The multi-billion dollar Microsoft investment that could revive iconic virtual assistant Clippy

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This week, Microsoft confirmed it plans to invest billions in OpenAI, the company behind the viral new chatbot tool ChatGPT.

The prospect of Microsoft, maker of software people usually hate, getting involved with ChatGPT, a product people generally like, raises many eyebrows.

Almost immediately people started joking social media that ChatGPT could be used to revive the widely maligned wide-eyed goon known as Clippy.
Will Microsoft’s investment in AI lead to Clippy’s resurgence? (Delivered)

In case anyone forgot, Clippy was Microsoft’s dumb little virtual assistant who always showed up to help you format your English Lit essay.

Clippy was cute, like a cartoon dog, and had an intelligence to match.

Perhaps the really impressive technology that underpins ChatGPT could do what Clippy never could and offer real help, rather than just showing up unannounced with that dopey, half-bewildered look on his face.

My colleague Samantha Murphy Kelly spoke to AI experts about the prospect of a collaboration between Microsoft and ChatGPT.

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“There’s some truth to the Clippy equation,” David Lobina, an artificial intelligence analyst at ABI Research, told Sam.

“ChatGPT is a rather advanced autocomplete tool and in that sense it’s a much better version of Clippy.”

In case you missed it, since November ChatGPT has simultaneously impressed and shocked virtually everyone whose job revolves around content creation or its review, journalists, academics, educators, publishers, entertainers, anyone who composes emails or presents information.

This bot does it all: songs, poems, essays, news stories, 1920s muckraker style news stories, Virginia Woolf stream-of-awareness style news stories, whatever your heart desires.

OpenAI last week opened up access to ChatGPT, an AI-powered chatbot that interacts with users in an eerily convincing and conversational way. (Adobe stock)

It can write your stupid emails for you. It can make a speech. Your wedding vows. A cover letter for a job application.

That AI power is understandably an intriguing proposition for Microsoft, maker of some of the world’s most despised yet ubiquitous software like Outlook, Word and Excel.

Some possible use cases include writing lines of text for a PowerPoint presentation, drafting an essay in Word, or automatically entering data into Excel spreadsheets.

For Microsoft’s Bing search engine, ChatGPT could provide more personalized search results and better summarize web pages.

All of the suggestions above were generated by asking ChatGPT different forms of the question, “How can Microsoft integrate ChatGPT into its products?”

Argh, Samantha, villain!

In any case, Microsoft has not given any public clues about its plans, other than that it would integrate ChatGPT features into its cloud computing service.

Developing programmer Development Website design and coding technologies working in software company office
The prospect of Microsoft, maker of software people usually hate, getting involved with ChatGPT, a product people generally like, raises many eyebrows. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Even without details, it’s interesting that Microsoft, Silicon Valley’s equivalent of a Boomer, suddenly appears to be a frontrunner in the Big Tech AI race.

Google was reportedly blown away by the Microsoft-OpenAI partnership, and it caused some frustration for Meta’s head of AI.

Of course, AI technology is still young, unreliable and full of ethical dilemmas.

“Systems like ChatGPT can be quite unreliable, making things up and giving different answers to the same questions — not to mention the sexist and racist biases,” says Lobina.

That raises the prospect of an anthropomorphic paperclip helper who could really help you, but could also really be as problematic and biased as the internet issue that makes up his brain.

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