For years we've been promised the rise of artificial intelligence will revolutionise everything from our work life to our personal relationships – and we're finally starting to get a real glimpse at what that might look like.
A "mind-blowing" new chatbot technology is taking over the internet with users gushing over its apparent ability to write and respond to anything asked of it. San Francisco-based company OpenAI released its latest creation, dubbed ChatGPT, to the public a little over a week ago, and people can barely contain their amazement.
The software application is designed to mimic human-like conversation based on user prompts while harnessing the depths of online knowledge and unfathomable computing power to perform written tasks.
Within a week of ChatGPT being unveiled, over a million users had tried it, according to the company's CEO Sam Altman. And the internet is abuzz about it.
What is ChatGPT and how does it work?
OpenAI states their ChatGPT model, trained using a machine learning technique called Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF), can simulate dialogue, answer follow-up questions, admit mistakes, challenge incorrect premises and reject inappropriate requests.
Initial development involved human AI trainers providing the model with conversations in which they played both sides – the user and an AI assistant. The version of the bot available for public testing attempts to understand questions posed by users and responds with in-depth answers resembling human-written text in a conversational format.
Or, as Princeton computer science professor Arvind Narayanan put it: "A tool optimised for bulls**tting".
It's already been through a bunch of iterations, but it's still early days. Its touted real-world applications include digital marketing, online content creation, answering customer service queries or as some users have found, even to help write and debug code.
Lonely could flock to chatbot: 'It feels human'
While the most immediate use cases revolve around low-stakes content creation and potential customer service/information procurement, it could theoretically also play a role in relieving loneliness as well.
Australian-born tech worker James Allworth, who works as the Head of Innovation at Cloudflare and co-hosts the popular technology podcast Exponent, likened its potential to the movie Her, in which Joaquin Phoenix's character conducts a romantic relationship with an artificially intelligent virtual assistant.
"That's another thing this enables, you suddenly have a guaranteed response," he said on an episode Saturday.
"It is that human and the responses are that convincing that it starts to feel like you're passing the Turing test," he said, referring to the famous test of a machine's ability to exhibit the equivalent of intelligent behaviour.
"You feel like you're actually talking to a human and there are plenty of people out there who are lonely that would like that," he posited.
His co-host, renowned tech commentator Ben Thompson, said questions about such applications in the future are "certainly very significant" but likened the chatbot to something that can churn out answers that have the "quality of a high school essay with the confidence of a 28-year-old man".
'Everything is going to be different'
Among those getting caught up in the excitement this week was Aaron Levie, an American entrepreneur and CEO of the enterprise cloud company Box.
"ChatGPT is one of those rare moments in technology where you see a glimmer of how everything is going to be different going forward," he tweeted.
While many have marvelled at the potential business applications, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was quick to remind people of its limitations.
"ChatGPT is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness," he tweeted on Sunday. "It's a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now."
Nonetheless, he described it as "a preview of progress".
ChatGPT is one of those rare moments in technology where you see a glimmer of how everything is going to be different going forward.
— Aaron Levie (@levie) December 3, 2022
ChatGPT is finally giving people the “aha” around ai .. its gonna impact 2023 a lot
— Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) December 9, 2022
ChatGPT is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading impression of greatness.
it's a mistake to be relying on it for anything important right now. it’s a preview of progress; we have lots of work to do on robustness and truthfulness.
— Sam Altman (@sama) December 11, 2022
Are there any problems with ChatGPT?
As with many AI-driven innovations, ChatGPT does not come without misgivings. OpenAI has acknowledged the tool’s tendency to respond with "plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers", an issue it considers challenging to fix.
AI technology can also perpetuate societal biases like those around race, gender and culture. Tech giants including Alphabet Inc’s Google and Amazon have previously acknowledged that some of their projects that experimented with AI were "ethically dicey" and had limitations. At several companies, humans had to step in and fix AI havoc.
Despite these concerns, AI research remains attractive. Venture capital investment in AI development and operations companies rose last year to nearly AUD$20 billion.
What does Elon Musk have to do with ChatGPT?
OpenAI was founded as a nonprofit in 2015 by Silicon Valley investor Sam Altman and billionaire Elon Musk and attracted funding from several others, including venture capitalist Peter Thiel. In 2019, the group created a related for-profit entity to take in outside investment.
Musk, who remains engulfed in his overhaul of social networking firm Twitter, left OpenAI’s board in 2018, but chimed in with his take on the viral phenomenon, calling it "scary good".
You can try ChatGPT here.
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