What’s Wrong with ChatGPT?

Artificial intelligence is being designed and deployed by corporate America in ways that will disempower and displace workers and degrade the consumer experience, ultimately disappointing most investors. Yet economic history shows that it does not have to be this way.

CAMBRIDGE – Microsoft is reportedly delighted with OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a natural-language artificial-intelligence program capable of generating text that reads as if a human wrote it. Taking advantage of easy access to finance over the past decade, companies and venture-capital funds invested billions in an AI arms race, resulting in a technology that can now be used to replace humans across a wider range of tasks. This could be a disaster not only for workers, but also for consumers and even investors.

The problem for workers is obvious: there will be fewer jobs requiring strong communication skills, and thus fewer positions that pay well. Cleaners, drivers, and some other manual workers will keep their jobs, but everyone else should be afraid. Consider customer service. Instead of hiring people to interact with customers, companies will increasingly rely on generative AIs like ChatGPT to placate angry callers with clever and soothing words. Fewer entry-level jobs will mean fewer opportunities to start a career – continuing a trend established by earlier digital technologies.

Consumers, too, will suffer. Chatbots may be fine for handling entirely routine questions, but it is not routine questions that generally lead people to call customer service. When there is a real issue – like an airline grinding to a halt or a pipe bursting in your basement – you want to talk to a well-qualified, empathetic professional with the ability to marshal resources and organize timely solutions. You do not want to be put on hold for eight hours, but nor do you want to speak immediately to an eloquent but ultimately useless chatbot.