/ 20 December 2023

Negotiating the AI galaxy

Ai Book

And now for something completely differentiated. At least, from a geographical perspective. One of the most convenient AI tools for business is a platform called MobileGPT. Bear in mind that most AI text models as well as images are trained on content produced largely in the Western world, and the biases of the northern hemisphere dominate — whether cultural or seasonal. Little wonder that, across the African continent, the platforms, services and possibilities that are emerging around the technology seem distant and almost irrelevant.

It was a delight, then, to discover a significant breakthrough in its use emerging from South Africa. Bertha Kgokong, a Johannesburg-based self-taught developer, founded a company called Tati and built MobileGPT as an AI assistant for WhatsApp users. She told me it was aimed at anyone across the globe who wanted to use ChatGPT and other generative AI platforms on their handsets.

I contacted MobileGPT via WhatsApp, and it immediately offered me a menu with a wide range of options, from having a normal conversation with ChatGPT and generating an AI image using Stable Diffusion to generating a formal document like a lawyer’s letter or conducting live research via LiveData.

Producing useable AI images proved challenging. Anyone who has used DALL·E, an image generator from ChatGPT creator OpenAI, will know initial results from such tools can be underwhelming. One must finetune the MobileGPT prompt several times to get usable images.

MobileGPT offers a free trial for only 24 hours, after which it requires a $20 monthly subscription fee. That’s not expensive — it’s the same cost as the Pro version of ChatGPT, but it adds multiple services on top of the chatbot.

The chat option works as well as ChatGPT, since one is not using WhatsApp capabilities but using messaging as an interface to ChatGPT. I asked it to write a news article about itself, and it told me: “MobileGPT, a revolutionary new AI assistant for WhatsApp users, has just been launched, promising to provide unparalleled support and assistance to users from around the world.

“This new assistant is programmed to detect the language of each individual user and respond accordingly, making communication clear and effortless. Its knowledge of a wide range of topics makes MobileGPT a valuable resource for anyone who could use a little extra help.

“MobileGPT provides casual, friendly replies with emojis, making its interactions with users welcoming and relaxed. It is always ready to assist users with any task or answer any questions they may have. While MobileGPT has limitations like any AI, it will always direct users to the resources or suggest alternative solutions to meet their needs.

“Overall, MobileGPT is already making significant waves in the WhatsApp community, and it is easy to see why. Its ease of use and expansive knowledge make it an invaluable resource for users from all over the world.”

Of course, a human could have written that with more nuance and creativity, but it does the basic work, much as users have experienced with ChatGPT itself. It’s not there to do the job for you but to provide the basic framework or information from which you can build your own work.

Its biggest strength may well turn out to be the access it gives to an AI-powered document generator that produces industry-standard documents like invoices, letters and CVs.

I signed on to the paid version and asked it to provide an introductory article on a business topic for a research project we were about to begin. It produced a highly competent document, which I could use, not in the report, but to brief my team on elements that needed to be included.

It clearly still has some way to go, as it is limited by the capabilities, permissions and functionality of the AI services on which it draws. However, it is a wonderful example of how the world of AI for business can be leveraged by anyone, and from anywhere.

Made better in South Africa

In September 2023, one of South Africa’s “challenger” banks — newcomers taking on the established giants of banking — entered the AI space in earnest.

TymeBank, through a division called Retail Capital, launched the country’s first homegrown large language model (LLM) called ChatSME.

Intended to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses, the AI model aimed to provide easy access to knowledge and resources. I asked Retail Capital brand and HR executive Erin Louw whether this was merely an interface to ChatGPT, since it also drew on OpenAI’s LLM.

She acknowledged ChatSME uses the LLM built by OpenAI, but with a local edge: “This is Retail Capital’s own LLM-powered application that leverages OpenAI’s LLMs. ChatSME distinguishes itself by integrating all the content Retail Capital has created and curated over its 12 years — drawing from an extensive library of blogs, white papers, books, survey results, press releases and emails — and that is why it is authentic.”

In short, it would unlock the benefits offered by ChatGPT, Bard and similar technologies, but with more up-to-date information — and more relevance.

“We know that while business owners are idea-rich, they often find themselves time-, resource- and expertise-poor,” said Louw. “This means they spend their time in their businesses as opposed to on their businesses. These are the people who stand to gain the most from productivity tools like ChatSME for content generation, handling of routine tasks and, importantly, data analysis for making well-informed business decisions.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AI is published by Pan Macmillan.