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How ChatGPT changed the world of tech in just one year

It’s been quite a year for OpenAI. In the last few weeks alone, the company survived an attempted coup in which co-founder and CEO Sam Altman was fired and then rehired following pushback from employees and big-name investors like Microsoft (MSFT). And that’s not even the most interesting part of the story.

Exactly one year ago tomorrow, OpenAI’s generative AI-powered ChatGPT hit the web, quickly becoming one of the fastest growing apps in history and setting off an AI gold rush that continues to reverberate across the technology industry and beyond.

Companies ranging from Google (GOOG, GOOGL) and Microsoft, an OpenAI investor, to Amazon (AMZN), Meta (META), and others are racing to build out their own generative AI-powered software platforms.

On the hardware front, the AI explosion has made Nvidia, the world’s leading AI chip developer, the hottest semiconductor company on Earth, again. Year to date, shares of Nvidia are up more than 200%. Intel (INTC) and AMD (AMD), meanwhile, are up 67% and 90%, respectively.

“We all understand ChatGPT was a critical inflection point in the history of AI, in spite of the fact that it's only a year out since its initial release,” Rishi Bommasani, the society lead at Stanford’s Center for Research on Foundation Models, told Yahoo Finance.

But ChatGPT, and generative AI more generally, have raised questions about data usage rights and the potential to create and spread disinformation via images and videos.

“While [generative AI] tools are empowering us in so many ways, with so many kinds of superpowers, it's interesting to consider that the same tools can also apply to what supervillains want to do,” explained Daniela Rus, director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT.

“And so we have to think about what guardrails we need to put in place before we deploy the tools so that we ensure that the use is a good one.”

Democratizing AI for the masses

When ChatGPT hit the web on Nov. 30, 2022, the world wasn’t quite prepared for what would happen next. By January 2023, just two months later, the app had a whopping 100 million monthly active users. A month later, Microsoft announced its Bing chatbot and Edge browser with built-in generative AI capabilities, powered by OpenAI.

FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2015, file photo, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella closes a presentation of new devices in New York. Microsoft reports quarterly financial results Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella closes a presentation of new devices in New York. Microsoft reports quarterly financial results Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. (Richard Drew/AP Photo, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Since then, internet users across the globe have tried out ChatGPT and gotten a firsthand look at the technology everyone from tech CEOs to academics have been raving about.

“It's the first time a non-techie person has been able to interact with AI,” Deepwater Asset Management managing partner Gene Munster told Yahoo Finance. “What ChatGPT did is just simply flip the switch, and reveal to people who are developers and run businesses that this is some powerful stuff and that they need to take action.”

According to Darrell West, a senior fellow with the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, ChatGPT has essentially democratized a powerful AI technology for the masses.

“Because it's prompt-driven and template-driven it's easy to use, you don't need an advanced degree in order to take advantage of it,” West told Yahoo Finance.

Businesses across a number of sectors have also taken the leap. Microsoft, Google, Meta, Amazon, Salesforce, even Walmart have rolled out new generative AI-powered products and services.

Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce (CRM) are adding the technology to their enterprise apps, while Amazon looks for ways to build it into its various services. Meta is working on creating open-source AI models, and Walmart is rolling out generative AI to improve customers’ searches on the company’s website.

Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Modern Life, Search, and Devices, speaks during a keynote address announcing ChatGPT integration for Bing at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, on February 7, 2023. - Microsoft's long-struggling Bing search engine will integrate the powerful capabilities of language-based artificial intelligence, CEO Satya Nadella said, declaring what he called a new era for online search. (Photo by Jason Redmond / AFP) (Photo by JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images)
Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft corporate vice president, speaks during a keynote address announcing ChatGPT integration for Bing at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash., on Feb. 7, 2023. (JASON REDMOND/AFP via Getty Images) (JASON REDMOND via Getty Images)

“Many businesses have begun to look at how they can use AI … to improve productivity and to increase efficiency … to even come up with better products, with a wider range of products,” Rus said. “This is so exciting to see that we have reached the point where the true power of the AI tools can be experienced.”

No company has benefited as much from the AI boom as Nvidia (NVDA). The chip giant’s stock price has soared in 2022, as companies seek out its AI accelerators. This spring Nvidia’s market capitalization passed $1 trillion, making it the first chipmaker to cross the threshold.

“What OpenAI has done is genuinely one of the greatest things that has ever been done for computing,” Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said during a January discussion as part of Berkeley Haas’s Dean’s Speaker Series.

“We have democratized computing in a very, very large way. So I’m very, very excited about that.”

Generative AI risks and realities

While ChatGPT has kicked off an AI revolution, it’s also raised a slew of thorny questions and concerns. Generative AI platforms are trained using online data — whether that’s news articles, Wikipedia entries, or images and videos. That’s pushed artists, such as comedian Sarah Silverman, to sue generative AI developers, including OpenAI, claiming the companies used their content without their permission.

Experts also say that generative AI could have a profound impact on the amount of disinformation online. Users have already taken advantage of image generator apps to create phony pictures of former-President Trump being arrested. In May, a fake image of an explosion outside of the Pentagon sent stocks on Wall Street falling briefly, before it was clear the shot was a fraud.

“The efficiency of fakes and the efficiency of being able to create content to manipulate how people think is going to just go through the roof,” Munster said. “I think it's just going to be harder for us to determine what's true and what's not.”

There are also concerns that the AI boom will increase inequality, according to West.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA - MAY 10, 2023: Aparna Pappu at the Google I/O annual developer conference at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California on Wednesday May 10, 2023. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Aparna Pappu discusses Google's AI efforts at the Google I/O annual developer conference at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, Calif. on Wednesday May 10, 2023. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images) (The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“Technology often increases inequality, and there's a risk that it will further the gap between the haves and the have-nots, because the haves are more likely to use these tools,” he said. “A lot of them are now premium services. And so, even though the potential is to bring powerful tools to everybody, the reality is some people are going to use them more than others.”

Generative AI platforms like ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and Microsoft’s Copilot (formerly Bing Chat) also tend to generate hallucinations. That is, they’ll make up answers to questions that seem correct, but are wrong. Some of those issues, however, are starting to get worked out.

“It’s improved already, I think it will continue to improve,” explained Columbia Business School professor Oded Netzer. ”It's a matter of the tool identifying facts from opinions, and when it's facts, it's going to need to fact check itself.”

So where do we go in the coming year? That all depends on how these technologies continue to develop. ChatGPT and its ilk are largely general-purpose tools, but companies are working on more targeted generative AI platforms that could prove to be helpful in areas including medicine.

There are also rumblings in Congress about legislation geared toward keeping AI in check. A number of companies have already volunteered to ensure they follow ethical AI guidelines in the US, and the EU is rolling out its own AI laws.

One thing is certain, though: There’s no going back.

Daniel Howley is the tech editor at Yahoo Finance. He's been covering the tech industry since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielHowley.

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