Why consultancies are spending big on generative AI

PwC recently announced a $1 billion investment in developing the tech.
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Hannah Minn

4 min read

With generative AI still captivating the tech world, some companies are throwing around large sums of money in an effort to demonstrate their seriousness about the technology’s future.

One of the latest of these announcements came from accounting and consulting giant PwC, which recently said it would put $1 billion toward scaling its own AI capabilities as well as helping its clients do the same over the next three years.

The company’s investment includes access to Microsoft’s OpenAI Azure cloud platform and OpenAI’s GPT-4 and ChatGPT. The goals of the multiyear pledge are to provide more funding for AI-related projects and train the company’s workforce as a whole in the use of the tech.

“We had a lot of debate about what’s the right scale of investment, as you can imagine, but we truly believe that AI is going to be transformative to industries in the way work gets done,” Joe Atkinson, PwC’s vice chair and chief products and technology officer, told Tech Brew.

“So it’s going to hit everybody in one way or another. And we view our role as having a degree of responsibility to help our clients navigate that as well as help our people navigate that.”

PwC isn’t the only consultancy putting new resources behind AI for itself and its clients.

While Deloitte spokesperson Melissa Neumann declined to reveal how much the company is investing in its new generative AI practice introduced last month, she noted that it did announce a $1.4 billion tech development investment in December called Project 120, of which AI is a component.

Accenture also announced this week that it is teaming with Salesforce to create a new hub for businesses to use the latter’s Einstein GPT AI tool for customer relationship management, though the companies did not reveal financial terms.

Gartner Analyst Whit Andrews said it makes sense that professional services firms like PwC would be on the front lines of implementing generative AI because of their reliance on specialized content for business clients.

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“The industries that are the most affected are the industries where the content is richest, where it’s the most logically complex, and where the presentation of that content—where the polish in the presentation of the content—means the most,” Andrews said. “So then you come back and you’re like, so where’s this gonna get used the most? It’s professional services.”

Business investments like these come amid an overall frenzy around generative AI in the tech world, even at a time when Silicon Valley is otherwise in belt-tightening mode. Data firm PitchBook found that venture capitalists sunk $1.7 billion into generative AI startups in the first quarter of the year, with another $10.68 billion in deals announced but not yet disbursed during the quarter.

“The level of investments just across the board in generative AI and in AI are up pretty significantly this year,” Forrester analyst Jay Pattisall said. “The excitement, I think, seems to be more around the use of the technology in professional services compared to the excitement of the consumer products and the products like Bing and search tools and whatnot.”

Of course, diving into any untested technology like this comes with a host of potential risks, ranging from unsettled copyright questions and data privacy to generative AI’s penchant for serving up inaccurate information and worries about job replacement, Pattisall said.

Samsung, for instance, recently banned employees from using ChatGPT on work-issued devices after it found staff had uploaded sensitive code to the program, CNBC reported.

For PwC’s part, Atkinson said the company will try to protect client data by creating its own AI infrastructure to be used within the organization rather than tapping publicly available models.

“A big part of it is making sure that we’re using the technology in an appropriate way,” Atkinson said. “There’s no doubt [that], like every technology, there’s risks to be cared for and risks to be understood and managed.”

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Tech Brew keeps business leaders up-to-date on the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts, and more, so they can make informed decisions about tech.