Over the past few months, OpenAI has vacuumed an incredible amount of data into its artificial intelligence language systems. It sucked up Wikipedia, a huge swath of the rest of the internet and tons of books. This mass of text – trillions of words – was then analyzed and manipulated by a supercomputer to create what the research group bills as a major AI breakthrough and the heart of its first commercial product, which came out on Thursday.
The product name — OpenAI calls it “the API” — might not be magical, but the things it can accomplish do seem to border on wizardry at times. The software can perform a broad set of language tasks, including translating between languages, writing news stories and poems and answering everyday questions. Ask it, for example, if you should keep reading a story, and you might be told, “Definitely. The twists and turns keep coming.”
OpenAI wants to build the most flexible, general purpose AI language system of all time. Typically, companies and researchers will tune their AI systems to handle one, limited task. The API, by contrast, can crank away at a broad set of jobs and, in many cases, at levels comparable with specialized systems. While the product is in a limited test phase right now, it will be released broadly as something that other companies can use at the heart of their own offerings such as customer support chat systems, education products or games, OpenAI Chief Executive Officer Sam Altman said.
Software developers can begin training the AI system just by showing it a few examples of what they want the code to do. If you ask it a number of questions in a row, for example, the system starts to sense it’s in question-and-answer mode and tweaks its responses accordingly. There are also tools that let you alter how literal or creative you want the AI to be.
But even a layperson – i.e. this reporter – can use the product. You can simply type text into a box, hit a button and get responses. Drop a couple paragraphs of a news story into the API, and it will try to complete the piece with results that vary from I-kinda-fear-for-my-job good to this-computer-might-be-on-drugs bad.