Feb 22, 2023 - Technology

AI's rise generates new job title: Prompt engineer

Illustration of a collage featuring a light bulb and several triangles.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Generative AI could change many industries, but it still requires an actual person to interact with it. Enter the prompt engineers — people and firms setting themselves up as experts at getting what you want from ChatGPT and similar tools.

Why it matters: Fulfilling AI’s promise of effective automation and productive brainstorming, many experts believe, will require skilled human operators.

“Writing a really great prompt for a chatbot persona is an amazingly high-leverage skill and an early example of programming in a little bit of natural language,” Sam Altman, CEO of ChatGPT creator OpenAI, said on Twitter Monday.

  • When prompted to define “prompt engineering,” ChatGPT itself told Axios that “effective prompt engineering is critical for generating high-quality outputs from generative AI models, as it can help ensure that the model generates content that is relevant, coherent, and consistent with the desired output.”

What they're saying: “It’s kind of like selling jeans during the gold rush,” Stephen Fraga, founder of the new chatbot-training business Prompt Yes!, told Axios, referring to the ecosystem of ventures that spring up in a boom. “It's not actually going out and digging up gold.”

State of play: Many different businesses have already jumped in, some dating back to last summer's image-generating AI craze around Dall-E 2, Stable Diffusion and Midjourney.

  • Platforms like PromptHero, Promptist and Krea serve as prompt search engines or inspiration for those looking for the right words to use.
  • Marketplaces like PromptBase allow users to buy different prompts and sell their own.
  • Trainers and educators are fanning out to help industries train workers on how best to use the new technologies, with video lecture sites like Udemy already offering many courses on them.

Meanwhile, a host of new “prompt engineer” jobs have opened and many job seekers are adding those two words to their resumés.

And of course there are books. David Boyle, director of brand agency Audience Strategies and author of the new book “Prompt: A Practical Guide to Brand Growth Using ChatGPT," tells Axios he and his co-author Richard Bowman have spent 20 years "trying to help people understand audiences and build brands off the back of them.... This technology changes everything about how we do that."

Fraga, of Prompt Yes!, started a software training business in the early 2000s, and compares the new AI wave to that environment. “I was like, 'Oh, this is a new boom.' Only everything's much faster.”

  • “Any white collar worker could benefit from the productivity boost from ChatGPT,” Fraga says. “And then the other direction is productivity for specific occupations, like ChatGPT and prompt engineering for lawyers, ChatGPT and prompt engineering for CPAs.”

The big picture: Proponents of the new tech believe that prompt engineering will become a valuable skill for all internet users, just like learning how to Google something was in the 2000s.

  • “If you think or if you write, you should stop what you're doing and look at how this can help you, because it will make you quicker, better and clearer,” Boyle says.

The other side: Some experts believe that AI is evolving so quickly that the prompt engineering boom will burn out fast.

  • “I have a strong suspicion that ‘prompt engineering’ is not going to be a big deal in the long-term & prompt engineer is not the job of the future,” Ethan Mollick, an associate professor at the Wharton School who has rolled ChatGPT into his classes, said on Twitter.

What to watch: While most prompt engineering has so far focused on text or 2D art, AI-generated video tech isn’t far away — and you can bet that specialized businesses and entrepreneurs will be right behind it.

Go deeper: Read more in Axios' AI Revolution series —

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