Microsoft could bring back Clippy, but make him, like, smart
By Allison Morrow, CNN
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 began joking on social media that ChatGPT could be used to revive the broadly maligned, big-eyed goon known as Clippy.
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.
“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.”
ICYMI: 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. 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 search engine Bing, 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, hasn’t publicly offered any clues about its plans beyond saying it would integrate ChatGPT features to its cloud computing service.
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.
HEAL US, ALEXA
Amazon is creeping deeper into our personal lives, for better or worse.
The company — already keenly attuned to your incessant demand for dog toys, moisturizer, running socks, even your semi-annual compulsion to rewatch every episode of Fleabag in a single sitting — is getting even more personal with its latest offering.
See here: Amazon just rolled out a $5-a-month subscription service offering 60 common generic prescription drugs for dozens of common conditions, including high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and hair loss.
The new delivery service, RxPass, launched this week across most of the US (A few states, including California and Texas, are excluded because they have unique requirements for prescription deliveries).
For folks with multiple medications, this could be a game changer. The idea is that for just five bucks a month, you can get all the drugs you need (the generic versions, anyway). That’s five bucks total, not five bucks in addition to the cost of the medicine. It’s a flat rate, regardless of how many prescriptions you have.
The catch? RxPass is an add-on for Amazon Prime memberships, which cost $139 a year. So, if you’re not already on the Prime train, that might seem steep. Also, people on government health plans like Medicare and Medicaid aren’t eligible.
Amazon has been moving steadily into health care, minus a few stumbles (we’re looking at you, Amazon Care), for years. It launched an online pharmacy in 2020, and it is in the process of acquiring One Medical, a boutique primary care provider.
The bottom line: As for Amazon, this program is almost certainly a loss-maker, analysts say. But it’s a smart one for a company whose value boils down to the fact that consumers are addicted to it. If RxPass works, and we all start getting our dog food and our anti-depressants in the same box every month, that’ll be true both literally and metaphorically.
My colleague Nathaniel Meyersohn has more.
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