O ne afternoon an email arrives that threatens to end my career. Or at the very least, it makes me think seriously about what the end of my career might look like. It comes from a woman in Ely called Camden Woollven who has an interest in my restaurant reviews, a taste for the absurd and perhaps just a little too much time on her hands. Woollven works in the tech sector and has long been fascinated by OpenAI, a company founded in 2015, with investment from among others Elon Musk, to develop user-friendly applications involving artificial intelligence.
In November last year, after $10bn worth of investment from Microsoft, OpenAI released ChatGPT3, a tool which has been trained on a vast array of data and allows us to commission articles and have human-like text conversations with a chatbot. It’s currently free to use and therefore clocked up 1m users in the first week. Within two months it had 100m users, making it the fastest growing web application in internet history. People all over the world were prompting ChatGPT – the initials stand for Generative Pre-trained Transformer – to write essays for them, or computer code, or even compose lyrics in the style of their favourite songwriter. If it involved words, they were getting ChatGPT to do it. And then gasping at the speed and fluency of what came back, while quoting lines from the Terminator movies about the apocalyptic rise of the machines.
Woollven, meanwhile, had asked another of OpenAI’s applications, called Playground, to write negative reviews of lousy Chinese buffet restaurants in Skegness in the style of, well, me. I have never reviewed anywhere in Skegness, let alone a Chinese buffet. She described it, apologetically, as her “new favourite hobby”. In one, fake me said I hadn’t “seen such a depressing display of Asian-fusion food since I was caught in a monsoon in the Himalayas”. Bit of an odd thing to write, that. What’s the connection between bad food and monsoons? But OK. Another, though, gave me pause. “The dining room was a low-lit, faux-oriental den of off-pink walls and glittering papier-mâché dragons; the air was thick with a miasma of MSG and regret.” Oh God. That thing of using an emotion to describe a place? That really was a line I could have written. Granted, not one of my best, but me all the same.