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Generative AI - its evolution, capabilities, limitations, and future

Updated: Apr 30

Historical context of AI development

A student at Harvard playing chess before Artificial Intelligence

Depending on who you are the journey of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been awe-inspiring or scary, but nonetheless, its evolution has made incredible milestones and technological breakthroughs since its beginnings playing chess in the early 1950s (McCarthy et al., 1955). AI has gone through many hype cycles since and appears to be going through another today as people are being blown away by Generative AI (Gen AI) applications like ChatGPT, MidJourney, ElevenLabs, and Gemini.

The capabilities of Gen AI and the speed at which it is impacting our world are turning heads and making business leaders contemplate the direction of their business. But, What is Generative AI?

Generative AI is a technology that creates entirely new data, such as text, images, or music. It performs various AI tasks, but its primary focus is content generation. Think of it as a multipurpose tool for creating new content within AI. Generative AI analyzes existing data and patterns to create entirely new and original content, such as writing realistic news articles or composing unique musical pieces. It can be used in many fields, from developing more creative marketing copy to generating realistic product prototypes for faster design iteration.

For example, ChatGPT is a Large Language Model (LLM) that allows users to prompt it to generate various outputs, such as text for an email or a love letter written to sound like it came from a pirate, or an image resembling a cat who is the queen of the world or a man sitting on a bench in the style of Pablo Picasso. Generative AI tools take a prompt and run it through an AI model that generates an output based on it. Hence the name, Generative AI.

Characteristics of Generative AI

Generative AI is the next step in the evolution of AI technology. Traditional AI was limited in its ability to adapt and innovate, as it focused on solving specific tasks. This led to the development of machine learning, and more specifically, deep learning, which uses neural networks to model complex patterns and generate output. With deep learning, algorithms learn from data, identifying patterns and making predictions. This shift opened the door for generative models, which are trained on vast datasets of text, images, or audio, enabling them to create new outputs similar to the training data. (Goodfellow et al., 2014). By processing extensive and diverse data sets, these models have become adept at understanding and creating complex patterns, leading to applications that were previously unimaginable.

Generative AI has three important characteristics that you should understand to appreciate its capabilities and limitations.

Firstly, generative models can learn representations of data, which means they can capture underlying structures and relationships rather than just memorizing specific examples.

A Ven diagram representing the three characteristics of Generative AI: Learning Representations, Probabilistic output, and iterative refinement.

Secondly, these models are designed to handle uncertainty and ambiguity in real-world data by producing probabilistic outputs. This means that they can generate a variety of outputs and evaluate their accuracy by capturing probabilistic distributions. Generative AI produces outputs with inherent randomness, which results in diverse and sometimes unexpected outcomes.

Lastly, generative AI models can adapt to different tasks and domains without requiring explicit programming through iterative refinement. By continuously training on diverse datasets, these models can learn to generate content across various domains such as natural language processing and computer vision. Many models work iteratively, starting with rough sketches and gradually refining them based on feedback or comparison with real-world data.

Generative AI's Capabilities and Limitations

Generative AI is capable of creating new content, not simply replicating existing data. It has a wide range of applications in various industries, including text generation, conversation, image processing, and even software development. Some of the notable examples of generative AI include ChatGPT, GPT-4, Claude, PaLM 2, Bard Chatbot, and GitHub Copilot.

Generative AI offers several benefits, supported by reliable sources. Let's explore some of its key advantages:

  1. Enhancing Creativity: Generative AI has redefined the boundaries of creative endeavors. Technologies like Adobe's Project VoCo showcase AI's ability to generate authentic-sounding voiceovers, demonstrating its role in advancing creative industries. This capability is echoed by AI's potential to inspire innovation and expand the horizons of creativity.

  2. Diverse Functionalities: From text generation to image creation, AI models such as OpenAI's GPT series exhibit unparalleled versatility. These systems are adept at undertaking a wide range of tasks, highlighting the technology's adaptability and utility across different contexts.

  3. Adaptability in Creativity: Platforms like Artbreeder leverage AI to meld images, creating unique artworks. This showcases AI's flexibility in adapting to various creative tasks, underscoring its ability to produce diversified outputs that cater to a broad spectrum of artistic expressions.

  4. Personalized Experiences: Generative AI plays a pivotal role in customizing user experiences. Netflix's recommendation algorithms exemplify how AI can tailor content to individual preferences, illustrating the technology's capacity to enhance user engagement through personalization.

  5. Realistic Simulations: NVIDIA's StyleGAN2 generates lifelike images of faces that don't exist, showcasing AI's ability to produce content that is indistinguishable from reality. This underscores the technology's potential in creating realistic simulations for various applications.

  6. Scalability in Analysis and Discovery: AlphaFold's contributions to understanding protein folding highlight generative AI's ability to process vast datasets efficiently, paving the way for breakthroughs in fields like drug discovery.

  7. Optimization and Efficiency: The application of generative adversarial networks (GANs) in manufacturing exemplifies AI's capacity to streamline production processes, enhancing efficiency and productivity across industries.

Generative AI has exceptional capabilities but it also has limitations. Its reliance on large data sets can lead to biases if the data is not diverse or is skewed. This could result in outputs that are unfair or unethical. The quality and bias of the training data directly impact the outputs, raising concerns about fairness and ethical considerations (Hutson, 2023).

Furthermore, while generative models can provide accurate and insightful results, they can sometimes be erroneous or lack the nuanced understanding that human cognition provides. Understanding how generative models arrive at their outputs can be challenging, hindering trust and responsible deployment.

This emphasizes the importance of continued human oversight and the need for ongoing refinement of these systems. Misinformation risks exist, such as deepfakes and other manipulated content, which highlights the potential for misuse. Hence, careful safeguards and awareness are required to prevent this (Glaser et al.).

The Future of AI Evolution

Looking ahead, the future of AI, particularly generative AI, is immensely promising yet riddled with challenges and responsibilities. As generative AI continues to evolve, its impact on various sectors – from banking to life sciences – could be transformative, potentially adding trillions to the global economy. The technology is poised to reshape industries, augment workforce capabilities, and drive significant productivity gains.

Nevertheless, this evolution comes with the imperative of addressing critical issues such as risk management, ethical considerations, skill development, and the rethinking of business processes. The journey of AI, especially generative AI, is at a crucial juncture. Its path forward will not only shape the technological landscape but also profoundly influence economic growth, societal norms, and the very fabric of how we interact with machines.

As we embrace this new era, it is vital to navigate these advancements with a balanced approach, harnessing the potential of generative AI while being acutely aware of its limitations and the responsibilities it brings. The evolution of AI, particularly generative AI, is not just a technological journey but a societal and economic voyage that demands thoughtful stewardship and visionary leadership.


Glaser, D., Romsdahl, R., & Zhang, M. (2023). Why We Need a New Social Contract for Generative AI. In Proceedings of the 2023 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (FAIT) (pp. 402-410).

Goodfellow, I., Pouget-Abadie, J., Mirza, M., Xu, B., Warde-Farley, D., Ozair, S., Courville, A., & Bengio, Y. (2014). Generative adversarial networks. In Proceedings of the Neural Information Processing Systems (pp. 2222-2232).

Google AI. (2023). Generative AI. Retrieved from Google Generative AI – Google AI 

Hutson, M. (2023). The Bias Problem in Generative AI. [[invalid URL removed]]([invalid URL removed])

McCarthy, J., Minsky, M., Shannon

Amodei, Dario, et al. "Concrete problems in AI safety." arXiv preprint arXiv:1606.06565 (2016).

Brynjolfsson, Erik, and Andrew McAfee. The second machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Elson, Daniel N., et al. "Machine learning for artificial artistic creation." Nature communications 13.1 (2022): 1-14.

Karras, Tero, et al. "Stylegan2: Improved generator architecture for realistic human faces." Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (2022): 5161-5170.

Shneiderman, Ben. "Human-centered AI: Designing intelligent systems that support creativity." ACM Transactions on Human-Computer Interaction (TOCHI) 28.3 (2020): 1-22.

Silver, David, et al. "AlphaFold: Predicting protein structure from sequence." Science 373.6557 (2021): eabi8998.

van der Meijden, Michel. "Personalization: Convenience or creepiness?." Journal of Business Ethics 166.4 (2020): 851-864.


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