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Generative AI vs. Large Language Models: What's the Difference?

Elizabeth Bell, Appian
September 8, 2023

What are the differences between generative AI vs. large language models? How are these two buzzworthy technologies related? In this article, we’ll explore their connection. 

generative ai vs large language models

To help explain the concept, I asked ChatGPT to give me some analogies comparing generative AI to large language models (LLMs), and as the stand-in for generative AI, ChatGPT tried to take all the personality for itself. For example, it suggested, “Generative AI is the chatterbox at the cocktail party who keeps the conversation flowing with wild anecdotes, while LLMs are the meticulous librarians cataloging every word ever spoken at every party.” I mean, who sounds more fun? Well, joke’s on you, ChatGPT, because without LLMs, you wouldn’t exist. 

Text-generating AI tools like ChatGPT and LLMs are inextricably connected. LLMs have grown in size exponentially over the past few years, and they fuel generative AI by providing the data they need. In fact, we would have nothing like ChatGPT without data and the models to process it. 

Here, you can explore another common question: Generative AI vs. machine learning.

3 facts about generative AI vs. LLMs.

Three major things stand out when you compare generative AI and LLMs. 

1. Not all generative AI tools are built on LLMs, but all LLMs are a form of generative AI.

Generative AI is a broad category for a type of AI, referring to any artificial intelligence that can create original content. Generative AI tools are built on underlying AI models, such as a large language model (LLM). LLMs are the text-generating part of generative AI. 

2. LLMs create text-only outputs.

LLMs used to only be able to accept text inputs, as well. When OpenAI first released ChatGPT in 2022, it was built on a text-only LLM, GPT-3. But now, with the development of “multimodal” LLMs, these LLMs can accept audio, imagery, etc. as inputs. OpenAI’s next iteration, GPT-4, is an example of a multimodal LLM. 

Both generative AI and LLMs will revolutionize industries, but they will do so in different ways. Generative AI could change the way we do 3D modeling, generate video output, or create voice assistants and other audio. LLMs will focus more on text-based content creation but still have other significant uses (and may play a role in wider generative AI options like voice assistants).

3. LLMs are only growing.

LLMs have been around since the early 2010s, but they gained popularity when powerful generative AI tools like ChatGPT and Google’s Bard launched. Everest Group notes that one reason 2023 saw such exponential growth is the expansion of parameters in large language models, with GPT-4 having more than 175 billion parameters.

In summary, this is the difference between generative AI vs. large language models: Generative AI is a category that contains a myriad of tools built to use information from LLMs and other types of AI models using machine learning to generate new content, while an LLM is a type of AI model that uses machine learning built on billions of parameters to understand and produce text. 

So is ChatGPT right about the chatterbox vs. the librarian? I hate to admit it, but perhaps it is. 

As you can see, data and AI are intertwined. When you think about operationalizing AI at your organization, start with the fundamentals: data privacy. 

Our guide on Private AI explains where to begin with data privacy and AI.