Shortly after OpenAI’s ChatGPT was released in November, Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of online education company Coursera, started using the technology to see if it could save him time.

He started using the chatbot to write company letters and notes and asked his executive assistant to try the same for preparing responses to incoming emails. She prompts ChatGPT how, in her opinion, he would respond, and he edits the generated replies before sending.

“I spend way more time thinking and way less time writing,” Mr. Maggioncalda said. “I don’t want to be the one who doesn’t use it, because someone who is using it is going to have a lot of advantages.”

All over the world, business people from various fields, including architecture, software, and the entertainment industry, are testing a new frontier of technology: so-called generative artificial intelligence programs that create writing, images and works of art, just like a human does, writes The Wall Street Journal.

In the past, AI was hidden in layers of internal infrastructure to optimize logistics or automate content moderation. Now, apps like ChatGPT and the Midjourney image generator have put the technology directly into the hands of individuals and small businesses, who are using the tools to see if they can automate time-consuming tasks or speed up creative processes.

Some of them are driven by the excitement of being able to do what was previously impossible; others have an existential drive to master new technology in order to keep up with life.

A wave of experiments has drawn the attention of large corporations to the fact that such tools may soon fundamentally change their industries. From Netflix to oil and gas producer Devon Energy Corp. some companies have begun to take cautious steps with generative AI.

However, AI experts caution that such tools should only be used to support people who are already experts in their field. Generative AI can spread disturbing content and misinformation, as well as raise concerns about intellectual property theft and privacy violations.

“The purpose that it is serving is not to inform you about things you don’t know. It’s really a tool for you to be able to do what you do better,” said Margaret Mitchell, chief ethics scientist at AI research startup Hugging Face.

Telmo Gomes, the co-founder and IT director of LiveSense, which is based in Melbourne, Australia, says ChatGPT saves him a lot of research time. After his company was hired to develop a system that could detect vaping in public places, he spent hours calling people and Googling to determine which sensors worked best. Information was scarce, with other companies selling vaping detection solutions not disclosing exactly what they were using.

Then he typed the question into ChatGPT. Within seconds, the program produced several answers, including those that exactly repeated the decisions he had settled on during his research. It also added a note of caution to consider the ethics of monitoring people’s behaviors.

“It completely blew my mind,” Mr. Gomes said. “We’re a small company. It will let us do more with less.”

Nidhi Hegde, a designer at Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, a global architecture firm that specializes in luxury hotels, said she concluded generative AI would transform her profession when a client sent her team early concept sketches of the building they wanted, which they had created with Midjourney.

Launched in July, Midjourney accepts a variety of prompts from text to 3D shapes and gives users a high degree of control over editing the generated images.

The sketches provided by the client are traditionally the work of the architect, but Ms. Hegde embraced the process. She uploaded the client’s image back into Midjourney and asked the program to create several new variations with different structures while keeping the design similar. According to her, the clients were delighted with the final version.

“The role of the architect really, really changes,” she said. “Within the industry, we really have to rethink what we’re doing as a service.”

Nidhi Hegde now uses Midjourney regularly and dedicates the first half day of working on a new project to what she calls the “failure stage.” She once uploaded an image of a rock to Midjourney and asked the AI to “make the rock gold.” The program created Dwayne’s “The Rock” Johnson’s glittering golden torso.

According to Trey Lowe, CTO of Devon Energy, management at the Oklahoma headquarters became interested in ChatGPT after a group of technicians demonstrated that they could use the tool to test their computer code. The group manages the firm’s automation system that controls oilfield equipment.

Separately, engineers and scientists have started using the tool to summarize large technical documents, he said. The experiments convinced the company to pay close attention to how the technology was developing.

Lowe says the company hopes that one day ChatGPT will be able to search academic repositories and summarize, say, a hundred scientific papers on hydrogen in a concise report.

“For some individuals, just a summary of it will be 100% beneficial to helping them make a decision,” he said.

Lucas Winterbottom, a software engineer at Hong Kong-based financial-technology startup Reap, began using Copilot, an AI coding assistant, built off an earlier version of ChatGPT’s underlying technology, in mid-2022 when it became available to an early batch of testers. He now uses it daily to speed up regular programming tasks, switching to ChatGPT for help in solving less common coding problems.

According to him, ChatGPT also helps him 90% to cope with writing internal company memos:

“I’m a tech person,” he said. “I don’t fully enjoy writing.”

However, not everyone accepts the new technology. Andrew Hundt, a robotics researcher, said he avoids programming with generative AI tools because they have been shown to copy bits of training data, which he believes could compromise the originality of his research. He says his opinion of the tools soured after he learned from other users that his own code appeared in the results they received.

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Many white-collar workers and creative professionals also fear that when generative AI develops enough, it will replace them in the same way that robots replaced factory jobs.

Netflix faced backlash on Twitter in February after it said it used generative AI to create background images in an anime short film posted on YouTube that was created as part of a program experimenting with new technologies. Critics said the move threatened to take away opportunities from human artists.

Taiki Sakurai, Netflix’s director of anime, said the company is committed to supporting human talent.

Surya Ravikumar, vice president of data and strategy at Smartkarma, a Singapore-based financial investment research firm,has drawn a distinction between which content on its platform should and shouldn’t be automated.

The firm, which provides subscribers with access to independent investment advice, is testing using ChatGPT to create resumes and tweet reports, as well as to write search engine-optimized corporate blog posts about investing basics that are hosted outside of the paid portion of the platform.

Cynthia Ting, an architect at US firm NBBJ, says she has watched Midjourney spread like wildfire among her colleagues. She is working with the Hong Kong chapter of the American Institute of Architects to create a think tank to help architects learn how to use generative AI and other technologies.

“In the future, I feel like AI will be our third brain,” Ms. Ting said. “We have our left brain and right brain; sometimes we make decisions by logic, sometimes with emotion. Now we’ll have an AI brain to provide us information and data analysis. It will help us to make better decisions.”