Almost Timely News, May 2, 2024: 🗞️ Generative AI and the Synthesis Use Case

Almost Timely News: 🗞️ Generative AI and the Synthesis Use Case (2024-06-02) :: View in Browser

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Almost Timely News: 🗞️ Generative AI and the Synthesis Use Case (2024-06-02)

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What’s On My Mind: Generative AI and the Synthesis Use Case Category

This week, let’s talk about the seventh major use case category for generative AI, especially with regard to large language models. I’ve talked extensively in my keynotes, workshops, and webinars about the six major use case categories:

  • Generation: making new data, typically in the form of language or images
  • Extraction: taking data out of other data, like extracting tables from a PDF
  • Summarization: making big data into small data
  • Rewriting: turning data from one form to another, like translation
  • Classification: organizing and categorizing our data, like sentiment analysis
  • Question answering: asking questions of our data

The seventh category, which is a blend of several of the tasks above but is distinct enough that I think it merits a callout, is synthesis. This is mashing data together to form something new.

Why is this different? Because if we look at the use cases above, all of them except generation are about taking existing data and in one form or another getting a smaller version of that data out. None of them are about putting data together, and that’s what synthesis is.

What does synthesis look like? Let’s go to a specific, tangible use case. My friend Amber Naslund works for LinkedIn and has been asked a bazillion times how LinkedIn’s algorithm works, why a post did or didn’t appear, etc. To be clear, Amber works in sales leadership, not machine learning or AI. She’s not the right person to ask these questions of, and despite her saying so very publicly, very frequently, people keep asking her.

However, LinkedIn itself has told us how its algorithm works, at length. LinkedIn has an engineering blog in which engineers – the people who actually build LinkedIn’s algorithm – document the technologies, algorithms, techniques, code, and tools they use to create the LinkedIn algorithm. From how the LinkedIn graph is distributed across more than a dozen servers globally in real-time (which is a ridiculous feat of engineering itself) to how the feed decides to show you what, the engineers have told us how it works.

So why don’t marketers and sales professionals know this? Because, engineers being engineers, they told us in engineering talk. And they’ve told us across dozens of blog posts, interviews, articles, podcasts, and videos around the web. They didn’t serve it up on a silver platter for us in terms a non-technical marketer can understand…

… and they are under no obligation to do so. Their job is to build tech, not explain it to the general public.

Until the advent of large language models, that meant very technical documents were simply out of reach for the average non-technical marketer. But with large language models – especially those models that have enormous short-term memories (context windows) like Google Gemini 1.5 and Anthropic Claude 3 Opus – we suddenly have the tools to translate technical jargon into terms we can understand and take action on.

But to do that, we need to play digital detective. We need to find all these pieces, gather them in one place… and synthesize them. Glue them together. Put all the puzzle pieces in the lid of the box and sort them so that we can do tasks like question answering and summarization.

So let’s go ahead and do that. I strongly recommend watching the video version of this if you want to see the process, step by step.

First, we need to find the actual data itself. We’ll start with LinkedIn’s engineering blog. Not every post is relevant to how the algorithm works, but we want to identify posts that talk about content in any capacity, from serving it up quickly to sorting it to preventing abuse and spam. Any post talking about content may have clues in it that would be useful.

Then we need to hit the broader web, with an AI-enabled search engine like Bing or Perplexity, something that can interpret large and complicated queries. We ask the search engine to find us interviews with LinkedIn engineers about content, especially on podcasts and on YouTube. Once we find those resources, we convert them to text format, typically with AI-powered transcription software if transcripts or captions aren’t provided. (Power move: YouTube closed captions can usually be downloaded with free utilities like yt-dlp, especially in bulk)

What we don’t want are third party opinions. Everyone and their cousin has their opinion – usually uninformed – about what they think LinkedIn is doing behind the scenes. We should be careful to exclude any of that kind of content in our work.

After that, we want to hit up those same AI-powered search engines for academic papers and research from LinkedIn engineers also about content, especially any kind of sorting, categorization, or ranking algorithms.

Once we’ve gathered up all the goods from as many places as we can find them, we load them into the language model of our choice and ask it to synthesize the knowledge we’ve gathered, discarding irrelevant stuff and summarizing in a single, unified framework all the knowledge related to the LinkedIn feed that we’ve provided. Be careful in prompting to ensure the model uses only the uploaded data; we want to restrict it to credible sources only, those being the ones we’ve provided.

After we’ve done that, we can convert the framework into a protocol, an actionable guide of practices we can deliver to our social media marketing teams that will help them get more out of LinkedIn – and spare Amber’s inbox.

That’s the power of synthesis. Why is it so important? If you’ve ever worked with a large language model and had it hallucinate – meaning invent something that wasn’t true – it’s because the model is drawing from its long term memory, its training data. Some of the training data in the model is crap information, patently false stuff. Some of what we’re asking, the model simply might not know. In an effort to be helpful and follow our instructions, the model instead returns the closest matches which are statistically correct, but factually wrong.

In the case of our LinkedIn synthesis, there are a LOT of people who have a lot of opinions about how LinkedIn works. Very few of them are LinkedIn engineers, and if we want to reduce hallucination – both from an absence of data as well as bad data – we need to bring our own data to the party, like all those documents.

The rule of thumb is this: the more data you bring, the less the model is likely to invent and the less likely it is to hallucinate.

We have our working guide for how to market on LinkedIn to take advantage of the information provided to us by engineering. If you’d like the PDF copy of this output, you can download it for free from the Trust Insights website in exchange for a form fill – but I would encourage you to try the process out for yourself so you can see firsthand how synthesis works. No matter what, you can safely stop asking Amber how LinkedIn works now.

And so we now have our Magnificent Seven, the Seven Samurai of Generative AI: generation, extraction, summarization, rewriting, classification, question answering, and synthesis. Welcome to the party, synthesis. It’s nice to have you here.

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See you next week,

Christopher S. Penn

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


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