How Can Nonprofits Harness the Power of Exponential Technologies, Including Artificial Intelligence?

Exponential Technology Curve

Exponential technologies are innovations that facilitate change resulting in improved performance and cost reductions at an accelerating pace. These include artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, quantum computing, robotics, and other emerging technologies that will immensely impact us in the coming years. The image above shows the exponential growth in the number of transistors that can be placed on a computer chip over recent years.

Artificial Intelligence Adoption

McKinsey & Company reported that businesses have continued to expand their adoption of AI in 2021 resulting in substantial benefits. Although not a focus of the report, nonprofits tend to be slower in adopting new technologies compared with for-profit organizations.

My father was a computer programmer toward the beginning of the computer revolution. He helped improve workflows and processes for organizations in ways that simply were not possible before the advent of computers.

I am not a programmer and don’t have to be to benefit from AI. In 2021 I incorporated an AI tool, Generative Pre-trained Transformer – 3 (GPT-3), into my work as an evaluator. I wrote a blog post earlier this year, which includes a video, describing my use of GPT-3.


GPT-3 is Helpful and Relatively Easy to Use

GPT-3 is a Transformer, which is based on a deep learning model called a neural network. GPT-3 can be used by individuals who are not proficient in coding as it has a “text in, text out” interface that can complete many types of English language tasks. It was trained on data from Common Crawl, which is a regularly obtained archive of the web, as well as other web text, books, and Wikipedia. 

Individuals and organizations can use GPT-3 through the OpenAI Playground, a web-based interface, or create applications that use the GPT-3 API in the background. The types of use cases for GPT-3 include classification, completion, conversation, semantic search, summarization, factual responses, generation, and transformation. 


How I Used GPT-3

I have used GPT-3 in multiple ways and two examples are provided below. First off, I utilized it to create novel reflective questions for my work as an evaluator based on modifications of existing reflective questions that I found to be helpful. Reflective questions can be an important part of improving professional practice by encouraging learning and growth. I also used GPT-3 to create multiple-choice questions to test the knowledge of participants in a nutrition program.

How You Can Begin to Incorporate Emerging Technologies Into Your Work 

To understand the impact of emerging technologies it is important to follow related developments and trends. Here are a few of the free resources I review. Reading these also helps with my investment decisions.

  • Exponential View – Weekly newsletter by Azeem Azhar covering developments in exponential technologies. I learned about GPT-3 through his newsletter.
  • Future Today Institute – Annual report and regular updates related to signals and other factors that drive technological, social, and economic change led by Amy Webb.
  • McKinsey & Company – Technology updates and reports provided through their Analytics Insights webpage as well as newsletters and app.
  • State of AI Report– Annual report covers developments in AI by Nathan Benaich and Ian Hogarth.

Please reply and let me know if and how you have incorporated emerging technologies into your work. How would you like to?

Exciting times! As Timbuk 3, a band from the 1980s, sang, “The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”

EvalNetwork Podcast

My podcast, EvalNetwork, includes interviews with thought leaders in grant writing, data visualization, survey development, report writing, evaluation, and other related areas. It is also on YouTube. Check it out.

Quote I am Contemplating

Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.
Rollo May


James Pann smiling at the camera, sitting in front of green trees

James Pann, Ph.D. is a Professor at Nova Southeast University and a highly experienced psychologist and evaluator with nearly 25 years of experience. He conducts research and evaluation projects with non-profit organizations in the fields of health, human services, and education, and has received funding from multiple government agencies.

James holds multiple degrees including a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology, an M.S. Ed. from the University of Miami, and a BBA in Accounting from the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the host of the EvalNetwork podcast, a frequent conference presenter, and has published several peer-reviewed research articles and co-authored a book. James currently resides in Miami, Florida with his family and enjoys backpacking trips. Find out more about his work here.


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