Elon Musk's Grok fed on X’s "knowledge:" what's he building and what could go wrong?


Plenty of disruptive elements have been unleashed on the world in the year since OpenAI released ChatGPT publicly. But Elon Musk's latest venture, Grok, stands out as a significant and controversial development.

Developed by xAI, Musk's AI company, Grok is an AI chatbot that its creator hopes will rebalance issues he sees with conversational AI technology. Unlike its predecessors, Grok feeds on real-time data from X (formerly Twitter), the social media platform Musk bought in October 2022 for $44 billion. This approach, says Musk, is designed to make Grok more knowledgeable about current events, giving it an edge over other bots that rely on fixed datasets​.

That’s not all that sets Grok apart from the competition. Promising a combination of wit and rebelliousness, Grok’s personality is coded to offer playful and even sarcastic responses, distinguishing it from more conventional AI chatbots. As part of Musk's plan, Grok has been included in X Premium+, the premium subscription package of X, positioning it as a direct competitor to AI tools like ChatGPT.

What makes Grok Grok?

Grok is inspired by "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," aiming not only to answer user queries but also to suggest new questions. It's powered by a large language model that Musk claims surpasses GPT-3.5 in certain benchmarks, though it still trails behind the more advanced GPT-4 model​.

However, Grok's innovative approach to developing an AI chatbot is not without its controversies. Musk's vision for Grok seems to challenge the prevailing norms of the nascent tech, particularly in its willingness to engage with more controversial topics. This approach raises significant concerns about bias and misinformation, especially considering Grok’s reliance on social media data. Further, the chatbot's informal tone and fewer safety filters could potentially lead to problematic responses, a worry that's been heightened by early demonstrations of Grok's capabilities​.

Early tests of Grok have indeed sparked controversy. For instance, Musk's demonstration of Grok providing detailed, if joking, responses to ethically questionable queries, such as instructions for illegal activities, underscores the risks associated with limited safeguards. Critics argue that Musk's approach to moderation and his apparent celebration of Grok's potential to share dangerous information is reckless, showing too little caution for how this technology could be misused​​​.

Different risks for different people

In a discussion with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak after the UK’s recent AI Safety Summit, Musk acknowledged the potential risks of AI misuse, stating the importance of mitigating these downsides. However, his critics point out that Grok demonstrates too little concern for the safe and ethical use of AI technology​​.

Grok's rollout on X symbolizes Musk’s embrace of controversy and light-touch moderation amidst criticism from AI experts who argue for a more measured approach to developing and deploying new generations of conversational AI. The bot’s capabilities and Musk’s apparent celebration of its potential to share dangerous information have provoked concerns about safety risks and ethical considerations​​.

The fact that it’s trained on a platform that critics claim has promoted hate speech and is involved in the polarisation of political and societal debate is also a worry – as chatbots, like a funhouse mirror, often reflect back our society’s understanding, but warp them in a way that can amplify issues.

So, although Musk has presented Grok as a bold stride in conversational AI, it also highlights the ethical and safety dilemmas inherent in AI development. Its deployment underscores the need for a nuanced understanding of AI's capabilities and limitations, ensuring that innovations in this field are harnessed responsibly for the benefit of us all.