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One year on: how ChatGPT brought AI to the masses


ChatGPT has catapulted artificial intelligence (AI) from science fiction to reality faster than it will take people to get into the habit of calling Twitter by its new name.

The said platform is now called X and was taken over by the billionaire space cowboy Elon Musk just over a year ago. There was little cause for celebration of the fact as the very foundation of what was once called the world’s public forum is crumbling.

It must particularly sting that OpenAI, a company Musk helped found in 2015 and reportedly left three years later after a failed takeover, is doing spectacularly well. A year ago, ChatGPT was introduced to the world, a chatbot that changed our perception of what is possible.

After repeated attacks on the company’s leadership and criticism of ChatGPT as too “woke,” Musk is not holding his grudge back today.

“Be honest, you’re scared of Grok,” Musk said in a message on X, referring to his own recently unveiled chatbot, which will "answer spicy questions that are rejected by most other AI systems.”

Perhaps this was Musk’s way of saying “Happy Birthday” to the one person who managed to outshine him this past year, OpenAI’s just reinstated CEO Sam Altman.

In his own post on X marking the one-year anniversary of ChatGPT, Altman said: “A year ago tonight we were probably just sitting around the office putting the finishing touches on ChatGPT before the next morning’s launch.”

“What a year it’s been,” he said. It’s hard to disagree.

A start of something bigger

Just a year ago, AI was not something that world leaders would lose a night’s sleep over, let alone put at the top of their agendas at global summits. It was not even a dinner table conversation.

Beyond Silicon Valley types, few gave it another thought – AI was still very much science fiction in the reality of post-pandemic shocks, climate change, and raging wars, as well as growing political and social divides across societies.

That changed on November 30th, 2022, when a little-known San Francisco-based company called OpenAI released ChatGPT, a chatbot. It immediately went viral, attracting 5 million users within several days.

Initially dubbed by this very publication an “obsession of the week” and a “fun tool to play around,” it quickly became apparent that ChatGPT was more than a fad. In January, OpenAI received a $10 billion injection from Microsoft, and by February, ChatGPT had 100 million monthly active users.

Google soon followed with the announcement of its own chatbot, Bard, and China’s Baidu joined the global AI race with Ernie Bot shortly after. Regulators around the world scrambled to catch up with the rapidly emerging technology and its capabilities.

Meanwhile, ChatGPT passed medical, law, and business school exams. The fear of being replaced by a machine caused a severe case of AI anxiety, but now we’re told that the wider adoption of AI tools could actually lead to a shorter work week for the same pay.

In its one year of existence, ChatGPT has sparked many similar debates that focused on the two sides of the same coin: AI could both facilitate cybercrime and help fight it. It’s both an extension of human creativity and a “grotesque mockery” of it. And it’s simultaneously an existential threat to humanity and its savior.

The launch of ChatGPT was intense and overwhelming, leading to an explosion in generative AI that the World Economic Forum (WEF) said “is set to put the Fourth Industrial Revolution into high gear.”

If details emerging from the leadership drama at OpenAI are any suggestion, the year ahead indeed promises to be even more tumultuous.

The great AI divide?

The power struggle at OpenAI has highlighted an increasing gap between the so-called “accelerationists” pushing for faster technology advancement and those who argue for a slower approach so that proper safeguards can be put in place before AI gets out of hand.

While Altman has repeatedly stressed the necessity of AI regulation in his public appearances, his return as OpenAI CEO is also seen as a win for accelerationists calling for a swift development of superhuman artificial intelligence.

The gap between “AI positive” and “AI negative” thinking will continue to grow, according to Paolo Danese, a Singapore-based AI strategy consultant.

“As AI becomes more advanced, some creators will embrace it as a tool while others view it as an existential threat. This could solidify into opposing camps,” Danese said.

In commerce, there is also a “clear divide” emerging between consumers and business leaders when it comes to the adoption, enthusiasm, and education around AI, according to Ruth Zive, a chief marketing officer at AI software company LivePerson.

Data from LivePerson shows that 91% of business leaders feel positive about using AI to engage with customers, but only 50% of consumers say the same – compared to 62% before the launch of ChatGPT.

“The hype and confusion coming out of the wake of ChatGPT are taking a toll,” Zive said, warning that businesses risked turning consumers against a “promising” technology if brands do not improve their AI-powered experiences.

Alienation will accompany the rapidly developing technology in the short term, said Ben Steele, a UK-based AI content developer. In the long term, it could bring a boom in productivity that would change things in “wild and unpredictable ways.”

“I've never been less certain about what the next 20 years are going to look like,” Steele said.


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