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Looking back at the transformative first year of ChatGPT

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today is ChatGPT's birthday. The rapidly evolving technology is 1 year old. Now, we know ChatGPT can write essays and code. It can answer complex questions nearly instantly. It has also reshaped the tech industry and raised fears over everything from potential job loss to potential threat to human life. NPR tech correspondent Bobby Allyn has been following GPT since its inception. He joins me now. Bobby, a whole year. Congrats on your stamina, and welcome.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Thanks.

KELLY: There's been so much hype these last 12 months. Help us sort the hype from what has proven real.

ALLYN: I will say this, Mary Louise. When ChatGPT was first released and initially had this big pop, as a tech reporter, I thought, OK, I've seen this before - right? - a lot of excitement about a new app. Will anyone really care or be talking about this some months from now. And the short answer is everyone does care months later. And it's because it's a really remarkable service, as you mentioned. It can explain complex topics, craft TV scripts. It can write jokes, though, yes, they're very cringeworthy ones.

KELLY: Yeah, bad jokes.

ALLYN: Yes, bad jokes. But look, it has dazzled many, right? I mean, the underlying technology is just really, really remarkable. We've seen industries from education to health care to law all adapting to this new ChatGPT world. I asked University of Pennsylvania computer science professor Michael Kearns about how history might remember ChatGPT, and he told me...

MICHAEL KEARNS: From just an awareness and impact-on-society perspective, it has been a very, very transformative event.

ALLYN: Right. Kearns says it's possible ChatGPT will be remembered one day as being as important as the invention of the iPhone, or even the internet itself.

KELLY: So transformative, also controversial. ChatGPT has had all kinds of controversy since it was released. Run us through the highlights.

ALLYN: Yeah. There have been so many, like the time ChatGPT confessed its love to a New York Times reporter and told that reporter to leave his wife.

KELLY: Yup.

ALLYN: That got people talking. ChatGPT also got into hot water for spreading fabrications in its answers, you know, just totally making things up. Many have warned that ChatGPT will one day automate away millions of jobs. And some doom-and-gloom types say ChatGPT could be a step toward a supercomputer that could one day try to overtake humanity, which is a bit of an exaggeration, at least right now. More attached to reality, Mary Louise, are the legal battles playing out against ChatGPT, and a lot of them focus on the data ChatGPT sucks up from the open internet to train the AI. Some of that material is, of course, copyrighted. And artists and writers and comedians and others are suing because they feel ripped off.

KELLY: So what are you watching for in ChatGPT's second year?

ALLYN: Yeah. It's really about to get very personalized. Soon anyone will be able to make their own custom ChatGPT to complete a particular task, whether it's doing your taxes or automating emails or whatever else you can think of. And those tasks will soon be downloadable in an app for these personalized bots. The big question is, how will the company prevent bad actors from creating personalized bots to do terrible things on the internet? So we shall see there.

KELLY: Yeah. While I've got you, Bobby, what about this controversy at OpenAI, the company that makes ChatGPT? There's been this whole drama over who's running it.

ALLYN: Yes. The CEO was abruptly fired, then rehired. His name is Sam Altman. People close to the company say it was over, you know, the controversy that Sam was maybe releasing products into the world too quickly. That has sparked an internal debate at the company. Should they release slower? Should they keep going at their current pace? That debate is far from over, so we should be getting an update there soon.

KELLY: NPR's Bobby Allyn. Thank you.

ALLYN: Thanks, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOTOR CITY DRUM ENSEMBLE'S "THE STRANGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.