The Key for AI Agents to Succeed: Breaking Down Tasks

As artificial intelligence agents and large language models become more advanced, it can be tempting to expect superhuman performance right out of the gate. Many people assume an AI system should be able to accomplish complex, multi-step tasks on the first try with just a high-level prompt.

Agents are Like Humans

However, even highly capable AI still requires the task to be broken down into smaller, more manageable subtasks in order to generate high-quality results consistently. For example, just as you wouldn't expect a human ghostwriter to produce a perfect final draft on the first attempt with minimal direction, we shouldn't expect that of AI either.

Let's Break It Down!

Large Language Models today are really only able to do one core thing well - generate text based on a text input. Successfully applying them to real-world use cases, like content creation or booking a flight, requires decomposing the overall objective into a series of smaller steps the AI can handle one at a time.

Content Generation Example

For content generation, this might look like:

  1. Perform initial research on the topic
  2. Generate an outline
  3. Produce a first draft
  4. Gather feedback and identify areas to improve
  5. Revise and refine the content
  6. Perform a final review and polish

At each step, a human provides guidance and input to the AI, almost like managing a junior employee or intern. The AI handles the time-consuming legwork, but the human remains in the loop to provide direction and quality control.

Flight Booking Example

The same principles apply for an AI agent booking a flight. It can't just naively click around a website hoping to stumble across the right booking flow. The task must be explicitly decomposed into steps like:

  1. Retrieve key information (origin, destination, dates, payment details)
  2. Select the booking service to use
  3. Navigate to the appropriate page
  4. Fill out forms with the provided information
  5. Review details and confirm the booking

By systematically guiding the AI through this process and having it focus on one clear subtask at a time, we set it up for success.

Next Steps and Conclusion

Break down your objectives into bite-sized pieces, provide examples of the subtasks, and keep a human in the loop. That's the key to unlocking the immense potential of AI to boost productivity in our work and lives. Expecting a single prompt to yield the perfect end result is simply not realistic with today's AI.

The sooner we recognize that working with AI is an interactive, iterative process, the sooner we can start leveraging this incredible technology to its full potential. So next time you find yourself frustrated that an AI agent didn't meet your expectations on the first attempt, don't give up - just break down the task and try again!

Justin Macorin | LinkedIn
Lead Machine Learning Engineer, Seismic

Justin is a Lead Machine Learning Engineer with Seismic, the leading global sales enablement platform. His mission is to help accelerate the adoption of AI and help engineers accelerate their development of prompt-based applications.