GPT-3 generative adversarial network (GAN)


OpenAI is a private research laboratory that aims to develop and direct artificial intelligence (AI) in ways that benefit humanity as a whole. The company was founded by Elon Musk, Sam Altman and others in 2015 and is headquartered in San Francisco.

OpenAI was created in part because of its founders' existential concerns about the potential for catastrophe resulting from carelessness and misuse of general-purpose AI. The company has a long-term focus on fundamental advances in AI and its capabilities. The founders of the company and other investors started the company with a $1 billion endowment. In February 2018, Elon Musk left the company due to a potential conflict of interest with his work at Tesla, the automotive and clean energy company inspired by Nikola Tesla.

The stated intent of the company -- to work toward safe artificial general intelligence (AGI) for the benefit of humanity -- is reflected in its objective to freely collaborate with other research organizations and individuals. Research and patents made by the company are intended to remain open to the public except in cases where they could negatively affect safety.

Timeline and history of OpenAI

OpenAI was originally focused on developing AI and machine learning tools for video games and other recreational purposes. Less than a year after its official founding on December 11, 2015, it released its first AI offering, an open source toolkit for developing reinforcement learning (RI) algorithms called OpenAI Gym. Over the next two years, OpenAI focused on more general AI development and AI research.

In 2018, OpenAI published a report to explain to the world what a Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) is. A GPT is a neural network, or a machine learning model, created to function like a human brain, and it's trained on input (large data sets) to produce outputs (i.e., answers to users' questions).

In March 2019, OpenAI shifted from nonprofit to for-profit status and became formally known as OpenAI LP, controlled by a parent company, OpenAI Inc. Almost two years later, in January 2021, OpenAI introduced Dall-E, a generative AI model that analyzes natural language text from human users and then generates images based on what is described in the text.

Perhaps the company's best-known product is ChatGPT, released in November 2022 and heralded as the world's most advanced chatbot for its ability to provide answers to users on a seemingly unlimited range of topics. Its benefits and drawbacks, as well as its uses in various industries, are still being debated.

Although Elon Musk no longer serves on the board of the company, co-founder Sam Altman still serves as the company's CEO. Its current president and chairman is Greg Brockman, formerly the CTO of financial services and SaaS company Stripe, and its chief scientist is Ilya Sutskever, formerly of Google.

Chart showing the OpenAI timeline

Notable projects and releases

OpenAI has been deemed revolutionary for its notable product offerings, which include the following:

  • GPT-3. This powerful language model serves as the basis for other OpenAI products. It analyzes human-generated text to learn to generate similar text on its own.
  • DALL-E and DALL-E 2. These generative AI platforms can analyze text-based descriptions of images that users want them to produce and then generating those images exactly as described.
  • CLIP. CLIP is a neural network that synthesizes visuals and text pertaining to them to predict the best possible captions that most accurately describe those visuals. Because of its ability to learn from more than one type of data (both images and text), it can be categorized as multimodal AI.
  • ChatGPT. ChatGPT is currently the most advanced AI chatbot designed for generating humanlike text and producing answers to users' questions. Having been trained on large data sets, it can generate answers and responses the way a human would.
  • Codex. Codex was trained on billions of lines of code in various programming languages to help software developers simplify coding processes. It's founded on GPT-3 technology, but instead of generating text, it generates code.
  • Whisper. Whisper is labeled as an automatic speech recognition (ASR) tool. It has been trained on a multitude of audio data in order to recognize, transcribe and translate speech in about 100 different languages, including technical language and different accents.

OpenAI and Microsoft

At the start of 2023, Microsoft publicly committed to a multibillion-dollar investment in OpenAI, but its interest in the company is nothing new. In July 2019, OpenAI engaged in a multiyear partnership with Microsoft in which Microsoft's cloud platform, Azure, has been enhanced by AI-based computing products.

Microsoft's latest investment in OpenAI extends to Bing, its search engine. The company is using the same technology developed for ChatGPT to produce an AI-infused version of Bing. Concurrently, AI-based features have also been added to Microsoft's Edge browser, and ChatGPT functionality is being added to Microsoft 365 products like Outlook and Teams.

Criticisms of OpenAI

Despite all these rapid advancements, OpenAI has not been immune to criticism, both in the world of tech and beyond. The company's shift from "nonprofit" to "capped profit" status in 2019 fueled criticism that its commitment to work with others on building "safe and beneficial" general artificial intelligence had become a profit-driven "AI arms race" to produce the most advanced AI technology on the market. Simultaneously, others have expressed concerns about OpenAI's growing lack of transparency into how its groundbreaking products are being developed, given its commitment to developing open source software.

More recently, the debut of ChatGPT in late 2022 has come in for a fair deal of criticism alongside the widespread praise for its groundbreaking abilities. The technology has been accused of producing "hallucinations" or other factually inaccurate answers that are ostensibly intelligent and well-written, yet don't hold up under scrutiny. While this is perhaps the most infamous drawback of the platform, others include its potential to plagiarize from other sources as well as its limitations in producing answers on the most up-to-date news. The data set it was trained with was from 2021, so the content it generates could disservice those who require information on current events.

The future of OpenAI

OpenAI has not provided extensive public commentary on future plans, but based on recent investments, democratization of AI is a clear goal of the Microsoft-OpenAI partnership, as nontechnical professionals should soon have more AI tools at their disposal that do not require AI expertise.

In March 2023, OpenAI released the company's newest upgrade in language model technology since GPT-3.5 (the foundation for ChatGPT): GPT-4. GPT-4 has been labeled superior to its predecessors because it delivers multimodal AI functionality, where it can analyze not just text, but also images. Given OpenAI's most recent releases, it's clear the company is giving no indication of slowing down. OpenAI projects it will surpass $1 billion in revenue by 2024.

This was last updated in March 2023

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