Jun 5, 2023 - Technology

Six months in, ChatGPT still mesmerizes and dismays

Illustration of a calendar made up entirely of binary code

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

OpenAI let ChatGPT loose on the world last November 30, and six months later the generative AI explosion continues to shake tech's ground.

The big picture: Conversational AI has become a gateway to online information, an interface to computing power, a platform for new tools and businesses, a source of companionship and psychological support and a power boost for coders.

By the numbers: While a majority of U.S. adults have heard of ChatGPT, only 14% have tried it, per a Pew survey conducted in March and released last month.

  • That's still only a small fraction of the population — but it means ChatGPT has been embraced more quickly in six months than either the iPhone or the Web browser was.

Here's a quick recap of six months' worth of AI revolution.

Nov. 30, 2022: OpenAI releases ChatGPT as a "free research preview," and Axios reports it's "scary good."

December 2022:

  • Google, which has been developing similar technology but held it close out of concern for its potential harms, declares a "code red."
  • Professors and teachers start sounding alarms over ChatGPT-based cheating.

January 2023: Microsoft announces a new $10 billion investment in OpenAI.

February 2023:

  • OpenAI launches ChatGPT+ as a paid service and Microsoft unveils its integration of the chatbot with Bing search.
  • Early Bing chat users discover the ghost of a previous test persona named "Sydney" inside the system — and Bing chat's erratic behavior freaks out several journalists.

March 2023:

  • New technology releases come thick and fast, as OpenAI offers a new ChatGPT API; rolls out a bigger, better foundation model called GPT-4; and announces plugins that let the bot connect with other online services and roam the Web.
  • Google, meanwhile, opens access to its own chatbot named Bard.
  • A crowd of tech leaders and workers, including Elon Musk, signs an open letter calling for a 6-month "pause" in the training of new large language models, citing "existential risks" posed by the fast pace of AI development.

April 2023:

  • The Commerce Department takes first steps toward developing AI regulations.
  • An AI-generated song featuring vocals that sound like Drake and the Weeknd goes viral and then gets taken down by streaming services — a reminder, like a popular fake image of the Pope in a Balenciaga puffer coat, that the generative AI wave is transforming not just text but images, audio and video.

May 2023:

  • An American lawyer gets chastised by a judge for filing a ChatGPT-written brief full of made-up case references.

Be smart: The technology behind ChatGPT has gestated for years.

  • Companies including Microsoft had been testing earlier versions of Open AI's large language model, while Google, Meta and others have also been developing similar technology.
  • But once OpenAI released ChatGPT, the speed of the chatbot's leap from research lab to mass phenomenon was breathtaking.

State of play: It's still very early innings in the rise of AI.

  • The expensive, computing-intensive technology could further entrench Big Tech's giants.
  • Or some company that hasn't yet been started could still enter and dominate.
  • At the equivalent stage of the rise of the Web, Google didn't even exist yet.

What's next: The first-ever AI-influenced elections in the U.S. and across the globe. A ferocious wave of investment in the technology crashing into a rising tide of legal conflicts over its appropriation of intellectual property.

  • And, at some point, a cooling-down period — as the world realizes that AI, though incredibly useful for some purposes, is not a solution to every problem.
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