It’s time to prepare for the coming ChatBot wars

Are AI programmes like ChatGPT just more bluster from Big Tech, or does the technology have the potential for genuine disruption?

James Patterson
Saturday 11 February 2023 13:23 GMT
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By now, tech bros claiming to have invented “the next big thing” is so routine that the only sane way to respond is either to make fun of it or tune it out entirely.

From The Boring Company’s trademarking of the hyperloop concept in 2017, to viral tweets loudly enthusing about AI’s potential to render language through pictures, creativity among Silicon Valley’s best and brightest has mostly boiled down to reinventing things which society already has.

After all, isn’t “hyperloop” just a less efficient, elitist reimagining of the underground mass transit system which has existed in one way or another since 1863? Isn’t the idea of rendering language through pictures just… animation?

Yet, try as we might, we can’t seem to stop these monomaniacal bores from doing their worst. A seemingly endless supply of time, energy and resources on their part means that we constantly have to shift our thinking away from the good stuff we take for granted to prepare for more expensive, less convenient versions of the same.

Government regulation of Big Tech is piecemeal, and even in places where legislation is being brought forward to tackle the stranglehold which companies have over public data, ownership of infrastructure is still being conferred on those same companies instead of being nationalised.

The picture is even bleaker when we consider recent advances in chatbot technology. Since the launch of Open AI’s ChatGPT platform last year, businesses have already started utilising the tool as a means of performing menial copywriting and content creation tasks.

Even at this early stage, the technology is already so sophisticated that it can effectively be prompted to mimic the style of well-known and well-loved writers were they to turn their hand to, say, the creation of instruction manuals or detailed PR decks.

Even more terrifying is the prospect of a chatbot gold rush. Faced with a dearth of creativity within the tech sector, it is perhaps unsurprising that big players have now become so enamoured of ChatGPT that they have developed versions of their own.

Within the last week, both Google and Microsoft have announced Bard and a chatbot-enabled version of Bing respectively. And while publicity-baiting announcements like these seem to come and go with the same regularity as celebrities shilling for crypto-platforms, creatives should actually pay attention, because chatbot technology has the potential to start taking food out of your mouth.

This isn’t to say that chatbot technology can plunder the same depth and nuance as a creative mind set to the same task. But given that the history of tech development seems to have more to do with cutting corners than bolstering quality, businesses are unlikely to be overly concerned about their loss.

The same tired excuses used in the preliminary stages of major “restructuring” (e.g. making workers more efficient, dealing with menial tasks) will be trotted out to justify huge swathes of the workforce suddenly finding themselves redundant.

Chatbot technology will be lionised for “revolutionising” the tertiary sector, allowing companies to save on pesky inconveniences like contracts and job security. And creatives themselves will be an even more precarious position than they already are; being forced to compete for zero-hour contracts while their superiors bleat enthusiastically about “flexibility”, side hustles and the gig economy.

But perhaps this is all just a straw man. Perhaps chatbot technology really will develop only to supplement what we already have. I just don’t trust Big Tech, and like John Connor in Terminator, Morpheus in The Matrix, and Dr Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey, I don’t much trust machines either.

I’m willing for tech utopians to eventually prove me wrong; though I suspect that chatbot innovation won’t be what does it.

James Patterson is an award-winning writer and poet. His book Bandit Country (2022) was shortlisted for the 2023 T.S. Eliot Prize

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