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

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

The prospect of Microsoft, maker of software that people mostly hate, getting involved with ChatGPT, a product people generally like, is raising a lot of eyebrows.

Almost immediately, people started joking on social media that ChatGPT could be used to revive the widely maligned, big-eyed goon known as Clippy.
Will Microsoft’s investment in AI lead to the revival of Clippy? (Supplied)

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

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

Perhaps the genuinely impressive tech underpinning ChatGPT could do what Clippy never could and offer, like, actual help, rather than just pop up unannounced with that dopey half-surprised look on its face.

My colleague Samantha Murphy Kelly spoke to AI experts about the prospect of a Microsoft-ChatGPT partnership.

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“There is a kernel of truth to the Clippy comparison,” David Lobina, an artificial intelligence analyst at ABI Research, told Sam.

“ChatGPT is a rather sophisticated auto-completion tool, and in that sense it is a much better version of Clippy.”

In case you missed it, since November, ChatGPT has simultaneously impressed and horrified pretty much everyone whose job centers on content creation or the assessment thereof, journalists, academics, teachers, publishers, entertainers, anyone who composes emails or presents information.

This bot does everything — songs, poems, essays, news stories, news stories in the style of 1920s muckraker, news stories in the stream-of-consciousness style of Virginia Woolf, 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 dumb emails for you. It can craft 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 and yet ubiquitous software such as Outlook, Word and Excel.

Some potential use cases include writing lines of text for a PowerPoint presentation, drafting an essay in Word or doing automatic data entry in Excel spreadsheets.

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

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

Argh, Samantha, you scamp!

Anyway, Microsoft has not publicly offered any clues about its plans beyond saying it would integrate ChatGPT features to its cloud computing service.

Developing programmer Development Website design and coding technologies working in software company office
The prospect of Microsoft, maker of software that people mostly hate, getting involved with ChatGPT, a product people generally like, is raising a lot of 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 Big Tech’s AI race.

Google was reportedly caught off guard by the Microsoft-OpenAI partnership, and it stirred up some frustration for Meta’s head of AI.

Of course, AI tech is still young, unreliable and rife with ethical quandaries.

“Systems such as ChatGPT can be rather unreliable, making up stuff as they go and giving different answers to the same questions — not to mention the sexist and racist biases,” Lobina says.

Which raises the prospect of an anthropomorphic paper clip helper who could genuinely help you but also genuinely be as problematic and biased as the internet matter from which its brain is built.

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