April 23, 2024

The potential of generative AI

In the first of a new series, self-confessed tech geek Scott Wylie, Chief Technology Officer at TripStax, looks at what generative AI can do for business travel – and what it can't

There’s an old joke that someone who speaks three languages is called multilingual, two languages bilingual, and one language? British! Well, I’m a proud native of these islands (Lowestoft born and bred) and as a CTO I am fluent in two languages: geek and human.

It’s therefore very fitting that my first column for TBTM is on the hottest tech topic of 2023: generative AI (ChatGPT is probably the best-known example).

At heart generative AI is all about translating geek into human.

It is based on so-called large language models, which crunch vast amounts of data to generate information in natural text or speech.

The benefits of this breakthrough technology are varied and immense. For the first time, I’m receiving emails from some of our nerdier developers that I can actually understand.

And there’s another kind of “language” for which we’re using generative AI at TripStax. AiDE is helping us analyse and validate computer code, fix bugs, make tweaks, and even do limited amounts of code writing. AI can also be used in the production of test cases for validating responses and is consistently shortening time windows. What traditionally could have taken months is being accelerated to days or even hours in real time.

For the first time, I’m receiving emails from some of our nerdier developers that I can actually understand

Where does this leave our particular sector? We’re only in the foothills of understanding the full impact of this tech revolution but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that if you are a travel manager generative AI is great news for you. That’s because of both what it can do and what it can’t.

What generative AI can do is answer routine traveller enquiries and help you tell data stories much more potently to senior management, travellers and other key stakeholders. You’ll be able to interrogate systems for information about, for example, potential savings or carbon emissions and generate compelling reports in minutes – tasks that would once have taken specialist data scientists weeks to produce. Put simply, generative AI will be the smartest, fastest assistant you’ve ever had.

What generative AI can’t do is empathy or relationship management. I’ve been knocking around corporate travel IT for three decades now and it’s the perfect mix of technology and human connection that gets me up for work every morning.

Travel managers and bookers are nothing without their interpersonal skills. I call it the ‘Cup of Tea Test’ (or pint of beer if you fancy something stronger!). AI is way off being able to sort the knotty issues, usually involving people and balancing conflicting needs, best sorted over a cup of tea, and it’s exactly those kinds of challenges which travel managers excel at. AI also lacks the creative spark that marks out the really inspired travel professionals.

And talking of a pint of beer, I’m signing off for one now. Mine’s an artisan-crafted, non-AI-generated pale ale please!

Scott Wylie is Chief Technology Office at TripStax