[Boston — May 2023] — “It’s a law that any conversation around technology has to come back to AI within five minutes.”
Well put, Jay Kreps, co-founder and CEO for real-time streaming juggernaut Confluent. Speaking at J.P. Morgan’s Boston Tech Investor event, Kreps knew this was coming. ChatGPT rules the news these days.
Given the daily pounding of 1,000 reporters’ laptops, given Nvidia’s vault into the highest clouds of valuation, it is no surprise that ChatGPT generative AI is the recurring topic. It will impede all other discussion, just as expected by tech stalwarts at J.P. Morgan’s and others’ tech events.
It’s the 600-lb. ChatBot in the room, and it is bigger than big.
Confluent chief on Chatbot interaction
Back in the nascent days of social media, the founders of Confluent, then working at LinkedIn, created a distributed commit log that stored streams of records. They called it Kafka and grew it out into a fuller data stream processing system. It’s intent is to bring to the broader enterprise real-time messaging capabilities akin to that of the Flash Boys of Wall Street.
The company is still in “spend a buck to make a buck” mode. For the quarter ending March 31, Confluent revenues increased 38% to $174.3M, while net jumped 35% to $152.6M. Customers include Dominos, Humana, Lowes, Michelin and others. In January it purchased would-be competitor, Immerok, a leading contributor to the Apache Flink stream processing project.
What’s the significance of real-time streaming in “the age of AI,” Kreps is asked at the Boston event. He says:
It’s really about how a company can take something like a large language model that has a very general model of the world and combine it with information about that company, and about customers, and be able to put those things together to do something for the business.
He gives an example: A large travel company wants to have an interactive chatbot for customers. Seems the barrier ChatGPT faces there for improvements is not so high. As Kreps said: “The chatbots were always pretty bad. It’s like interacting with like the stupidest person that you’ve ever talked to.”
Improvements needed for chatbots include a real-time view of all the information the company holds about customers and operations.
What do you need to make that work? Well, you need to have the real-time view of all the information about them, their flights, their bookings, their hotel, are they going to make their connection, etcetera. And you need a large language model which can take that information and answer arbitrary questions that the customer might ask. So the architecture for them is actually very simple. They need to put together this real time view of their customers, what’s happening, where the flights are, what’s delayed what’s going on. And then they need to be able to call out to a service for the generative AI stuff, feed it this data, feed it the questions from customers, and … integrate that into their service, which is very significant. This is a whole new way of interacting with their customers. And I think that that pattern is very generalizable.
Popping the question: Dorsey
For Jack Dorsey, the question “What about ChatGTP?” is raw meat. He melded SMS and the Web to create Twitter, and now with a nod to bitcoin and block chain has built Block, nee Square. The financial services and digital payments company posted revenue results for the three months ended April 1 that increased 26% to $4.99B, while net loss decreased a significant 92% to $16.8M. The good news was based on increased use of its Cash App product.
At the J.P. Morgan tech investor conference, Dorsey told the people, while hype obviously abounds, true progress rides on use cases.
There’s a ton of hype right now. And I think there’s a lot of companies being started that are going to fail because of that hype. I think the technology industry is very trendy, and very fashionable and jumps from one thing to the next, to the next, to the next. It wasn’t so long ago that we were only talking about Bored Apes and Crypto and NFTs and now we’re talking only about AI and how it’s going to kill us.
There’s always some truth in all these things. I just would caution any company that’s approaching it from a technology perspective, [to] instead use a use case perspective. What is the use case you’re trying to solve? And what technologies can you use to solve it more creatively?
THAT’S THE WAY IT IS — Clearly, panelists and podiumists are preparing to take on ChatGPT questions. At the same time, the clamor of the now will shift to prioritizing generative AI strategically within a host of technology initiatives. ChatGPT may be generalizable — but the proof will not appear overnight. The proof is in the business use case.