Launched in late November 2022, Chat GPT amassed a record setting 100 million monthly users by January 2023. TikTok took 9 months to reach the same milestone, and for Instagram it took 2 1/2 years. Created by Open AI, an American artificial intelligence (AI) development lab, a nonprofit at the start, it’s mission to “promote and develop friendly AI.” Now a for profit company, Open AI received $13 billion investment from Microsoft, igniting a fierce competition, with Google, to establish a newly dominant AI internet search engine.
Sounds like just the thing we’ve been waiting for, a voice assistant with a PHd. But it is not clear the new chatbot technology will enhance visual accessibility or elevate the intelligence of the voice assistants we’ve come to depend on, like Siri, Google and Alexa. Chat GPT goes beyond answering basic questions on topics relating to trivia, history and pop culture, setting reminders and managing smart home devices. Chat GPT is able to conduct natural sounding conversations with users, while providing more in-depth responses. Chat GPT also has a memory and ability to draw from it for future reference. Think of it as a research assistant, geared to work more than play, and predicted to change the way we work in ways good and bad.
Plenty has been reported about the nefarious side of chatbots too. They can be mean and nasty, tell lies and spread hate. The same behavioral issues surfaced in earlier chatbots, causing them to be taken offline, but no indication the current bots will be fired for insubordination. In separate segments on 60 Minutes, neither Google’s Sundar Pichai nor Microsoft’s Brad Smith, seemed confident in the ability to control their tech creatures. In March, more than 1,000 tech industry leaders signed an open letter calling for a 6-month moratorium on further development to minimize the dangers to humanity. Several days later leaders from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence released it’s own letter warning of the risks. This month the “godfather of AI” severed ties with Google to warn of the perils ahead, and a few days later the White House summoned the chief executives from leading AI companies, Google, Microsoft, Open AI and Anthropic, warning of the potentially dramatic threats AI can pose to safety and security, infringe civil rights and privacy and erode public trust and democracy. Have they lost control of “friendly AI?”
In terms of chatbots for visually impaired and blind users, Microsoft Accessibility is partnering on the development of many new applications. Be My Eyes is testing a Visual Volunteer meant to provide a real world audio description capability. We’ll see much more to come on this.