I’ve been playing with a new technology this week, which, I think, is as potentially transformative as Google’s search engine, Facebook’s network or Apple’s iPhone. It’s that significant.
Elon Musk says it’s “scary good”; Google management is so worried about it they have issued a “code red”; and it has achieved in just five days what took Netflix three and a half years.
And it’s going to put me out of a job.
This is Open AI’s latest offering ChatGPT - short for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer.
Open AI, if you are not familiar with it, is a research institute that develops artificial intelligence.
The company has developed language models that can generate human-like text and neural networks that can create images from text descriptions. Its founders include many of the world's most famous tech entrepreneurs, not least Elon Musk, and it is funded by private donations and research contracts. Its lofty “ultimate goal is to benefit humanity through the responsible development of AI”.
I first heard about ChatGPT from my son when he came back from university last weekend.
Apparently, loads of students are getting it to write their essays for them. Academics, reports the Guardian, say it generates exam responses that “would result in full marks if submitted by an undergraduate”.
Programmers meanwhile, the Guardian continues, “have used the tool to solve coding challenges in obscure programming languages in a matter of seconds – before writing limericks explaining the functionality.”
I was discussing it on Twitter and User @Peng33G got it to write a perfectly passable song in the style of Dominic Frisby.
I urge you to go and have a play.
To give you an idea of how quickly this thing has found users, cast your eyes over the following, which shows the amount of time to reach one million users.
Netflix → 3.5 years
Airbnb → 2 years
Facebook → 10 months
Zoom → 9 months
Spotify → 5 months
Instagram → 2.5 months
iPhone → 74 days
ChatGPT → 5 days
To verify the above take would probably take me an hour of research. ChatGP did it in a matter of seconds.
“The information you provided appears to be accurate”, it said. “Here is a brief summary of the growth of each of the companies or products you mentioned:
Netflix: It took Netflix approximately 3.5 years to reach one million subscribers. The company was founded in 1997 and reached one million subscribers in 2001.
Airbnb: It took Airbnb approximately 2 years to reach one million users. The company was founded in 2008 and reached one million users in 2010.
Facebook: It took Facebook approximately 10 months to reach one million users. The company was founded in 2004 and reached one million users in 2005.
Zoom: It took Zoom approximately 9 months to reach one million daily meeting participants. The company was founded in 2011 and reached one million daily meeting participants in 2012.
Spotify: It took Spotify approximately 5 months to reach one million users. The company was founded in 2006 and reached one million users in 2007.
Instagram: It took Instagram approximately 2.5 months to reach one million users. The company was founded in 2010 and reached one million users in 2010.
iPhone: It took the iPhone approximately 74 days to reach one million units sold. The iPhone was released in 2007 and reached one million units sold in 2007.
ChatGPT has multiple uses in the real world
My buddy, business consultant and tech entrepreneur, Danny Richman, mentors, as he puts it, “a young lad with poor literacy skills who is starting a landscaping business. He struggles to communicate with clients in a professional manner.”
In less than 15 minutes, with no coding required, he created a ChatGPT-powered Gmail account to which the landscaper sends a message. It responds with the text to send to the client.
Danny continues: “I also helped him use GPT3 to prepare an estimate, create a contract and respond to client enquiries. He just secured his first contract worth £220,000. This would not have been possible without this tech”.
So what will ChatGPT be used for?
In the words of ChatGPT itself, slightly edited by me, “A wide range of natural language processing tasks, including language translation, text summarization, text generation, and language modelling” .
So that might be chatbots and virtual assistants; “text generation tasks”, as it puts it - writing news articles or social media posts.
It could also be used to summarise texts - anything from legal documents to the tax code to the bible, by generating a shorter summary of a longer piece of text.
Its capabilities are likely to improve as it is further developed and refined. It is learning all the time.
So what does all this mean for investors? And how do you invest in ChatGPT?
How to invest in ChatGPT the technology shaping the world
Earlier in the week, I looked at how the world’s largest companies by market cap change from decade to decade.
Seven of the top ten in 2011 were natural resources companies. A decade later, in 2021 not one was. Nine were tech companies: Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, Facebook, Tesla, Berkshire Hathaway, TSMC, Tencent Holdings, Nvidia. Which of them will be there in 2031?
Many of these, you might have thought a year ago, have near-impervious monopolies. But tech changes quickly, as this latest development demonstrates. Already Alphabet’s position looks precarious.
Microsoft, though, was there in 2011 and in 2021. And guess what? It owns a large chunk of Open AI. It has made a number of investments in OpenAI, including a $1 billion investment announced in 2019. It is not known if Microsoft has a controlling stake in OpenAI or if it holds a minority stake in the company.
So the way to get some exposure to this new tech is to own Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), though it’s not exactly a pure play. Its stake in Open AI is minimal in the context of everything else it does. Moreover, will Microsoft still be one of the world’s ten largest companies in 2031? That would make three decades in a row.
I also gather ChatGPT is costing a lot of money to run. $3m per day is the figure doing the rounds on the internet. The bot itself would not confirm: “GPT is a large language model that requires significant computational resources to run, as it is trained on a very large dataset and has a very large number of parameters. As a result, it is likely that running GPT would incur significant costs, depending on the specific circumstances”.
But that’s the way with big tech. Get the users first, then worry about the profits. ChatGPT is doing that in spades. If the product is free, you, the user, are the product - and all that.
By the way, I got ChatGPT to write some of this article for me (though I ended up subbing it quite a bit - stylistically, I still feel I’m a better writer - but only just). Can you tell which paragraphs?
Have you got you Kisses on a Postcard CDs yet?
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This article first appeared at Moneyweek.