OpenAI-Meta-ChatBots: Implications of a Momentous Week in Artificial Intelligence and a New Era in the Internet
Today, we should look at the implications of a momentous week in the development of artificial intelligence, and whether we can see the rise of a new era in the consumer internet.
On Monday, OpenAI released the latest updates. You can interact with the large language model via voice. You can ask questions about images uploaded by another. The tool was already very useful for a lot of things and suddenly it became much more useful. For one thing, if you snap a picture of the tree or chat with it, you can ask the app what you are looking at, which feels more powerful than a mobile app.
For another, though, adding a voice to ChatGPT begins to give it a hint of personality. There is a reason that the app usually produces dry, sterile text unadorned by any hint of style. But something changes when you begin speaking with the app in one of its five native voices, which are much livelier and more dynamic than what we are used to with Alexa or the Google assistant. The voices are lively, upbeat, and powered by an LLM.
You can think of the next steps. A bot that gets to know your quirks; remembers your life history; offers you coaching or tutoring or therapy; entertains you in whichever way you prefer. A synthetic companion not unlike the real people you encounter during the day, only smarter, more patient, more empathetic, more available.
Those of us who are blessed to have many close friends and family members in our life may look down at tools like this, experiencing what they offer as a cloying simulacrum of the human experience. But I imagine it might feel different for those who are lonely, isolated, or on the margins. On an early episode of Hard Fork a trans teenager sent in a voice memo talking about how to get daily assurances about identity issues. The power of giving what were then text messages a warm and kindly voice, I think, should not be underestimated.
Artificial Intelligence in Social Networks: A Conversation with Celebrity Speakers and Narratives of Meta’s AI-Generated Voices
OpenAI tends to present its products as productivity tools: simple utilities for getting things done. Meta is in the entertainment business. But it, too, is building LLMs, and on Wednesday the company revealed that it has found its own uses for generative AI and voices.
The company also launched 28 personality-driven chatbot to be used in Meta’s messaging apps. Celebrities including Charli D’Amelio, Dwyane Wade, Kendall Jenner, MrBeast, Snoop Dogg, Tom Brady, and Paris Hilton lent their voices to their effort. Each of their characters comes with a brief and often cringeworthy description; MrBeast’s Zach is billed as “the big brother who will roast you — because he cares.”
At the same time, this technology is new enough that I imagine celebrities aren’t yet willing to entrust their entire personas to Meta for safekeeping. Better to give people a taste of what it’s like to talk to AI Snoop Dogg and iron out any kinks before delivering the man himself. The potential seems very real when that happens. How many hours would fans spend talking to a digital version of Taylor Swift this year, if they could? How much would they pay for the privilege?
A new era of social networking may be beginning while we wait for the answers. Until now we have talked about AI in consumer apps it has mostly had to do with ranking: using machine-learning tools to create more engaging and personalized feeds for billions of users.
There are at least two new ways to think about Artificial Intelligence in social feeds. One is AI-generated imagery, in the form of the new stickers coming to the company’s messaging apps. I am not sure how long people want to spend creating custom images while they text, but the demonstrations seemed nice enough.
More significantly, I think, is the idea that Meta plans to place its AI characters on every major surface of its products. They have Facebook pages and Instagram accounts; you will message them in the same inbox that you message your friends and family. I think they’ll be making Reels soon.
And when that happens, feeds that were once defined by the connections they enabled between human beings will have become something else: a partially synthetic social network.
Does it feel more personal, engaging, and entertaining? Or will it feel uncanny, hollow, and junky? Surely there will be a range of views on this. I think something new is coming into focus either way.
What I Need to Know When I’m Going Out Of My Inbox: Asking an AI Assistant to Do It For My Formal Workday
I receive a reminder from the Calendar each morning containing one word: Emails. My formal workday begins as I quickly remove almost all of the emails that landed in my inbox. They are useless and take away space from legitimate emails that I need to read.
Imagine for a minute, though, if you could just tell an AI assistant to show you your most important emails and delete all the rest. I asked the Google assistant on the phone to do this so I could deal with it myself, but it just wordlessly sent me to my inbox. Thanks a bunch.
Google, like almost every other tech company in the world, is all about AI right now. The company showcased a lot of new ideas for generative AI at I/O earlier this year — tools to help you compose a new message in Gmail, write a job description in Google Docs, and build a template for your dog walking business in Google Sheets.
They’re hit or miss. Sometimes they’re useful, like when I asked it to add a bullet point list of notes into some care instructions for my houseplants, and it added some useful context about when to water them. It gives you obvious answers such as the weekly meal plan I asked the company to create for me. When prompted to come up with healthy meal and snack ideas, it had some good suggestions but left me to fend for myself in the snack column with “fruits, vegetables, nuts, or yogurt” in every cell.
Giving me a rundown of those important emails would be a good way of telling me how much I need to do. I would listen to the Bard Assistant while making my coffee. Maybe if I asked it to find a good time to go for a run, it could cross-reference my calendar and the hourly precipitation forecast, make a suggestion, and remind me 10 minutes before it’s time to head out the door. For all its strengths, Google’s current Assistant is still mostly a tiny repeating machine. It can tell me when my next meeting is or the likelihood of rain today, but it can’t put these two concepts together and make a suggestion.
Right now, Apple is allergic to saying AI, and Microsoft has some computers to sell you but nothing shaped like a phone. If AI is truly going to take the pain out of our daily chores like every tech company wants us to believe, then the Pixel ought to be the device that shows us how that works. I’m not all that interested in having generative AI write emails for me regularly when I’m sitting at my computer, but I can think of a bunch of things I’d like an AI assistant to be able to do for me on my phone.
Realistically, these kinds of features are still a ways off. The processing power of your phone is a big barrier to letting artificial intelligence run amok. AI needs a lot of it, and Google — like other companies — offloads the heavy lifting to the cloud when you ask Bard to summarize a document or write up a meal plan. Consequently, it takes a while — much longer than most of us would tolerate from an on-device assistant.
Google’s custom Tensor chips are supposedly designed with the goal of doing more of this processing locally, but is its third-generation chipset up to the task? Given how common overheating complaints are about Pixel 7 phones, it seems unlikely that Tensor G3 will suddenly be ready to run a lot more complicated processes on-device. Even with the limitations of the current Tensor, the Pixel 8 should provide a glimpse of what artificial intelligence can do.