the rules of business and society.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to study this field?

A: I always had an affinity for technology. I built my own PCs and also a 3D printer. However, I realized the magnitude of digital technology’s impact when the emergence of groundbreaking startups like Facebook, Instagram, Apple and Uber began to reshape our daily experiences and how it challenged conventional notions of value creation and organizing. I was fascinated by these developments and felt compelled to delve deeper into understanding the unique properties of digital technology, how it differs from previous technological advancements and why it holds such immense potential to shape our lives in profound ways.

The sheer scale and implications of digital technology fascinated me. I wanted to explore what made it so distinctive and how it had the power to disrupt established organizations and industries. Digital technology is rewriting the rules of business and society. This transformation motivated me to pursue an academic career focusing on digital innovation and entrepreneurship.

Q: How do you want to see this field advance for the betterment of society?

A: The past decade has witnessed a profound societal transformation driven by technology and, with the rise of AI, this transformation seems far from over. I firmly believe that digital technology holds great potential to address the grand challenges we face today. From agriculture to transportation and resource management, its impact is already evident. ... In agriculture, digital tools and precision farming techniques have revolutionized productivity and sustainability. Similarly, advancements in transportation, including autonomous vehicles and smart logistics, have improved efficiency and mobility.

Digital solutions have also played a critical role in resource management, optimizing energy usage and promoting conservation. Recognizing the transformative potential of digital technology, interdisciplinary collaboration and rigorous research are essential to drive progress. Of course, this also requires policymakers to set ground rules that define the appropriate use of digital technology. We can strive for a more sustainable and inclusive future by leveraging digital technology.

Q: What brought you to ASU, and what do you like about the university?

A: Before joining ASU, I worked as an assistant professor at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where I had the opportunity to collaborate with exciting startup firms. I chose to join ASU because of the tremendous opportunity it offers to researchers studying digital innovation, both within the university and in the surrounding Valley. The Valley is experiencing an influx of major companies like TSMC, Intel and LG, attracting smaller suppliers and paving the way for innovative startups to emerge. Additionally, Arizona faces unique environmental challenges related to water consumption, creating a need for a whole ecosystem of innovative solutions.

This combination of factors makes the environment incredibly dynamic and promising. Maricopa County will be the birthplace of impactful innovations and the home to many new startups. The collaborative spirit, ample resources and shared commitment to addressing environmental challenges make this an inspiring space for researchers and entrepreneurs alike. ASU breathes innovation, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

Q: What would you like to accomplish at your college/school/department?

A: My goal is to conduct impactful research that supports ASU's position as a global leader in innovation. This means immersing myself in and working with the local startup community, learning from their successes and gathering insights on effective innovation strategies and uses of digital technology. Of course, I aim to apply those learnings and engage with relevant communities within ASU. 

In addition, I am also passionate about supporting and mentoring students who dream of being entrepreneurs. Working closely with these aspiring innovators, I'll do my best to help them fine-tune their ideas, design prototypes and navigate the wild world of entrepreneurship. I want to foster an environment where creativity thrives and students feel empowered to turn their ideas into real-life ventures. ASU already has this amazing entrepreneurial vibe and a tremendous network of mentors. I will do my best to support the next wave of Sun Devil innovators.

Q: What’s something you do for fun or something only your closest friends know about you?

A: My best friend and I started a band in high school. We've been trying to make music for around 15 years now. The only hitch is that he’s still in Germany while I'm here. But whenever we get a chance to be in Germany together, we prioritize meeting up and working on some songs. Our music falls into the Deutschrap genre, basically German hip-hop. Our songs mostly focus on our friends and should not be taken too seriously. We even produced and released an album 10 years ago and had a record release party in our student home.

Unfortunately, however, neither of us is blessed with natural musical talent, which is ironic considering my parents are musicians. Our songs, to be brutally honest, have yet to hit the mark. They’re horrible, but our lyrics are fun, and we enjoy the process of creating. So for now, I'm keeping the band name under wraps. It's a little secret I'm holding onto. Trust me, you're not missing out on much!

Top photo: Julian Lehmann is an assistant professor in the information systems department at the W. P. Carey School of Business. He helps businesses and startup firms create strategic value from digital technology. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Reporter , ASU News