The revolution is happening right now: A high-performance piece of software called ChatGPT can write essays, draft speeches, review programs as if it were a human. Teachers no longer know whether homework came from their students or from the machine. And behind the scenes, the IT giants are fighting for “the next big thing”.
3180 18th Street, San Francisco: A standard office building in the Mission district, the facade is made of wood. Behind it is the company Open AI. Digital Minister Volker Wissing recently ended up here. Politicians and business bosses have been dropping by regularly lately. Because what is being developed here is almost certainly the next big thing: artificial intelligence that produces text (ChatGPT) and images (Dall-E 2) as if it were a human. At least.
OpenAI has thus ignited the next stage of its development. It is a harmless chatbot, i.e. a virtual person who can talk to people. The difference: OpenAI’s personality is pretty smart. No matter what you need: a welcome speech, an essay for university, an essay for school, a poem for your loved one – the chatbot delivers.
In ChatGPT, the capital letters stand for “Generative Pretrained Transformer”. This describes how the AI works: Something new is created from everything that is on the Internet. Regenerative AI is the technical name of the technology behind it. This is a fairly new part of artificial intelligence (AI). To use ChatGPT, all you need is internet access – by the way, not even money, the service is currently available free of charge. However, it is temporarily closed due to overcrowding. ChatGPT is overwhelmed by its own success. The number of users who are added every day is six figures on some days. It was a million five days after the start. A city like, say, Braunschweig is added every day.
ChatGPT creates texts, images, soon also videos. It helps IT professionals spot critical programming errors, describe complex technical concepts in plain language, and develop code. Open AI boss Sam Altman himself has admitted that the answers are still error-prone. “ChatGPT is incredibly limited, but good enough at some things to create a misleading sense of awesomeness,” he tweeted in December. If it is important, you should not rely on the chatbot just yet. So far, in search of his answers, he has “only” combed the internet, as it was available at the end of 2021. For example, there is nothing about the Ukraine war.
But the limits of technology are shifting immeasurably every week. The third version is currently running, formally the AI model is called GPT-3. It can generate texts that easily pass as human work. With GPT-4 “things will become possible that will change our lives,” Wissing estimates, including simultaneous translations into all languages. Those in the know know it and the users suspect it: the potential is huge and anyone who underestimates the new tool could experience a surprise. And that’s exactly why the IT giants are already fighting over who can secure this technology
Back on 18th Street to San Francisco. Microsoft boss Satya Nadella was certainly already there. For the software group, OpenAI means something like the New Testament, but definitely a new chapter. Some are already talking about “Microsoft’s iPhone moment,” a development that would put the Nadella squad behind all other competitors. In 2019, Microsoft invested $1 billion in OpenAI. Since then Nadella and OpenAI boss Sam Altman have addressed each other as “partner”. Microsoft provides the infrastructure, the programmers, the computers. And OpenAI the technology. If Microsoft were the body, OpenAI would be the brain—or at least the right half responsible for creativity.
The Windows group invested another two billion and paid the bills for the mainframes that OpenAI needs. And because the brain works well, Microsoft has announced that it will transfer billions and possibly take up to 49 percent of the shares. This would suddenly make OpenAI one of the highest rated start-ups in the USA.
Founder Altman is apparently going along with it – which looks a bit like a betrayal of his idea, namely to build open software that everyone can use. Altman originally wanted to develop an open technology for the “benefit of mankind” together with Valley greats such as Tesla boss Elon Musk, tech investor Peter Thiel or LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman. Well, first of all, it will be one for the benefit of Microsoft.
The turning point came in 2019 when Altman founded a subsidiary and let Microsoft join in. Microsoft has been allowed to offer OpenAI services over the internet to selected customers since 2021. What exactly the group intends to do, he now explained at the World Economic Forum in Davos – the largest possible stage for the announcement: ChatGPT is to become part of Microsoft’s cloud services. So if you use Word or Powerpoint via Office 365, you can interact directly with the chatbot. Nadella made it clear that artificial intelligence in general and ChatGPT in particular is the growth driver of the future: “If mobile and cloud were the last big thing, AI will be next.” The decisive factor now will be whether Microsoft upgrades its search engine Bing with ChatGPT . And so Google attacks.
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Google, a subsidiary of the US group Alphabet, has a market share of more than 85 percent in the USA and even more in many European countries. The biggest competitor is Bing from Microsoft with a nine percent market share in the USA. Globally, Bing comes to three percent. OpenAI could now catapult Bing forward and offer users completely new experiences. Short answers with the corresponding websites as the source are no longer displayed for questions, as Google does, but a complex answer right away. That’s more than Google is currently able to do, even if the sources for the answers are possibly less complete than the website display on Google and of course Schindluder can be driven with it. Nevertheless: With the search engine giant, one observes exactly what the competition is doing there.
Google itself has been developing artificial intelligence on a large scale since the company acquired Deepmind in 2014. The language model Lamba has already made headlines, and this year a chatbot called “Sparrow” is also scheduled to come onto the market. Google’s problem with this: Its main source of income is advertising, which is displayed around the results of search queries. As many results as possible means as much space for advertising as possible. The user has to scroll through and ends up on ads and links that Google sells dearly. Even if Google’s parent Alphabet succeeds in developing an artificial intelligence that can compete with the current state of OpenAI, the search engine company would torpedo its own business model. Ad revenue would plummet if Google users found the perfect answer the first time.
The same goes for Bing, of course. The only difference is that Microsoft is not dependent on the advertising revenue that Bing brings in. They accounted for just 8.5 billion of the 168 billion dollars in sales that the group achieved in 2021, i.e. a little more than five percent. At Alphabet, 85 percent of sales come from Google advertising revenue. If Microsoft sacrifices its eight and a half billion dollars and offers OpenAI features like ChatGPT in return, then the attractiveness will probably increase more and attract more users than the company on the other hand loses with Bing. And every additional user brings money. So it comes down to Microsoft versus Google: And it looks like prodigy Sam Altman has set the battlefield for the giants.
Anyone who is anxious about the perspectives that ChatGPT is now opening up can watch the science fiction series “Star Trek – The Next Generation” to relax: The ship’s computer accesses all of mankind’s knowledge – for the big ones However, the crew must first ask the right question if it is to solve problems. Exactly this ability of Captain Picard, Geordi La Forge and Co. now needs the users of ChatGPT.
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