Generative AI: New Economic Reality for Software Companies

Generative AI comes at a cost. Inferences are expensive. R&D is now much more costly.

Consider this scenario:

  • You’re an aftermarket developer and consultant for a no-code database platform like Coda.
  • You have an idea that requires generative AI; the idea could open a new opportunity for the no-code platform to provide solutions not possible before the advent of integrated AI.
  • You begin to frame a prototype and eventually start building and testing AI prompts. You know prompts will be a big challenge, but you believe they can meet or exceed the requirements and produce deterministic results.
  • Through your extensive R&D process, you blow through a month’s worth of AI credits in half a day, and you still have many days of prompt development and testing ahead of you.
  • You must buy multiple inference credit upgrades. The financial investment rises, and you still aren’t confident your clever approach will work, let alone be profitable.

Generative AI costs create a disincentive that most developers will feel as access to LLM costs rises, and they surely will before they retreat.

GitHub Copilot has reportedly been costing Microsoft up to $80 per user per month in some cases as the company struggles to make its AI assistant turn a profit.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, the figures reportedly come from an unnamed individual familiar with the company, who noted that the Microsoft-owned platform was losing an average of $20 per user per month in the first few months of 2023.

There are many indications that GPUs are very scarce, and demand is increasing at rates that put a lot of pressure to secure LLM access.

I keep asking myself:

Is generative AI on the edge of a reckoning that will cause rampant adoption to pull back?

Ironically, AI costs may put a sizable dent in the adoption trajectory, not hallucinations or crappy inferences, as non-believers first claimed.

One thing is sure in this little cesspool of AI development uncertainty - aftermarket developers and consultants may not discover that next great AI-centric feature that causes users to want to pay future higher fees—UNLESS disincentives to AI R&D are removed.

This hastily-prepared diagram shows three layers of AI costs burdened by after-market developers and enterprise Makers. These are not insignificant layers given the intensity needed to push a generative AI solution into production. With Coda’s new credits model, this creates a tax on innovation - one of the worst things you can do if your goal is broad adoption of a platform that depends on Makers who must shape the tool to meet specific fitness objectives.

I [personally] have many exciting ideas and possible use cases that depend on various platform AI features. Still, if I must pay for the platform, and additionally the hyper-consumption of inferences required to create something that is far beyond usual and customary volumes of AI use, I won’t use that platform to do it. I’ll seek another path that probably won’t include the platform that charges retail prices for using LLMs in an R&D process.

If platform providers want their users to pay for AI, they must demonstrate why AI upgrades are in the customer’s best interest. The value proposition pre-AI was easy to communicate. Now you have a tiger by the tail … and that tiger has teeth.

At no other time in the history of software tools has a distributed network of value-adders been more critical.

This new breed of developers and aftermarket providers could be described as hyper-partners - entities skilled in your product AND generative AI working as an extension of your development team. The future of generative AI has fractured the very essence of a development team. No internal team can cover all AI possibilities; this new horizon of opportunities must be distributed and scalable. And compensation may be required to sustain attraction.

But that idea suggests a slightly different engineering and financial model. It requires incentives in a context that attracts scarce external resources to create abundant solutions and templates.

This is not a well-understood or broadly discussed trend, but I personally have been invited to work for three no-code platform companies in the past ten days. All of them are desperate to shore up their generative AI templates, approaches, and documentation, all while serving a secondary tole to provide additional requirements guidance to their engineering teams.

It’s a new world and we can blame it all on generative AI. :wink: