Microsoft might bring Clippy back, but make it smart

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

The prospect of Microsoft, a software maker most people hate, getting involved in ChatGPT, a product people generally love, raises a lot of eyebrows.

Almost immediately, people started joking on social media that ChatGPT could be used to revive the widely maligned big-eyed jerk known as Clippy.

In case anyone forgot, Clippy was Microsoft’s dumb little virtual assistant that used to offer a pop-up window to help you format your English essay. Clippy was cute, like a cartoon dog, and had an intelligence to match.

Maybe the genuinely awesome technology that underpins ChatGPT could do what Clippy never could and offer, like, some real help, rather than just popping up out of the blue with that stupid, 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 in the Clippy comparison,” Sam David Lobina, an artificial intelligence analyst at ABI Research, told Sam. “ChatGPT is a rather sophisticated auto-completion tool, and in that sense it’s a much better version of Clippy.”

ICYMI: Since November, ChatGPT has simultaneously impressed and horrified just about anyone whose work centers around content creation or evaluation – journalists, academics, teachers, editors, artists, anyone composing emails or presenting information.

This bot does it all – songs, poems, essays, reports, 1920s muckraker-style reports, Virginia Woolf-style stream-of-consciousness reports, whatever your heart desires. He can write your silly emails for you. He can write a speech. Your wedding vows. A cover letter for a job application.

This powerhouse of AI is, understandably, an intriguing proposition for Microsoft, maker of some of the world’s most despised yet ubiquitous software, such as Outlook, Word and Excel.

By Sam:

Some potential use cases include writing lines of text for a PowerPoint presentation, writing an essay in Word, or auto-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 could Microsoft integrate ChatGPT into its products?”

Argh, Samantha, you rascal!

Anyway, Microsoft hasn’t publicly offered any clues about its plans, other than that it would integrate ChatGPT functionality into its cloud computing service.

Even without specifics, it’s worth noting that Microsoft, Silicon Valley’s equivalent of a Boomer, is suddenly emerging as a frontrunner in Big Tech’s AI race. Google was reportedly caught off guard by the Microsoft-OpenAI partnership, and it stirred a little frustrated for Meta’s AI manager.

Of course, AI technology is still young, unreliable, and plagued with ethical dilemmas.

“Systems like ChatGPT can be rather unreliable, making things up as they go and giving different answers to the same questions – not to mention gender and racial bias,” says Lobina.

Which raises the prospect of an anthropomorphic paperclip assistant who might genuinely help you, but also be as problematic and biased as the internet stuff his brain is built from.

Amazon is insinuating itself deeper into our personal lives, for better or for worse.

The company — already perfectly tuned to your relentless demand for dog toys, moisturizer, running socks, and even your biannual obligation to rewatch every episode of Fleabag in one sitting — is getting even more personal with its last offer.

See it here: Amazon just launched 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 in most of the United States (a few states, including California and Texas, are excluded because they have unique requirements for prescription deliveries).

For people on multiple medications, this could be a game-changer. The idea is that for just five dollars a month, you can get all the drugs you need (the generic versions, anyway). It’s five dollars in total, not five dollars plus the cost of the drug. This is a flat rate, regardless of how many prescriptions you have.

The problem? RxPass is an add-on for Amazon Prime subscriptions, which costs $139 per year. So if you’re not already on the Prime train, it might seem steep. Also, people on government health plans like Medicare and Medicaid are not eligible.

Amazon has been steadily moving in healthcare, minus a few stumbles (we’re looking at you, Amazon Care), for years. She launched an online pharmacy in 2020 and is in the process of acquiring One Medical, a boutique primary care provider.

The bottom line: As far as Amazon is concerned, this program is almost certainly a loss-maker, analysts say. But it’s smart for a company whose value boils down to consumers depending on it. If RxPass works and we all start getting our dog food and our antidepressants in the same box every month, that will be true both literally and metaphorically.

My colleague Nathaniel Meyersohn has more.

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