Mike Redwood


International Leather Maker

Last week I asked Chat GPT if it would write my weekly ILM comment article on how the rising cost of money will impact the leather industry. Did you notice?

Chat GPT is an amazing tool that can handle almost infinite amounts of data from which it creates novel material such as text and images when asked. It is classed as Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) about which we are sure to hear a great deal from now on. It is not a thing for the future, but very much of the here and now.

Chat GPT has shot to prominence since being made publicly available so that its owners OpenAI (originally founded in 2015 by Elon Musk and Sam Altman) can obtain large amounts of feedback and improve its methodology. It answered my question with some very impressive top line comments; and it clearly understood that there were concerns about using chromium, about the need for good environmental management and an enthusiasm for circularity. But if you did not like what I wrote last week please do not blame Chat GPT, as I filed its answer for posterity but did not use it.

Understanding nuance

Despite how clever it is, and good at putting words together, the way this language tool works struggled to interpret an intricate situation in any profound way – although like searching Google learning the type of question to ask is probably equally irrelevant. Since we are good enough at writing our own bland stories, I had another word with Chat GPT – chatting with it is remarkably enjoyable – about how it might help the leather industry look at the future. This is what it said:

“As a language model, I do not have the ability to predict the future or help any particular industry. However, I can provide information and assist with tasks related to the leather industry such as answering questions about production processes, providing market analysis, or assisting with written communications.” 

If you are in education Chat GPT can write excellent essays and even provide useful material at higher levels. Wharton has already reported that after testing Chat GPT it would currently obtain a B in their core MBA Operations Management Module. Education at all levels will need to adapt, although I think must not try to ban it. When part-time teaching Marketing courses at Bath University I always tried to make my exam questions situationally specific so that students who parroted material from memory or cut and pasted from texts would struggle. Learning needs to involve demonstrating understanding and an ability to work in complicated situations.

World Economic Forum

At last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos AI was high up the agenda as a tool already making a difference and likely to help many new technologies start to make a big difference even by 2025. Talking with a colleague in the U.S. who works on high level business strategy we agreed that it now time to have regenerative AI “in the room” during many discussions. Some computer companies already use AI to suggest the next line to computer coders, and other businesses get help with customer correspondence. It is being worked on as a tool to help researchers pick out better hypotheses faster with wide and deep searches combined with the ability to look for types of linkages that offer breakthrough solutions.

Used in this way it offers support to our work and the chance to accelerate processes to assist advancement and discovery.

So, do not expect Chat GPT and its friends to start replacing jobs but start experimenting with where and how they might contribute. Leather is complex. It has many raw materials, many geographies and husbandry methods heading to diverse markets with many areas where a supercharged “Wikipedia with added skills” might contribute. That is why Microsoft appears close to buying 10% of OpenAI with the thought that it might boost their Bing Search Engine, among other things. Throughout the leather supply network and across the business functions there is work to be done.

Our continued attacks against competitive materials are already starting to sound like the defence of a static position while competitors encircle us. A little extra help in getting our foot on to the accelerator of progress can only be for the good.


Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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