AI-powered generative chatbots, of course, can’t be sincere. However, they can fake authenticity very well, and they will do better and better. According to Marxist doctrine (of the Groucho type), it follows that the creators and controllers of the new generation of such tools have a sure winner in hand.
The machine learning business was already doing pretty well. But the spectacular debut of ChatGPT, the generative AI tool developed by Open AI, backed by Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), has all the appearance of being one of those key “Hallelujah!” moments that have marked the Internet era since its inception.
As with the iPhone or cloud in their respective beginnings, it’s hard not to be surprised at the enormity of the potential of Generative AI. Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers may not be to everyone’s liking, but he doesn’t lightly use phrases like “the most important general-purpose technology from the wheel or fire.”
IDC estimates that the global AI market — of which generative AI is only one part — will be worth about $326 billion by 000 as new tools radically expand the use of machine learning.
But guessing where and how that money is generated is another matter. The day on AI that Microsoft held three weeks ago focused on the incorporation of the capabilities of ChatGPT to its internal search engine Bing and its Edge browser, two tools that are the gateway to the unlimited world of the Internet for millions of people.
These are areas where Microsoft currently has a clear deficit to make up against Alphabet’s Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL), with its leading search engine and simple Chrome browser. Chief Executive Satya Nadella said every additional 1% share of the global search market would add billions to the Redmond giant’s revenue.
However, Morgan Stanley analysts believe that the great opportunities offered by AI to Microsoft will be in other areas: in the expansion of its Azure cloud hosting business and in the improvement of its suite of professional tools Office, where ChatGPT can function as a kind of supercharged new version of that dreadful clip of years ago.
So, should Google be afraid? Will ChatGPT be the Google killer some think it is? The answer is probably “no,” even though Alphabet has outperformed the NASDAQ more than 10% since the launch of ChatGPT. Not only does the force of habit of billions of users play mightily in Google’s favor, but the loss of some market share to competition might be just what it takes for the company to convince regulators that it’s not a monopoly and doesn’t need the antitrust wrecking ball in the long run.
Where and how this technology will actually be used is anyone’s guess. If you’re dismayed, for example, by how PowerPoint has imposed style conformity on all sorts of presentations, from Raytheon’s (NYSE) quarterly results:RTN) until a fifth-year student’s work on King Henry VIII, you’re unlikely to expect much from generative AI. If, on the other hand, your desires are limited to an improvement of the “sushi near me” function, then you will be in a happier place.
In any case, their potential uses are already clearly the kind of services people — and advertisers — will pay for. As with all technological advances, it will be neither good nor bad in itself, but it will be used for good and bad purposes by human beings whose moral capacity will not change.
What we can all be completely certain of is that Silicon Valley—with the help and instigation of a public perennially dazzled by novelties—will develop machine learning’s capabilities at breakneck speed, secretly and for profit, and resolutely ignore the risks inherent in technology until its destructive side effects are too obvious to ignore and too entrenched to eradicate.
At the same time, companies at the forefront of AI will spend billions of dollars influencing the media, politicians, and society at large to downplay and divert attention from their shortcomings and dangers, and when all else fails, they will blatantly lie to protect their investment and maximize their profits.
Competition, the profit motive and human nature itself will not allow things to be otherwise. Anyone who thinks otherwise has only to look at the examples over the years of Big Tobacco’s campaign to hide the risks of smoking, the suppression and debunking of climate change evidence by Big Oil, the refusal of the current generation of social media giants to take responsibility for the damage caused by their networks, and so on.
It’s no consolation to think that some of the names responsible for AI’s big push include one company that was selling ads against beheading videos not too long ago, while another was deeply involved in efforts to pervert elections in more than one country. But the bottom line is that those governance failures have had no material impact on the returns they have generated for their investors. For better or worse, generative AI is unlikely to be any different. To the victors, the spoils.