Idea in Brief

The Quandary

Fledgling generative-AI systems have huge potential but also are prone to fabricate answers, invade privacy, and violate IP rights. Given the risks, are leaders best off taking a wait-and-see attitude?

Why to Take the Plunge

This new technology is akin to the steam engine, electricity, and the internet but with one big difference: Whereas those general-purpose technologies took decades to have a major impact on competition and the economy, generative AI will do so in a few years.

How to Proceed

Inventory your knowledge-work jobs. Identify which of those roles would benefit most from the technology’s assistance. Prioritize projects whose ratio of benefits to costs is the largest. Take advantage of the available ways to curb generative AI’s risks. Use the agile approach to develop applications.

Business leaders are struggling to understand how seriously they should take the latest phenomenon in the world of artificial intelligence: generative AI. On one hand, it has already displayed a breathtaking ability to create new content such as music, speech, text, images, and video and is currently used, for instance, to write software, to transcribe physicians’ interactions with their patients, and to allow people to converse with a customer-relationship-management system. On the other hand, it is far from perfect: It sometimes produces distorted or entirely fabricated output and can be oblivious to privacy and copyright concerns.

A version of this article appeared in the November–December 2023 issue of Harvard Business Review.