What A Difference A Year Makes

It has been more than a year since I first wrote about generative AI (genAI)-powered agents. At the time I wrote the blog, I cautioned leaders to pay attention to the ways that genAI will alter customer behavior, rather than solely focusing on what genAI can do for the productivity of their enterprise.

I sounded the alarm since there is a substantial risk that organizations rush toward genAI use cases to drive hyper-productivity in business models that are becoming obsolete for their clients.

Consequently, my colleague Sandy Carielli and I assessed the impact of personal assistants on the most successful digital strategies of our time in The Age Of Agents, published in August last year. Have a look at the report and tell me that you’re not worried about your business model.

And certainly, you would be right to say that lofty predictions about substantial tech disruptions are manyfold and often overblown. So are personal agents really coming, are they coming soon, and will they actually impact consumer behavior to the extent that it would cause an issue for your business?

Believe Me, GenAI Agents Are A Big Deal

If you’re still not convinced, maybe some of the statements below might have an impact on your risk assessment.

In line with the analysis we presented in The Age Of Agents, Bill Gates came forth last November to predict that genAI agents will fundamentally change the way we use computers. And in early May of this year, Sam Altman referred to personal assistants as genAI’s killer functionality. He describes his vision for genAI assistants as “a super-competent colleague that knows absolutely everything about my whole life, every email, every conversation I’ve ever had, but doesn’t feel like an extension.”

The Talk Has Already Manifested In The Tech

One year in, we have long passed the point of predictions and opinions.

  • Supercharged Siri: Apple’s announcement at WWDC 2024 this week is just the first step in turning Siri into a full-blown genAI assistant for iOS users. As gentle as that first step is, think about its implications. Now, Siri can perform actions for users within the apps installed on their phones. Modern mobile apps try to beef up client engagement with habit-creating features, using behavioral science to get users hooked. Well, Siri might not care that much. What does that mean for the customer experience design of these apps? How much user data can these app providers still collect? That’s just the tip of the digital strategy iceberg, which is genAI-powered personal assistants, and it’s time to course-correct your ship to avoid collision. Understandably, Apple’s announcement drew a lot of attention, but agents are appearing across the board, at all levels and for many use cases.
  • Hyperscaler agents: All major hyperscalers have released agent developer platforms in recent months. Just to name a few since the beginning of 2024, Baidu has released AgentBuilder, allowing users to create AI agents across all Baidu products, Google made its Vertex AI Agent Builder available in April, Amazon released Amazon Q, and of course, Microsoft has a similar product with TaskWeaver while OpenAI has made its agent API accessible.
  • Agent providers: Based on the above, a plethora of use cases have been developed by tech companies and startups, including Hercules, which is focusing on multimodal enterprise agents running on the Baidu platform. More interesting, however, are personal agents/assistants such as Constructor, which is building personal shopping assistants on the AWS platform.
  • Enterprise agents: And of course, customer-focused assistants are appearing from large enterprises, such as the Mercedes-Benz MBUX Virtual Assistant and Amazon’s own shopping assistant Rufus.

OpenAI plans to build a personal assistant, as well. How and whether it will directly or indirectly compete with other enterprise agents remains to be seen.

Personally, I am most interested in the inherent principal-agent problem of personal assistants. Consumers might be the user of the agent, but will the agent have user interests at heart? What about the agent provider or another third party that’s paying the provider? Are the incentives aligned between me and my assistant? Who ultimately controls the data? Only customer choice will provide an answer to these questions.

Similarly, there is a chance that we are going to see an agent oligopoly, with a small number of encompassing personal agents dominating the market. Sticking with the Mercedes-Benz example above, car manufacturers already compete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto over driver user experience. Why use a limited domain-specific agent in my car when my Apple agent could seamlessly take its insight from my everyday life and apply it to my driving experience? We are poised to see such competitive tensions shaping the market for personal genAI assistants.

This is the dawn of the age of agents. And it is an exciting dawn indeed. It took us one year from hypothetical discussion to the world’s most valuable company going all in on genAI agents. Imagine how things are going to look at high noon.

Reimagine Your Business In The Age Of Agents

A year ago, we concluded that corporations are not ready for genAI agents. Today, the technology is there, in use and evolving rapidly. Are you ready?

If not, start by imagining that your customers won’t directly access your digital platforms anymore. They’ll do so via their agents. Their agents can access web content across the globe and complete complex tasks for the client across all possible languages. This should give you reason for concern if you are running a marketplace strategy. What does it all mean for your user experience? What about personalization? And what does this do to your network effects? How would your pricing models have to change? Start thinking through such scenarios now so that you can prepare if necessary.

Watch this space, as we are monitoring the evolving impact of generative AI on digital strategy and digital transformation. Have a look at our The Age Of Agents report, and feel free to reach out by scheduling an inquiry or guidance session if you want to learn more.