How ChatGPT rewired tech’s world

The lay of the Big Tech landscape has profoundly shifted in the year since OpenAI released ChatGPT on Nov. 30, 2022, writes Axios’ Scott Rosenberg.

Why it matters: Tech’s own innovation — rather than government or any other external force — has once again driven a massive transformation of the industry.

  • By contrast, five years of techlash— including hundreds of congressional hearings and bills, a barrage of lawsuits and precipitous drops in public trust — failed to unseat, or even slow, any of the industry’s five dominating companies.

Of note: Two previous industry-led waves of new tech — the cryptocurrency-Web3 vision and the dream of building a metaverse — have yet to cross over from geeky niche enthusiasm to mass-market adoption. ChatGPT did so faster than any previous tech offering.

What’s happening: Every one of tech’s giants has begun to reorder its world around generative AI, which most of Silicon Valley now views as the biggest new-platform opportunity since the iPhone arrived in 2007.

Google quickly started putting AI-written summaries at the top of its search results, despite worries that the change could undermine the search giant’s ad-based profit machine.

  • Google also movedto transform DeepMind from a research-oriented think tank into a product-focused operating unit.
  • The giant’s internal progress on generative AI matched or exceeded OpenAI’s before ChatGPT’s release — but Google had approached public deployment more cautiously, concerned over potential risks and harms.
  • That ambivalencestill looms over its strategy, despite reports of “code red” mobilization inside Google to meet the moment.

Microsoft — OpenAI’s closest partner and biggest investor — rushed to wrap ChatGPT-style assistants, which it called copilots, into every corner of its enterprise-dominating office tools and operating systems.

  • Microsoft is now “the copilot company,” CEO Satya Nadella tolda developer conference this month. In the future, he said, “there will be a copilot for everyone and everything you do.”

Meta is talking much less about building the metaverse — an initiative around which Mark Zuckerberg renamed the company just two years ago — and much more about the ways generative AI will drive growth in social media engagement and advertising.

  • Meta has built its AI strategy around releasing open source modelsthat, it hopes, will prevent its rivals from controlling the AI platform the way Apple and Google owned the smartphone through their operating-system control.

Amazon hopes to parlay its Amazon Web Services subsidiary’s dominance of cloud computing into a commanding position in generative AI.

  • With its Alexa voice assistant, the retail giant was a leader in the previous generation of conversational AI. But Amazon has yet to put a strong stamp on the consumer end of the new chatbot boom — though it, like Google, hopes the current AI boom will revitalize its voice-assistant business.

Apple remains Big Tech’s most conspicuous laggard in the AI race ChatGPT set off.

  • While its Siri assistant introduced the public to voice-activated computing, and the firm is rumored to be at work on its own generative AI projects, Apple’s biggest product rollout of 2023 involved its next-generation Vision Pro headset, rather than AI.

Yes, but: Apple remains tech’s most valuable company.

  • Historically, Apple has waited to swoop in and seize markets only when it believes emerging tech and public demand have perfectly aligned — and its own innovations can provide margin-boosting added value.

Generative AI tech is evolving insanely fast

It’s been only a year since OpenAI released ChatGPT, but the technology has evolved at such a rapid pace that the original now seems almost quaint, writes Ina.

Why it matters: Many in the tech field were surprised by the technology a year ago and have been astonished at just how fast generative AI is improving.

Zoom in: When it launched to the public on Nov. 30, 2022, ChatGPT was text only and could answer questions based on its training data only up to September 2021. Plus, it was highly prone to making up facts when it didn’t know the answer, quickly introducing to the world a new meaning for the word “hallucination.”

  • Still, ChatGPT was surprisingly powerful and became an overnight success. “Scary good”was how we described it in a story days after its release.
  • More than 1 million people used itin the first five days.

Today’s ChatGPT is trained up to April 2023 and can use Microsoft’s Bing and the web to check for even more recent developments.

  • It’s also multimodal, meaning it has the ability to use photos or documents as part of the search and to converse in spoken word as well.

Then there’s the ability to create custom GPTs that OpenAI introduced at its DevDay this month, including ones to create websites and automate tasks.

The big picture: Enterprises are customizing their own chatbots to answer questions from very specific sets of data.

  • Generative AI is being applied to specific domains, including law, medicine and helping the world adapt to climate change.

Between the lines: Asking a generic tool like ChatGPT to write a legal brief or make a diagnosis remains dicey. But results improve markedly if you use a specific engine trained on the best and latest information in a particular field.

  • Similar technology has been a game changer in the field of computer code, where generative AI has shown great promisein turning anyone with an idea into a programmer and making experienced programmers more productive.
  • There’s also great power in using large language models not to answer questions but to serve as a natural language interface to complicated programs. Today’s users typically harness only a fraction of the capabilities of sprawling tools like Photoshop, Word and Excel.
  • And it’s not just about text. Diffusion-based image models have gone from Dali-esque to photo realistic. And, speaking of DALL-E, ChatGPT now integratesthat image-creation tool (at least for ChatGPT subscribers).

Yes, but: As fast as the technology has evolved, OpenAI and others have gone slow in enabling their AI engines to take action, especially without explicit human consent.

The bottom line: As AI engines begin to take action on their own and interact with other AI agents, the opportunity- and risk-filled ChatGPT evolutionary cycle could well speed up further.

-Inside world’s most controversial research team

“People who want to maximize profit of the AI products they’re developing, to get those out quickly and be commercially relevant, definitely have an edge now. Which is concerning, because we have to be very careful with balancing this tension between innovation and keeping people safe.”

— from Axios’ Ashley Gold’s interview with Dewey Murdick, director of Georgetown’s Center for Security and Emerging Technology, which in October published a paper — “Decoding Intentions” — at the heart of tensions surrounding Sam Altman’s firing and rehiring as OpenAI CEO

Tech titan’s warning

Eric Schmidt, the billionaire former Google CEO, laid out a “simple rule” for Silicon Valley during my interview with him at our AI+ Summit in D.C. today:

  • “Don’t firea Steve Jobs.”

Why it matters: The tech luminary was referring to OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who he called a “genuine hero.”

  • Altman’s firing— in many ways — mirrors how Jobs left and later returned to Apple before turning it into a Big Tech powerhouse.
  • “These founder CEOtypes are unusual, they’re incredibly valuable and they change the world.”

In Schmidt’s mind, Altman wound up empowered after the board’s botched firing — and OpenAI will move faster.

  • Once the OpenAIstaff showed loyalty to Altman with a mass open letter, Schmidt said, the outcome was inevitable: “How much more feedback do you need?”

Zoom in: Schmidt said he’s optimistic that AI will offer vast benefits, Axios managing editor for tech Scott Rosenberg writes.

  • “I defy youto argue that an AI doctor or an AI tutor is net negative. It’s got to be good for the world.”

Key moments from the summit: Schmidt: Guardrails “aren’t enough” … Senate debate surprise … AI book recs.


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