OpenAI chairman says new AI venture goes beyond customer service

Conversational AI company Sierra seeks to shakeup how companies engage with their customer base, calling its artificial intelligence model more than just a customer service bot.

Sierra Co-Founders Clay Bavor — a former Google Labs Vice President (GOOG, GOOGL) — and Bret Taylor — who is also the Sierra CEO, chairman of OpenAI, and former Salesforce Co-CEO (CRM) — join Yahoo Finance Executive Editor Brian Sozzi to discuss how they aim to deploy their large language model service.

"We believe that your AI agent and AI version of your company that can simply have a conversation with your customers may dwarf all of those [website, mobile app platforms] in terms of their importance to your brand, and Sierra, we want to be the platform that every company in the world uses to build their AI agent," Taylor explains.

Taylor comments on OpenAI's outlook on building out its AI infrastructure.


Bavor explains how Sierra's AI is already engaging with its client's customers: "What we see it doing today is not just answering questions, but actually taking action on behalf of their customers: processing complex exchanges and returns for the retailer, managing subscriptions, giving advice on things like food points in the case of WeightWatchers."

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Editor's note: This article was written by Luke Carberry Mogan.

Video Transcript

BRIAN SOZZI: An OpenAI chairman and a former Google executive joined forces to create a new artificial intelligence company that is Sierra. I'm joined by Bret Taylor and Clay Bavor, the co-founders of Sierra, to discuss why they've bet big on AI chat bots. Bret, it has been a while. Nice to see you again in a box. And, Clay, nice to meet you for the first time.

CLAY BAVOR: Brian, it's great to meet you. Thanks.

BRIAN SOZZI: Thank you, I appreciate it. So, Brett, let me start with you because 24 hours this news has been out. And I've just been ingesting a lot of some of the early reviews of what this is and what this isn't. What do you say to those that said, hey, you know what this is a customer service bot. Tell me why it's not.

BRET TAYLOR: Brian, I think it's so much bigger than that. Look at ChatGPT, grew to 100 million users, faster than any consumer product in history. I think it really represents a sea change in consumer behavior. And Clay and I really believe that conversational AI is going to be the way companies interact with their customers in the future.

If you look at 1995, to exist digitally, you needed a website, 2005 maybe you had a profile page in social media. 2015, maybe you made a mobile app. We believe that your AI agent, an AI version of your company that can simply have a conversation with your customers, may dwarf all of those in terms of their importance to your brand. And, Sierra, we want to be the platform that every company in the world uses to build their AI agent.

BRIAN SOZZI: Clay, there's a lot of this new AI sweeping through markets and investors are getting hit with a lot of these things. What are some of the technical challenges from your standpoint to bring a product like this to market? Because the way a lot of folks, like me, see it, every day, there's some new form of AI floating around.

CLAY BAVOR: Well, we're running towards one of the most challenging, and we think potentially impactful, problems in AI, which is putting AI directly in front of your customers. And in order to do that, we're taking a pretty differentiated technical approach called an autonomous AI agent architecture. And what that means is that rather than our AI agents using a single AI model, we actually combine multiple models.

In any action that it takes, for instance, it may call four or five, even six separate models for decision making, reasoning, checking to make sure an answer is factual, and more. So we combine this architecture with a layered approach to improving quality, reliability, factuality, and more. And the results have been really promising.

BRIAN SOZZI: Clay, look, I'm not a computer scientist. I didn't learn how to code in school, full stop, but as this becomes more powerful, this bot, what will it be doing six months from now that it's not doing today?

CLAY BAVOR: Well, we're really proud to have worked with for what we called design partners. Think of them as early pilot customers to actually deploy this technology in the wild today. And so we've worked with the likes of Weight Watchers, Sonos, SiriusXM, and OluKai to deploy our platform and build AI agents for them.

And what we see it doing today is not just answering questions, but actually taking action on behalf of their customers processing complex exchanges and returns for the retailer, managing subscriptions, and giving advice on things like food points in the case of Weight Watchers. And with Weight Watchers, it's already resolving almost 70% of all customer inquiries and with a remarkable 4.6 out of five star customer satisfaction rating. And so over the next six months, we hope to improve the quality and breadth of the types of actions it can take on behalf of customers. And we're seeing great progress on that front.

BRIAN SOZZI: Bret, the last time I physically saw you was on the ground at the World Economic Forum in Davos when you were still Co-CEO of Salesforce. And AI was still on the fringes, but now you're out with something like this. And I was thinking back to a couple of weeks ago when I was there again. And there are a lot of discussion on the future of AI and potential risks. When I see a product like this from Sierra, this has to impact jobs, right?

BRET TAYLOR: Short term, AI definitely has potential for some job displacement. And fundamentally, if you talk to an economist, they'll talk about driving productivity into the economy. And that can often be a euphemism for displacing jobs in the short term.

However, if you look back at the history of technology, when the automated teller machine was introduced at banks, it didn't over time reduce the number of employees at banks. There's just different types of jobs. So short term, certainly AI will displace some types of jobs. I think it will also create new types of jobs.

One really great anecdote is actually at one of our design partners, the customer experience teams that were responsible for reporting defects and shaping their agent have now renamed themselves the AI architects. And I'm hopeful that categories like AI architect will end up new types of jobs. And most importantly, I'm really hopeful that people can make transitions in the middle of their career to these new types of roles. And companies, like Sierra, have a big part in playing in that reskilling revolution.

BRIAN SOZZI: Bret, I think you just dated all of us. I think we're all about the same age by calling an automated teller machine. I mean, for the younger folks out there on Yahoo Finance, that's just an ATM. You just get your money out of it, or I don't know, you just use Venmo. But anyway, now, Bret, you're also, you're also the chairman of OpenAI.

I know you're on the governance perspective, but, you know, we've seen reports recently that Sam Altman wants to raise $5 to $7 trillion. I've been doing this for a while, man. I've never even heard of numbers like this before. What is the ultimate grand vision for OpenAI that it would need trillions of dollars of capital? I don't even know where that comes from.

BRET TAYLOR: Well, OpenAI is a mission-driven nonprofit. And the mission is really simple, to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity. And that question is probably better for Sam, but what I can tell you is that to produce artificial general intelligence that does benefit all of humanity, it requires the greatest researchers in the world. And it requires a huge buildout in infrastructure.

And I'm sure any artificial intelligence executive you'll talk to will talk about the current shortage in both training, computation, and inference computation. It's not an issue specific to OpenAI. And I think as you look at the buildout in the semiconductor space, even companies like Sierra, we've actually had to architect our platform to insulate our customers from potential shortages and computation.

So it's a huge issue in the industry right now. And I think if you just Zoom out a little bit, the numbers are comically large. It's because of the promise of this technology.

You know, I think if you talk to an economist about the purpose of software, it's really to drive productivity. With large language models and modern AI, I think we have a technology that can truly drive productivity into all segments of the economy. And I think there's really authentic excitement about it.

As I mentioned I think to a colleague yesterday, probably a little bit of froth right now. You know, maybe the excitement is really high. I think we'll look back and say that it's warranted though. I think this technology can really impact our personal and professional lives in just remarkable ways.

BRIAN SOZZI: Clay, last word to you. What do you think? You just heard what Bret said. What do you think the moonshot is here with this type of technology? And where do you see it-- how do you see it impacting humanity over the next decade?

CLAY BAVOR: We really think of conversational AI as a sea change technology with huge implications on, not only how people interact with computers and businesses, but in how businesses represent themselves. And as Brett said, we really believe that if in 1995 you needed to build a website to represent your company, your business at its best, in 2025, you're going to need an AI agent. And that's going to enable you to imbue this thing with your voice and values, enable you to help customers at the highest level of quality any hour of any day-- you're never going to have to ask your customers to wait-- and show up as a company as your best self in every digital interaction you have.

That's our vision for the company. And we hope to make Sierra the conversational AI platform for businesses and enable every company to bring this type of experience to their customers.

BRIAN SOZZI: Bret, you've got to apply this to earnings calls. I mean, doing those are no fun. I'm sure you're happy you don't have to be on those anymore, right?

BRET TAYLOR: I'm happy to talk to you, not just after Salesforce earnings calls. Going from 80,000 employees to 30 is really fun. I said this yesterday, but one of my favorite quotes-- I don't know if it's misattributed-- is Steve Jobs. "It's more fun to be a pirate than it is to be in the Navy." And so Clay and I are sailing this pirate ship into the ocean, and I've never had more fun.

BRIAN SOZZI: All right. Well, ahoy, mates. Bret Taylor and Clay Bavor, Sierra co-founders, good to see you both. And good luck on the new venture. We'll be tracking you.

CLAY BAVOR: Thanks so much, Brian.