ChatGPT has not only taken the world by storm, but political leaders too. At the recent World Government Summit held in Dubai, barely one conversation passed without mention of the conversational AI tool that is being touted as “revolutionary”.
Its transformational impact on business, the creative sectors and search, was frequently alluded to, but so was the need to regulate and monitor this sort of technology as many anticipate the launch of ChatGPT rivals. Google is set to launch its own generative AI, named Bard, in a couple of weeks, Chinese tech giants Baidu, Alibaba, JD and NetEase are also developing their own versions of an AI chatbot.
Omar Sultan Al Olama, the UAE’s AI minister, said the success of ChatGPT could not have been predicted six months ago.
“If you sat with many AI experts, they would not have predicted ChatGPT and the level of output, the level of engagement…people actually embracing this technology and using it,” he said, during a session at the World Government Summit.
Regionally, ChatGPT has also created a buzz, with many companies experimenting with the tool, particularly for marketing purposes. But for one company, ChatGPT is not just a fun tool to write thank you notes or blogs for the company website, it has become part of its core tech stack.
Yanzo, a text-based super app has incorporated ChatGPT into its conversational concierge service, the first company in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) to do so.
“We were on the lookout for a smart AI to help us in the conversation aspect,” says Mohammed Jaffar, co-founder and CEO of Yanzo. “We were looking at IBM’s Watson and Netomi, which was once considered the best AI chatbot out there. But the moment ChatGPT came out, it raised the flag for us that it might be more affordable and much more powerful.”
Yanzo is essentially a digital concierge service that operates over Whatsapp. Users can send a request for virtually anything, be it to pick up a document to organising a birthday party or purchasing chocolate covered cockroaches (this was a genuine request from one customer) in Dubai. Each request was read and responded to by a human, but now, it is ChatGPT communicating with users on Yanzo’s Whatsapp.
Chatbots like Netomi and IBM’s Watson are known as workflow chatbots. If a customer puts in a request, the bot responds with a pre-determined answer.
“We needed to draw out that workflow,” says Jaffar. “It would have taken six to eight weeks to build that out.”
ChatGPT’s workflow however, works differently. Yanzo reached out to OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT and hired a developer to integrate the API. It provided the bot with a full history of its customer conversations to train the AI and learn Yanzo’s tone and way of speaking. Moreover, most chatbots use 17 billion parameters, while ChatGPT uses 175 billion parameters in order to predict the next word in a conversation.
Yanzo provided 33,000 conversations, and after two weeks, the AI had learned its way of dealing with customer requests. The chatbot that users speak to on Yanzo’s Whatsapp is dedicated solely to the startup. ChatGPT charges Yanzo a subscription fee depending on the number of words its bot produces.
A couple of years ago,Yanzo partnered with an Egypt-based technology agency to digitise its procurement process. So when a customer requests for example a bouquet of roses, its system takes the request and automatically reaches out to suppliers to get quotations which are then ranked and fed back to the agent, who then informs the customer of the best price.
“The conversation has mostly been manual, with ChatGPT now, this is automated. The final part will be to connect these two and making sure the output of ChatGPT is fed into the backend system,” says Jaffar.
Automating the front-end will “significantly reduce” the amount of customer agents needed, but “you will always need agents, there will always be requests that even the most trained version of [the technology] will not be able to understand”.
Currently, Yanzo uses a mix of ChatGPT and its human agents to deal with customer requests, but users are unlikely to know which they are speaking with.
“Our model is to always make sure that you feel you’re speaking to a human. If we get an order that ChatGPT will not be able to deliver, like the chocolate-flavoured cockroaches that one customer requested, it would not know what to do, so the way he have trained it is to respond with ‘let me get back to you’ and the request is immediately passed to a human agent,” says Jaffar.
The true impact and scale of generative AI remains to be seen. While many new technologies are initially overhyped, tools like ChatGPT are different, they are useful and they are already changing the way some people work.
“For Yanzo, the impact is massive. We always saw this coming, it is core to our business, our long term model, vision and purpose. We see ourselves expanding across the region and dealing with thousands of tickets and the only way to scale to that level is through integration with an AI bot,” says Jaffar.
To date, Yanzo has raised over $600,000 and is now looking to raise $3 million to help with its expansion to Saudi Arabia and automate its entire process.