Monday, May 27, 2024

LLM applications: Sustaining today, disruptive tomorrow

Most new technologies foster improved product performance. I call these sustaining technologies. Some sustaining technologies can be discontinuous or radical in character, while others are of an incremental nature. What all sustaining technologies have in common is that they improve the performance of established products, along the dimensions of performance that mainstream customers in major markets have historically valued. Most technological advances in a given industry are sustaining in character…

Disruptive technologies bring to a market a very different value proposition than had been available previously. Generally, disruptive technologies underperform established products in mainstream markets. But they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value. Products based on disruptive technologies are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use.

The Innovator’s Dilemma - Clayton Christensen

There is lots of room for evolution, but the evidence is clear: Today, LLM applications are a sustaining technology.
The list of established products being improved goes on and on. Read Ben Thompson's excellent post from January 2023 here.

While sustaining applications focus on improving existing products, disruptive technologies challenge the status quo with new value propositions. 

This shift can be seen in the development of LLM applications that are cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more convenient to use:

Even these ^ seem likely to get pushed-to-scale by incumbents that have the data/infra edge. As Christensen predicted though, I think these sorts of applications can still win by focusing on the "other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value."

I'm sure more disruptive products will emerge over time, redefine industries and create new markets. Today though, the clear winners are the incumbents.