ChatGPT, a newly released artificial intelligence app from OpenAI, gives users amazing answers to questions. It interacts with users in a conversational way, letting them test, explore, manipulate, harass, and play in a dialogue format that allows follow-up questions, mistakes and admitting to them.
“Quite simply, the best artificial intelligence chatbot ever released to the general public,” is how the New York Times described ChatGPT.
Praise for ChatGPT includes its amazing writing abilities and user-friendliness which helped it garner more than 1 million users in five days, prompting questions about whether or not the app could threaten Google Search.
Bloomberg opinion columnist Parmy Olson tested Chat GPT by giving it 18 of her Google queries. “The end result was, in my judgment, that ChapGPT’s answer was more useful than Google’s in 13 out of the 18 examples,” Olson wrote. For example, Olson asked ChatGPT whether condensed milk or evaporated milk was better for pumpkin pie. ChatGPT explained how condensed milk would lead to a sweeter, superior pie. Google, by comparison, mainly provided a list of links to recipes she had to click on with no clear answer.
“That underscores ChatGPT’s prime threat to Google down the line,” Olson wrote in an analysis. “It gives a single, immediate response that requires no further scanning of other websites. In Silicon Valley speak, that is a ‘frictionless’ experience, something of a holy grail when online consumers overwhelmingly favor services that are quick and easy to use.”
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Sridhar Ramaswamy, who oversaw Google’s ads and commerce business between 2013 and 2018, has predicted that generative search from systems such as ChatGPT will disrupt Google’s traditional search business “in a massive way.”
Google’s business model is getting people to click on ads with about 81 percent of Alphabet Inc.’s $257.6 billion revenue in 2021 coming from advertising — most of it, pay-per-click ads, according to Bloomberg data.
ChatGPT doesn’t reveal the sources of its information and that may be one of its biggest weaknesses, Olson wrote. Sometimes, its answers are wrong but the inaccuracies are hard to spot because ChatGPT sounds confident and authoritative. OpenAI admits its answers are often plausible-sounding and “typically look like they might be good,” according to Stack Overflow, a popular code forum that has temporarily banned ChatGPT.
“ChatGPT simply makes it too easy for users to generate responses and flood the (Stack Overflow) site with answers that seem correct at first glance but are often wrong on close examination,” according to The Verge.
In other words, “fluent hogwash” Olson wrote. Olson ran her 12-year-old daughter’s English essay question into the system and said she got a long and eloquent analysis that sounded authoritative. But the answer was riddled with mistakes, for instance stating that someone had died when they had not. The Chat GPT mistake rate going around on Twitter is 2-to-5 percent, Olson said. That will make internet users wary of using ChatGPT for important information — a plus for Google.
Another advantage for Google is that “as long as ChatGPT doesn’t offer links to other sites, it is not encroaching too deeply on Google’s turf.” But OpenAI is working on a system called WebGPT, which will include source citations. “A combination of ChatGPT and WebGPT could be a powerful alternative to Google,” Olson wrote. OpenAI isn’t publicly speculating about its future applications, but if its new chatbot starts sharing links to other websites, particularly those that sell things, that could spell real danger for Google, Olson wrote.
Others are less impressed. Perhaps ChatGPT and the technologies that underlie it are less about persuasive writing and more about superb bullshitting, wrote Ian Bogost, a Washington University professor, video game designer and professor of film and media studies at the McKelvey School of Engineering.
“ChatGPT isn’t a step along the path to an artificial general intelligence that understands all human knowledge and texts,” Bogost wrote for The Atlantic. “It’s merely an instrument for playing with all that knowledge and all those texts. Play just involves working with raw materials in order to see what they can do. You play a game, or an instrument, to avail yourself of familiar materials in an unexpected way.”
“Right now, ChatGPT is just a tech demo, a research experiment,” Bogost continued. “Less clear is how it might be used, beyond the dire predictions about what sectors its technology might upend. In almost every case, the AI appeared to possess both knowledge and the means to express it. But when pressed—and the chat interface makes it easy to do so—the bot almost always had to admit that it was just making things up.”