Exactly a year ago, OpenAI put a simple web app online called ChatGPT. It was not the first AI chatbot publicly available on the Internet, and it was not the first major language model. But over the next few months, it will become one of the biggest tech events in recent memory.
Thanks to how accurate and natural its language capabilities were, people immediately started screaming that the sky was falling and that sentient artificial intelligence was here to swallow us all. Or, the opposite side, which places its hope for humanity within the walls of OpenAI. The debate between these polar extremes continues to this day, punctuated by the dramatization of OpenAI and a series of conspiracy theories proposed as explanations.
Of course, if anything, the past year of living with ChatGPT and its many clones has shown us that none of these strongly held opinions were true. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that ChatGPT and Generative AI haven’t had any impact on the world. It has been disruptive in every way, some of which has not even been fully realized yet. Look at its role in the SAG-AFTRA strikes for an easy example. AI also attracted the attention of the federal government, culminating in the President’s executive order on AI. Some implications are nothing more than knee-jerk reactions, and others are actually taking the first legitimate steps towards an AI-powered world.
But mostly, life continues as before. In May 2023, a Pew survey determined that 58% of people in the US had heard of ChatGPT, while only 14% had tried it themselves. The numbers may have increased since then, but the user base has declined over the past few months, not continuing to grow. And remember: While ChatGPT quickly became the fastest-growing tech product of all time, even that record was eclipsed by Threads just a few months later. And even as a writer and an editor, ChatGPT plays a much smaller role in the industry I work in than you might imagine.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: ChatGPT was a big deal when it launched and it will continue to be in the future. Your guess is as good as mine as to how widespread and far-reaching the effects will be. And while chatbots put influential “AI” personalities front and center, the seamless integration of this technology into the products and services we already use every day is where the real money is.
Will we see November 2022 as a turning point in tech history or just another hyped footnote? Even after a year has passed, I’m still not entirely sure where I stand on this issue. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s a reason to be excited about what’s next.