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ChatGPT and AI: What this means for small business

6 April 2023
Martin Labbé, International Trade Centre

As 2022 came to a close, ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot, became the fastest-growing app in history, reaching an estimated 123 million users less than three months after its launch. It is the most prominent specimen of AI-tools that generate content such as text, pictures, and software code.

ITC reflects on what this could mean for the international trade development sphere.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is not new for those using Siri, Cortana and other (virtual) personal assistants. Algorithms powered through massive data have also been determining how we get from A to B when we use a ride-hailing app, whether in a car in Manila or on a “boda boda” in Kampala.

Likewise, AI can screen job applicants in asynchronous video interviews. Cancer diagnosis research, automatic dental prosthetic design and medical image analysis are other examples of how AI is being used in the healthcare sector. 

However, the natural language processing functionality of ChatGPT allows us to have a human-like conversation with AI.

This next generation chatbot has the potential to become an alternative to traditional search engines, hence the urge of other big tech companies like Google to launch their own chatbots in 2023 to keep up with the times – and profit.

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An exponential growth in daily use: Data as the new oil

In the meantime, for many of us, ChatGPT has become a tool we use daily – for research and support in content development. According to Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, which is said to have recently invested more than $10 billion in OpenAI (the scaleup behind ChatGPT), this marks the emergence of a "symbiotic relationship between humans and machines".

Whether this will be a choice rather than a necessity remains to be seen.

Back in 2019, our colleagues at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) spotted the exponential growth of AI in related patent applications since 2012, mainly originating in the United States and China. Now, the rest of the world is trying to catch up.

AI is capital intensive both because of the massive amounts of data and the computer power required, which means it will be difficult to see global challengers emerge outside of the OECD. Software companies in Africa venturing in this field, for instance Baamtu in Senegal, are struggling to access the required data despite their expertise. Data has become the new oil.

What does this boost in AI mean for our international trade clients, the small businesses?

You can count on impact at scale across the board: from government, business, civil society to education, healthcare and financial services.

Smart digital technologies are already widely used in agriculture in high-income countries. For instance, AI is being used in robotic milking systems in places such as Braz, Austria, to decide which cow should be milked when, with little supervision from the farmer.

In low-income countries, on the other hand, AI is mainly limited to small-scale smart farming and satellite imagery processing at the level of smallholder farming. But looking around, we can anticipate future uses, if an appropriate business model can be found.


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The concept of “dark factories”, where industrial robots produce under remote human supervision, is not yet widespread. What will happen to the three million workers in the Bangladeshi ready-made garment industry assembling $5 t-shirts, with a monthly $70 salary, when the current equipment is ready for renewal?

Moreover, service jobs automation is around the corner – even in tech. AI is already sourcing code in code libraries at the request of software developers who use it to increase their productivity. Is this happening at the expense of junior software developers?

Other service sectors will be affected: in Senegal, chatbots are being used instead of customer care operators as clients and investors alike want to reduce costs.

In the Philippines, some of its 1.2 million business-process-management jobs – to a large extent customer care for global clients – could be replaced through robotic process automation. This technology automates repetitive and routine tasks, allowing businesses to streamline their operations, reduce errors, and increase efficiency.

Beyond the business process management industry, generative AI is also likely to take entry-level gigs from game artists, people who create content for video games, or graphic designers, who often operate on a freelance basis. 

If we look at the above under Schumpeter's Creative Destruction theory, new jobs that don’t exist yet will replace the ones that will be made obsolete. In this context, continuous learning, re- and upskilling will be essential for blue- and white-collar workers.

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What does AI mean for international development work in trade?

AI will impact our trade-related technical assistance.

AI will accelerate how we analyse trade data analysis. AI will also help us improve the learner experience in ITC’s SME Trade Academy, which is already experimenting with tools such as Synthesia to produce videos with human-like avatars in multiple languages and accents.

We need to help our beneficiaries leverage this technology as well, for instance the tailor in Burundi who is using ChatGPT to draft marketing materials like brochures and website content.

How we deliver our technical assistance and in which languages will also change to the benefit of our clients: text-to-speech in multiple languages can make our trade information accessible to farmers who speak a different language from the one the information was published in and who prefer to dial in rather than to read online.

All the above will not happen overnight, but nevertheless, we need to start preparing for it.