2024 is going to be an important transition year for artificial intelligence. 2023 was the public debut of generative AI and large language models (LLMs), a year of amazement, excitement, occasional panic and, yes, more than a little bit of hype. The year ahead is when businesses begin to make the promise of advanced artificial intelligence real, and we’ll begin seeing the effects on how we work and live.

At this point, people have begun to wrap their heads around the idea of generative AI and LLMs. After a year of very real progress, pretty much everyone has tried out ChatGPT, DALL-E 2 or a coding copilot. We’ve all read news articles about the potential wonders and horrors of an AI future and are wondering when it will fully arrive.

Not surprisingly, the topic of gen AI and LLMs also dominates our 2024 Data + AI Predictions report. A dozen leaders and technology experts at Snowflake contributed thoughts on where data, technology and enterprise strategy are headed in the coming year and beyond. Collectively, we agreed that AI will change a lot of things, from how we do our jobs to how we live with, and understand, the reality around us.

Among the key predictions in this year’s report:

  • Generative AI will supercharge the data strategy of tomorrow’s leading businesses. Data will get into the hands of decision-makers sooner, and the best executives will get a more nuanced view because of the ease with which they can interrogate the data. There’s not a new strategy for AI—a unified platform that breaks down silos and champions security and governance is still the key—but the speed of investment and innovation will accelerate.
  • LLM applications will become commonplace, but most people will use smaller models. As LLMs become more democratized, most organizations will start to downsize; smaller but exceptionally capable language models will become the industry standard. The creation of AI models will be standardized, outsourced and specialized as vendors fine-tune smaller models for specific verticals and use cases, operating at the company or department level.
  • Ethical guardrails for AI will emerge, from both the private and public sectors, faster than with other tech upheavals such as privacy. It’s very hard to effectively regulate technology, but rising concern about privacy implications of new technologies have already led to earlier, smarter discussions between the industry and regulators.
  • For security teams, gen AI will improve intruder detection and more, but first it’ll be a boon to cybercriminals. Responsible, thoughtful rollout of new security tools takes time. Attackers adopting AI will have an early advantage.
  • Top data roles will be more fun. As advanced AI tools make it easier for nontechnical users to access data and generate insights, the data scientists, engineers and analysts will be freed up to do the interesting, creative stuff.

At the enterprise level, a successful future begins with each enterprise applying AI advances to its own data. Fine-tuning foundational models with industry-specific data sets and your own proprietary data will deliver new insights and opportunities. Of course, even with natural language interfaces and generative coding assistants, you still have to do the hard work of managing and governing your data. But advanced AI is going to amplify what you can do with that data, giving us all a greater ability to bring our inspirations to life. And to be clear, AI will be assisting and amplifying human creativity—not replacing it.

At the macro level, I am very interested in the effects that AI advancements will have on society. Certainly there is going to be disruption. In the past month, there have been heightened concerns about the imminent arrival of a flood of convincing deepfakes as we head into a U.S. election year. There are also legitimate concerns that, in the short term, a significant number of jobs that we can collectively label “knowledge work” will be eliminated. In the long term, new roles, companies and perhaps entire industries will be created by this AI revolution, but there will be uncertainty and some pain along the way.

At an even higher altitude, I’m very concerned that an uneven rollout of new, AI-driven tools could exacerbate the digital divide. I’m hoping that instead they’ll inspire and empower a new generation of entrepreneurs and activists who will create wealth and opportunity for underserved communities.

People say that AI is going to be revolutionary, and we should remember that past technological revolutions, from the Industrial Revolution to the arrival of the automobile or the personal computer, required hard adjustments. But in every case, those revolutions moved the world forward, creating a more productive, wealthier society with higher employment and more opportunity. What’s unique about the advent of AI is the speed with which it will drive change. It’s my hope that we’ll find a way to speed toward the positive outcomes.

For more on the potential and risk of advanced AI, plus trends in cybersecurity and more, please check out Snowflake Data + AI Predictions 2024