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Picture: 123RF/SEMISATCH
Picture: 123RF/SEMISATCH

In my last column for the year, instead of adding to your beach book list I thought I would give you a challenge to augment your intelligence.

ChatGPT was launched in November as the latest prototype from the artificial intelligence (AI) company OpenAI. It responds to requests in conversational English, allowing even non-techies to use AI. As a temporary research preview it’s free, but is unlikely to be free forever.

ChatGPT has been taught with information up to 2021, so won’t have recent information, but is amazingly smart and helpful. You can ask it to answer questions on anything, write software for you or even write you a column.

This is still a prototype and not perfect (it can provide very convincing answers that are totally inaccurate, for instance), but great for getting to know what the future holds. You might just need to know what is coming to a business near you.

As I write this hordes of astonished journalists are also writing about it, or better still asking it to write their columns for them. So I hope you aren’t sick of ChatGBT by the time this lands on your breakfast table.

I haven’t seen much about using it in a small business though, so I gave it this instruction: “Write a 500-word column on how ChatGPT can be used to support small businesses.”

It replied very coherently, tempting me to use that as my column while I watched the World Cup. But being conscientious I asked it to write the column in fewer words. It came up with:

“ChatGPT is a language processing tool that can support small businesses in various ways. By integrating ChatGPT into their customer service platform, small businesses can provide quick and accurate responses to customer inquiries, improving satisfaction and reducing response times.

“ChatGPT can also automate routine tasks and processes, freeing up time for business owners and employees. For example, ChatGPT can automatically respond to common customer questions. Additionally, ChatGPT can provide personalised recommendations to customers based on their data and previous interactions.

“This can help increase sales and satisfaction. ChatGPT can also be integrated into a small business’s marketing and advertising efforts, providing targeted campaigns and personalised messages. Overall, ChatGPT can improve customer service, automate tasks, and drive sales for small businesses.”

That’s not bad — human columnists beware!

Then I asked it: “Can you write a business plan for a consultancy advising businesses how to use ChatGPT in their businesses?” Its reply was perfectly cogent, but generic. So I replied, “Thanks. Specify that the consultancy includes a psychologist, a strategist and a data analyst. We want to target fast-growing start-ups in developing economies.”

It came back instantaneously with an impressive document with some good ideas. For example, under “market strategy” it wrote: “To reach our target market, we will focus on marketing to fast-growing start-ups in developing economies through a combination of online and offline tactics. We will create a website and social media presence to share information about our services and the benefits of ChatGPT. Additionally, we will attend industry conferences and networking events in these regions to connect with potential clients and build relationships.”

One of my sons now uses ChatGPT instead of Google. The other linked it to DALL-E, an associated image generator, and is having fun asking it to write illustrated short stories for his young children in the mode of Dr Seuss. So Google “ChatGPT” and try it over the break. It requires no expertise and might just write you a business strategy for 2023.

I wish you the deepest peace over this season of joy. The economy has been remarkably resilient, despite all the theft and silliness that has been thrown at it. May you too be resilient and thrive in 2023.

• Cook chairs the African Management Institute.

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