Sure AI is hot, but is it an actual market or a platform piece?

Companies of all stripes have begun embracing generative AI as a way to increase productivity and possibly even replace some workers. But the base technology has been around for decades. Over the last five to 10 years, big enterprise software companies have been building AI into their platforms without the same level of screaming hype we are seeing at the moment.

The problem has always been placing AI. It hasn’t helped that there has been a tendency for the early adopters to personify and productize it, even if it wasn’t really a product. Salesforce called it Einstein; Adobe, Sensei; and IBM, Watson. But AI isn’t one thing you can nail down and call a product, per se. These companies aren’t necessarily selling AI like they would CRM or Photoshop or health records software. Instead they infused AI into different parts of the product line, making the products they sell potentially better.

Since generative AI hit the scene at the end of last year with the release of GPT-4, the hype machine has been out of control. Suddenly, AI was in front of everyone in a way it never had been before. But even with the higher profile, it’s not clear this is an actual market, and it’s even less clear how many companies are truly embracing it in spite of all the ballyhoo.

Clearly, though, companies are curious about what AI can do. Enterprise software vendors have been adding functionality and branding it to get the most juice out of their marketing. Startups have been popping up, too: Cohere, Anthropic, Writer and Jasper are among those trying to build businesses around generative AI technology, whether by building foundational models or tools to take advantage of generative AI in an enterprise setting.

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As we find ourselves in the midst of this AI-induced frenzy, it could be useful to take a step back and see just what we are dealing with here. Is there actually an AI market in the pure sense, or is it enabling technology that will soon be built into everything, making how we view it less clear?

Let’s start with some data

Sure, everyone is talking about AI, but what are Fortune 500 and 2000 companies actually doing when it comes to AI? It would appear that while clearly there is a lot of interest (to put it mildly), big companies are treading lightly, as large companies tend to do.

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