ChatGPT is winning the future

In the modern age of technology, there is a series of before and afters. Everything was one way and suddenly it became clear that it would never be that way again. Netscape showed the world the internet, Facebook personalized the internet. There are many other moments, like the moment dating apps appeared or the moment Netflix started streaming movies, but not many.

Open AI’s announcement of ChatGPT a year ago today may be the most modest game changer to date. No one went on stage to announce that they had invented the future, no one thought they were launching something that would make them very rich. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the last 12 months, it’s that no one – not OpenAI’s competitors, not the public who are the users of the technology, not the creators of the platform – thought ChatGPT would be the fastest growing consumer technology in history. In retrospect, the reason why ChatGPT is thought to have changed everything may be that no one expected ChatGPT to emerge.

In the year since its launch, ChatGPT has changed every corner of the tech industry, raising US$17.9 billion in the third quarter of this year alone, according to Pitchbook.

Several companies already seem to be leading the way: Anthropic is becoming one of OpenAI’s best and best-funded competitors, and Midjourney’s image-generating AI is advancing at an impressive pace. But no matter what you want – note-taking apps, audio mixing tools, easy ways to summarize meetings, books or legal documents – new and cool things are emerging every day.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the tech world, AI is fascinating the biggest companies on the planet, with OpenAI partner and investor Microsoft investing heavily in AI-powered Bing and bringing AI ‘Copilots’ to Office, Windows, Azure and more. Google invented much of the underlying technology that is now suddenly everywhere, worked hard to launch Bard and Search Generative Experience, and embedded Duet AI into its own workplace products AI is used in everything from Alexa with LLM to AWS customers, with a million new AI tools for AWS customers at the center of Amazon’s announcements this year. Meta now sees AI as a more important part of the future than the Metaverse; AI hardware has made Nvidia one of the most valuable companies on the planet. Even Apple, the least active of the tech giants, has started talking about AI work. Call it a boom or a bubble, it’s been a long time since the entire tech industry became so obsessed with one thing.

But make no mistake: ChatGPT is the biggest winner of the ChatGPT revolution. The new audio and video features are nice, but mostly it’s still a crudely designed chat interface: a million users in five days, 100 million users in just two months, and now 100 million users every week.

ChatGPT is the biggest winner of the ChatGPT revolution

ChatGPT and its underlying model quickly became a billion-dollar business for Open AI. It has achieved the almost impossible. As a data provider, it has become a popular consumer app in its own right, as well as monetizing other businesses that want to build on top of the GPT model. People pay $20 a month to use ChatGPT, while other businesses pay more to use its model. Click on a link on the internet and you are confronted with confident predictions that AI will change everything, that AI will write emails for you, that AI will write emails for you, that AI can write code for you, that AI can write code for you, that AI can write code for you, that AI can write code for you, that AI can write code for you, that AI can write code for you, that AI can write code for you, that AI can write code for you. It can write malware that will ruin everything. It can make Pixar movies. You will be stuck in the uncanny valley forever. You will never have a job again. You will never need a job again. AI will save us. AI will kill us.

It’s worth pausing here for a moment to note that in reality much of this technology is still not very good. Large-scale language models are ‘hallucinating’; if you look at an AI image for more than two seconds, you always know it was generated; AI-authored emails always feel machine-generated; AI systems are not smarter or more creative than humans; AI systems are not smarter or more creative than humans; AI systems are not more creative than humans. Of course, AI is not currently smarter or more creative than humans. But so far AI is akin to self-driving cars, which have improved dramatically at a much faster rate than anyone thought possible. At the moment, there is absolutely no reason to think that superhuman AI will become a reality any time soon. Assuming it ever does.

This is where the phrase ‘no one expected it’ gets complicated: AI may not be perfected yet, but it is already more advanced than most people expected. And in recent weeks, OpenAI has even been split in two over the pace of ChatGPT’s growth and OpenAI’s attempts to monetize its app store and other tools. CEO Sam Altman has had to temporarily step down, but the exact reasons for this are not yet known. Is it a power struggle between board members, the result of disagreements over security, or something else entirely?

In 2023, everyone had to find out what it all meant.

This drama is bizarre, high-stakes and ultimately perhaps irrelevant to the broader issue. So let’s go back to the broader issue. What are we actually creating here? Because this is happening so fast and the impact of AI is potentially so far-reaching, 2023 forces everyone to figure out What It All Means.

OpenAI’s original mission statement was to ‘advance digital intelligence in a way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by the need to generate a financial return’. It’s easy to say there is no economic return, but difficult when analysts estimate the market size to exceed US$1 trillion.

Many people in the tech sector and around the world are thinking about the same tension. If you’re Google CEO Sundar Pichai and you’ve spent five years saying that AI is ‘deeper than electricity or fire’, do you have a responsibility to maximize its value for shareholders and humanity? There is little evidence that it can do both at the same time, and historically shareholders tend to win: If AI is going to change everything, literally everything, can it do so within the tech industry and economy as we know it? Is the AI we need the same AI that is most profitable?

Is maximizing the value of AI for shareholders or for humanity?

We certainly seem to like being able to write business emails faster. We like being able to tell Excel ‘turn this into a bar chart’ instead of scrolling through menus; we like being able to tell ChatGPT what I want my app to do and it does the coding. But do we want SEO-optimized, AI-generated news to take over the publications we once loved to read? Do we want AI bots that behave like real-life characters and become anthropomorphic companions in our lives? Do we think of AI as a tool or a collaborator? If AI tools can be trained to create exactly the song/movie/image/story I want right now, is that art or dystopia? Even if we start answering these questions, it seems like AI technology will always be one step, one step ahead of the cultural revolution.

At the same time, lawsuits have been filed claiming that AI companies are stealing artists’ works, and some US judges have basically stated that “current copyright law has no idea how to deal with AI”. While the AI revolution is built on unethical and illegal foundations, lawmakers are scratching their heads over AI security, and President Joe Biden signed a very general presidential decree directing agencies to establish security standards and companies to do good, not evil, while the creators of these models and companies continue to confidently pursue their plans, saying that stopping or slowing them down is impossible and anti-progress.

What do you think?

Written by Sean Anderson

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