June 19, 2024

AI for the people

This year, we couldn’t stop hearing about how ChatGPT was going to change the world. But, has it? Humans have finally done the work we’ve only read about in sci-fi novels. Computers can now write poetry (sort of) like Emily Dickinson, create works of art (sort of) like Vincent van Gogh, and write books on Marxist philosophy. So why do our lives feel relatively unchanged?

OpenAI chief scientist Ilya Sutskever describes the system that powers ChatGPT as a “digital brain.” Artificial intelligence was modeled after human intelligence after all. Did you ever have a brilliant friend who simply lacked the motivation to apply themselves? She seemed smarter than everyone else you knew, but she never tried as hard in math class. Simply put, it felt like she lacked purpose and goals. Without those, even the smartest brains won’t accomplish much.

ChatGPT had a similar problem, until now. Sam Altman stood on OpenAI’s stage in San Francisco last month to announce GPTs: customizable versions of ChatGPT, fine-tuned to perform specific tasks on behalf of humans. GPTs—which stands for generative pre-trained transformers—will allow us to apply advanced AI to problems all around us, and could fundamentally change the way we interact with technology altogether.

Let’s get non-artificially more intelligent on the subject.

By the digits

2: Months it took for ChatGPT to reach 100 million weekly active users

92%: Portion of Fortune 500 Companies using OpenAI’s platform

$10 billion: Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI

150,000: Number of Nvidia GPUs ($30,000 each) Microsoft will buy in 2024

0: AI companies with more funding than OpenAI

🎙️ Listen up

The Quartz Obsession podcast is back for Season 6!

🤖 In GPTs: AI for you and me, Maxwell Zeff talks to host Thomas Germain about why we should think about these digital brains more like custom operating systems than chatbots.

(Though, in some cases, it’s pretty fun to think about them as chatbots, too.)

🎧 Listen now on Spotify | Apple | Google | Pandora


“We believe that if you give people better tools they will do amazing things. We know that people want AI that is smarter, more personal, more customizable, and can do more on your behalf. Eventually, you’ll just ask the computer for what you need and it’ll do all of these tasks for you. These capabilities are often talked about in the AI field as ‘agents.’ The upside of this are going to be tremendous.” —Sam Altman at Dev Day, introducing GPTs

A new way to use computers

So how does a digital brain with purpose work in practice? Online graphic design platform Canva built a GPT that will create social media posts and intricate graphics in mere seconds. Designer GPT can build you an entire website, with multiple pages and color schemes, with just a few lines of English instructions. GPTs are in their infancy, but one day, they could change the way we interact with technology altogether.

With GPTs, you don’t work with your computer, your computer works for you. Currently, computers are kind of like our coworkers, who help us more efficiently go about our day. With GPTs, however, your computer will be like an employee you can assign tasks and objectives to complete for you.

So if your computer is like an employee, does that mean your job may be at risk? In the long term, it’s possible that GPTs could replace members of the workforce. For now, GPTs are simply useful tools that can help us complete arduous tasks, and free our human brains up for more high-level thinking.

Fun fact!

In 2016, a team of researchers at Google built an artificial intelligence model that beat the world champion of the board game Go. The development, known as AlphaGo, shocked everyone, including the world champion and the researchers who built the AI model. The experiment proved that AI has the capabilities to plan, be creative, and accomplish complex tasks better than humans.

Pop quiz

Andrej Karpathy, a founding member of OpenAI, said the following was the hottest new programming language:

A. Python
B. English
C. Binary
D. C++

We’re 99% sure you’ll be able to read the language—find the answer at the end of this email.

Brief history

2015: OpenAI was founded by Sam Altman, Elon Musk, and others who wanted to safely develop artificial intelligence that benefits humanity.

2018: Elon Musk leaves OpenAI due to a conflict of interest at Tesla.

2019: Microsoft invests its first billion dollars in OpenAI.

2022: ChatGPT is released and gains 100 million monthly active users in 2 months.

January 2023: Microsoft invests $10 billion in OpenAI.

Nov. 6, 2023: Sam Altman announces the GPT Store at DevDay.

Nov. 17, 2023: OpenAI’s board fires Sam Altman.

Nov. 29, 2023: OpenAI’s board resigns, and Sam Altman is rehired as CEO.

December 2023: The GPT Store is delayed until 2024. OpenAI says it’s been a little too busy, understandably.

Take me down this 🤖 hole!

The paper clip problem

There’s a lot of fear out there that artificially intelligent agents could be the end of humanity. A common example is the paper clip scenario, which goes like this: Someone will design a GPT, or any sort of AI, with the directive to produce as many paper clips as possible. One day, the thinking goes, as artificial intelligence becomes more advanced and more independent from humans, the agent will become too good at producing paper clips, ultimately producing so many paper clips that it causes the demise of human civilization, possibly by even incentivizing humans to produce paper clips, instead of something necessary, like food or medicine.

The scenario may seem silly, but it’s a genuine concern in the AI community. Currently, we’re throwing all our resources at AI to make it as smart and powerful as possible. One day, artificial intelligence may surpass human intelligence. If that happens, researchers want to be ready. Nobody wants to be buried in an avalanche of paper clips.


You’ve just made your first GPT. What will it do for you?

  • File your taxes
  • Make clever small talk with all your coworkers
  • Unsubscribe automatically from all your emails (except this one)

We promise we won’t steal your idea—let us know!

💬 Let’s talk!

In last week’s poll about acupuncture, 63% of you said you have tried the treatment, while 34% of you haven’t. After reading about it, 3% said you’re now ready to give it a try.

🐤 X this!

🤔 What did you think of today’s email?

💡 What should we obsess over next?

Today’s email was written by Maxwell Zeff, a tech reporter at Gizmodo (who needs a GPT to tell him to stop reading about AI and touch some grass), edited by Susan Howson (can never find a paper clip when she needs one), and produced by Morgan Haefner (wishes she could read Python).

The correct answer to the pop quiz is B., English! Founding member at OpenAI Andrej Karpathy says English is the hottest new programming language. The computing revolution has largely been limited to those who can code, but GPTs will allow anyone who speaks English to build computer applications.




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