Ever since the launch of the now infamous ChatGPT a few months ago, artificial intelligence has taken the world by storm. ChatGPT has led to existential questions on how its AI-technology could disrupt society and our economic system. When Sam Altman, who runs the company behind ChatGPT, even stated it could “break capitalism”, I went on a personal expedition to find out more.
As a researcher involved in the Inclusive Economic Growth for Asia project aiming to reimagine (admittingly not break) Asian capitalism, Sam Altman’s remarks in the Forbes interview immediately caught my attention. After reassuring the Forbes readership that capitalism is indeed “awesome”, Altman expressed his wild excitement about how his company could break capitalism. Yet, much to my chagrin, he never quite explained what he meant or how this would happen.
Not that I was expecting a Marxist manifesto, it just bothered me that Altman talked primarily about the company’s business model that seeks to benefit humanity while generating reasonable profits to appease investors’ appetite. But this isn’t really groundbreaking – the idea of a dual-purpose or hybrid firm is nothing new and has long been studied in the management field.
Dissatisfied with the interview, I decided to set out on my own journey to understand how ChatGPT could break capitalism.
I found a video in which Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO and a primary investor in OpenAI, recounted a touching story about a farmer in rural India who struggled to apply for a government subsidy program. The farmer only spoke a local dialect which made the application process difficult. Fortunately, the chatbot was here to help: the farmer articulated his needs, and the chatbot went on with the translation and even completed the application on the farmer’s behalf – thanks to its training (or nurturing?) with many Indian government documents.
Could ChatGPT disrupt capitalism by establishing an equal level-playing field by offering novel tools and knowledge to ordinary people? That could be a hypothesis to work on. Time to delve into the wonders of the chatbot myself.
I could think of some applications that could make my life easier. For instance, in one of my research projects, I needed to take screenshots for each company in my database – all 750 of them. Doing this manually would take all day, not to mention the toll on my sanity. Surely a script could automate this for me, but little did I know about coding. Maybe ChatGPT could help me out. So, as probably one of my worst conversation starters ever, I initiated the chat: “Could you help me automate a process that automatically takes screenshots?”. Its immediate response was underwhelming: “Yes, this is possible”. Quite unsatisfied, I added a dose of my Dutch bluntness and cut to the chase: “Okay, but can you do it for me?”. And yes! It began writing an entire script that I further customized with some simple human commands. Within two hours, I had all the screenshots I needed.
This breakthrough made me contemplate how the chatbot could take away some of the barriers that we face in our daily lives. I work a lot with Chinese and Korean colleagues, whose English language proficiency can hinder their chances of publications, despite their innovative and inspiring ideas. Like them, many non-native academics spend significant money on proofreaders – since even minor typos can infuriate carping reviewers and make them question the overall quality of the study. Now, the chatbot can assist non-native researchers by correcting manuscripts without paying the high-priced grammar gurus. And when I discussed this with my Korean colleagues, one shared that he had already started using ChatGPT to compose a song while another had just created a custom software program designed to assist in memorizing biblical verses. Another friend had started a new YouTube channel that showed travel videos entirely scripted by ChatGPT, and narrated by an AI-voice.
A newfound friendship
My excitement over the chatbot’s seemingly limitless possibilities grew. But after proudly bookmarking ChatGPT in my web browser, as a token to solidify my newfound friendship, something began to itch. The imposter syndrome, a psychological phenomenon wherein individuals doubt their achievements and very common among aspiring scholars, resurfaced. And I had only recently conquered it after submitting my PhD dissertation some time ago. However, this time, it wasn't my professor or the graduation committee inciting it (sorry, Martin) – it was the chatbot.
Since embarking on my academic journey, I’ve devoted considerable effort to honing my English writing skills through extensive practice and refinement. With sweat, tears, and hard work, I felt a sense of pride in my writing accomplishments. But when I asked ChatGPT to rewrite some of my old text, I felt it surpassed my own abilities. Likewise, when I wasn’t sure about what to cook for dinner, my new virtual companion offered suggestions that surpassed my wildest culinary imaginings. Hence, integrating ChatGPT into my daily life and envisioning its applications, also had a weird emotional impact I’m still trying to define.
There’s no doubt that ChatGPT holds the potential to simplify our lives and, quite possibly, make prosperity more inclusive by leveling the playing field and removing some barriers that could make wealth creation more accessible. Yet, as I journeyed alongside my newfound companion, I felt constantly overshadowed by that brilliant classmate who always knows and does everything better.
Hold on a minute… wasn’t the chatbot supposed to break capitalism, not my self-worth?
Acknowledgements: The author wishes to convey his sincere gratitude to ChatGPT for its diligent review and adept refinement of the article. Any residual flaws remain a testament to the author's own human fallibility.