Open AI's ChatGPT chat bot has sparked a lot of hype. Other companies are also crowding onto market, and billions are at stake. But once again, the next Battle of the Titans will take place without a European contender.
It's always the same old story with Europe. As 2023 begins, it's becoming pretty what the next big race to the top will be, and who will come out ahead in terms of technological progress. And it won't be Europe.
The race is being run in the field of generative artifical intelligence, which refers to systems like ChatGPT. At the end of last year the OpenAI chatbot heralded the transformation of AI into a foundational technology for the general public. Increasingly, this technology will help us humans write copy, generate images, create art and code software. And it will be able to do more and more on its own as its capabilities grow.
The beta version of ChatGPT is still available for free trial, but of course we're looking at the beginnings of a billion-dollar market. OpenAI has already started a waiting list for those interested in the "Chat GPT Professional" paid version. The company also plans to release the much more powerful GPT-4 model early this year. It could possibly represent the next step, the transformation from a language-based model to a multi-modal service that can work with text, images and video. That would be the next disruption in a market whose rules are currently being rewritten.
Microsoft is clearly betting on winning the race. The tech giant is already heavily invested in OpenAI, and is now planning to spend another ten billion dollars to increase its share to 49%. Seventy-five percent of OpenAI's total profits are slated to go to Microsoft until the investment is recouped. This is a good move from an economic point of view, and even more so in terms of strategy. Apparently, Microsoft wants to integrate ChatGPT into its Bing search engine, which has so far languished among the also-rans. That amounts to a declaration of war against Google, with a “We're reinventing internet searches” subtext. It won't be a walk in the park; so far ChatGPT has not exactly established a reputation for reliable information. It spits out a lot of craziness with extreme confidence – that Angela Merkel is still chancellor, for example, or that a spoon can run faster than a rabbit. When searching the internet, people expect to turn up correct, precise information. But the game could change quickly with the next versions of ChatGPT. Google currently holds a global market share of nearly 85%, while Bing's share is nearly 9% – so plently of fighting ground is still available for a search engine that starts enabling searches by means of conversations with a bot.
Thousands of app developers are already working on using the bots' skills for everyday communication. Meanwhile, Microsoft plans to integrate ChatGPT into its Office suite. With that, texts, emails and presentations will be just a few voice prompts away. With Microsoft and Google sharing almost half of the global market in office software, it's sure to be an exciting contest.
AI language models: Europe lags behind
Because make no mistake: Google isn't sitting this out. Back in 2014 the company took over DeepMind, the direct competitor to OpenAI. The research offshoot is already turning a profit and generating billions in sales. DeepMind has developed "Gato," a multi-modal, multi-task AI model that can manipulate text, images and video to perform a diverse range of tasks. It recently made headlines with language models like LaMDA und PaLM, and this year the company plans to introduce its own chatbot, called "Sparrow."
There are also some companies in China wanting to get into the game. That's a bit more complicated, both because cultural differences in training data make it difficult for them to deliver for the global market, and the Chinese government imposes strict rules on generative systems. But with Baidu, Tencent and IDEA, three important players are offering AI models and applications that prove China is not about to surrender the race to the USA. Israel also has a player in the contest with its AI21 Labs.
And Europe? There is LEAM (Large European AI Models), an initiative of European AI organizations, including Germany's Federal AI Council, supported by numerous companies. The initiative aims to advance the development of large language models in Europe. It will release a "feasibility study" on January 24.
Incidentally, LEAM is an anagram of lame. While in other parts of the world the race is on for a spot on the winner's podium, at least Europe has noticed there's a race being run. But its entry is – to refer to the dictionary definition of "lame" – “unconvincingly feeble” and “uninspiring and dull.”