Is ChatGPT the new Clippy?
Shortly after Microsoft confirmed plans this week to invest billions in OpenAI, the company behind the viral new AI chatbot tool ChatGPT, some people began joking on social media that the technology would help supercharge the much-hated, wide-eyed, paperclip-shaped virtual assistant.
While Clippy may mostly be a thing of the past, the company's move to double down on AI tools offers the promise of doing what Clippy never quite achieved: transforming how we work.
"There is a kernel of truth to the Clippy comparison," David Lobina, an artificial intelligence analyst at ABI Research. "Clippy was not based on AI -- or machine learning -- but ChatGPT is a rather sophisticated auto-completion tool, and in that sense it is a much better version of Clippy."
Since it was made available in late November, ChatGPT has been used to generate original essays, stories and song lyrics in response to user prompts. It has drafted research paper abstracts that fooled some scientists. Some CEOs have even used it to write emails or do accounting work.
For Microsoft, integrating the chatbot tool could make its core software products more powerful. Some potential use cases include writing lines of text for a PowerPoint presentation, drafting an essay in Word or doing automatic data entry in Excel spreadsheets. For Microsoft's search engine Bing, ChatGPT could provide more personalized search results and better summarize web pages.
All of the above suggestions were generated by asking ChatGPT various forms of the question, "How could Microsoft integrate ChatGPT into its products?" Microsoft, for is part, has said little on possible integrations beyond recently announcing plans to add ChatGPT features to its cloud computing service.
"Microsoft will deploy OpenAI's models across our consumer and enterprise products and introduce new categories of digital experiences built on OpenAI's technology," Microsoft said in a press release this week, announcing the expanded partnership.
Microsoft 'catapulted' ahead in AI race
When Microsoft first invested in OpenAI in 2019, CEO Satya Nadella said he believed artificial intelligence would be "one of the most transformative technologies of our time." But it arguably wasn't until last year, with multiple new releases from OpenAI, including ChatGPT and the powerful image generator DALL-E, that the significant potential of the partnership became widely apparent.
Suddenly, Microsoft appears to be in a frontrunner position in Silicon Valley's high-stakes AI race. It is now working closely with a company, OpenAI, and a product, ChatGPT, that have reportedly caught Google off guard and seemingly sparked some frustration from Meta's chief AI scientist.
"Microsoft is not a leader in AI research at present, but with this exclusive deal with OpenAI, they are going to be catapulted into the heart of things," Lobina said.
The OpenAI investment was announced days after Microsoft confirmed plans to lay off 10,000 employees as part of broader cost-cutting measures. Nadella said the company will continue to invest in "strategic areas for our future" and pointed to advances in AI as "the next major wave" of computing.
Jason Wong, an analyst at market research firm Gartner, told CNN it makes sense why Microsoft is aggressively pursuing AI, calling it "the secret sauce for applications built and running on the cloud."
But there could be risks for Microsoft in using and being associated with OpenAI's technology. Both ChatGPT and DALL-E are trained on vast amounts of data in order to generate content. That has raised some concerns about the potential of these tools to perpetuate biases found in that data and to spread misinformation. For Microsoft, that could make integrating the tool into specific products problematic.
"Systems such as ChatGPT can be rather unreliable, making up stuff as they go and giving different answers to the same questions -- not to mention the sexist and racist biases," Lobina said. Microsoft, he said, will likely want to "wait before letting GPT systems answer online search queries."
While ChatGPT has gained traction among users, a growing number of schools and teachers are also concerned about the immediate impact of ChatGPT on students and their ability to cheat on assignments. Integrating ChatGPT too quickly into Microsoft's products could run the risk of schools rethinking their use of that software.
Despite issues that could potentially create negative publicity for the companies associated with these tools, Microsoft clearly recognizes its opportunity to become an AI leader.
"Microsoft continues to spend significant research and development on AI and innovations that require AI behind it, such as computer vision technologies, but [these technologies] are not as apparent to its users," said Wong from Gartner. "This is the phenomenon of 'everyday AI' where AI is just in the background and customers take it for granted."
With the unveiling of ChatGPT, he said, OpenAI's potential has been shown "to the masses." The same may be true of Microsoft.
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