When Open AI prepared the release of its ChatGPT language model last November, Greg Brockman had a message for his team: The most important thing is not to have to shut down the software after three days. That's what the president and co-founder of the company said at the South by Southwest digital festival in Austin. It was a big moment for Open AI, because for the first time the company made one of its artificial intelligence (AI) language models available to the general public. "We were definitely nervous," Brockman said.

Roland Lindner

Business correspondent in New York.

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His fears did not come true, the software became a phenomenal success, although it also revealed weaknesses from the beginning. Brockman said he still thinks about why ChatGPT caused such a hype, after all, the underlying technology was already a year old. He explained it by saying that ChatGPT had been made available to the general public, with "the simplest user interface we could think of".

The success has made Open AI the company of the hour and a sought-after partner in the technology industry. Accordingly, Brockman's appearance in Austin had also been eagerly awaited, he spoke in front of a packed hall. He is not the most prominent representative of Open AI, the company is primarily identified with Sam Altman, who is CEO and also one of the co-founders. According to the organizers of the festival, Altman did not accept an invitation.

Open AI was initially not a for-profit organization

Open AI was created in 2015, and Brockman told during his appearance of the initial founders' meeting in a luxury hotel in California's Silicon Valley, in addition to him and Altman also Elon Musk was there at the time. The CEO of the electric car manufacturer Tesla no longer plays a role in the company today. Since its founding, Open AI has been committed to developing AI that benefits all humanity. The idea behind this is that such technologies also entail great dangers.

Originally, Open AI was a not-for-profit organization, and Brockman now called it a "good starting point," but that was unsustainable. Open AI has found that enormous financial resources are needed to develop powerful AI technologies, for example in the form of expensive computer capacity. As a not-for-profit organisation, however, it was difficult to collect money from venture capital companies in the traditional way. Therefore, Open AI has given itself a different structure in 2019, with a new, for-profit company below the not-for-profit entity. This is how Open AI still works today. "We have a strange-looking company," Brockman said. There are critics who accuse Open AI of having thrown its former principles overboard with this structure.

In parallel with the change in structure, Open AI has also formed an alliance with Microsoft. The software company invested billions in the company and was given privileged access to its AI technologies. The partnership was recently deepened with another billion-euro investment. Microsoft has used the cooperation in recent months to make some high-profile announcements. For example, the presentation of a new edition of the search engine Bing, which works with a further developed version of ChatGPT.

ChatGPT to "woke"?

Open AI itself has pointed out weaknesses in its AI technology from the very beginning. Sam Altman has said that ChatGPT is not yet a marketable product, but a research project. Microsoft's AI variant of Bing provided false or questionable answers. A journalist from the "New York Times" caused a stir when he reported a conversation with the chat function of Bing, in which the software told him about dark fantasies and described his marriage as unhappy. Brockman said he believes it is important to bring such cases to light as early as possible in order to be able to take corrective action before an AI system is even more convincing and powerful. "For me, that's the process and the pain of learning."

Brockman was self-critical with a look at other concerns. Critics from the right-wing political camp have complained that ChatGPT is biased or "woke". Co-founder Elon Musk also joined this criticism. An example was often cited when ChatGPT refused to write a positive poem about former US President Donald Trump, but did so with today's incumbent Joe Biden. Musk described this case as a cause for "serious concern." There were even media reports that Musk was planning a competitor to ChatGPT. Brockman admitted that Open AI didn't respond quickly enough to curb bias in its technology. "People were right in their criticism." With this in mind, Open AI has made "improvements" in recent weeks and will soon be able to say more concrete things.

Brockman was not able to elicit much about future products from Open AI in Austin. In the industry, the company is expected to release GPT-4, a significantly improved version of ChatGPT, soon. Brockman said only that Open AI is working the performance and security of its products and is making "significant progress."