What is ChatGPT and why do people think it should be paused?

A response by ChatGPT, an AI chatbot developed by OpenAI, is seen on its website in this illustration picture taken February 9, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo/Illustration
ChatGPT has become the poster child of artificial intelligence. (Reuters)

What's happening? More than 1,000 AI experts and backers have called for a pause in artificial intelligence (AI) development over concerns of a "profound risks to society and humanity".

An open letter signed by major players in the industry, warns of an "out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one – not even their creators – can understand, predict or reliably control".

Signatories include Elon Musk – co-founder of OpenAI, the research lab behind ChatGPT and GPT-4 – founder of London-based company Stability AI, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

FILE - Elon Musk departs the Phillip Burton Federal Building and United States Court House in San Francisco on Jan. 24, 2023. Attorneys for a Tesla shareholder urged a Delaware judge on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, to invalidate a 2018 compensation package awarded by the company’s board of directors to Musk that is potentially worth more than $55 billion. (AP Photo/Benjamin Fanjoy, File)
Elon Musk is among over 1,000 AI investors and experts who are calling for a pause on development. (AP)

The letter – coordinated by the Future of Life Institute think-tank – has also been backed by engineers from Amazon, DeepMind, Google, Meta and Microsoft and calls for a pause of at least six months.

What is ChatGPT?

In this photo illustration an Open AI logo seen displayed on a smartphone screen and Microsoft Office 365 suite in the background. The technology behind the world's most talked about artificial intelligence (AI) system, ChatGPT, is being added to its most ubiquitous work software, Microsoft 365., in Athens, Greece, on march 17, 2023. (Photo Illustration by Nikolas Kokovlis/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
ChatGPT is powered by Elon Musk's OpenAI. (Getty Images)

ChatGPT is an AI-powered chatbot developed by Elon Musk's OpenAI which was launched in November 2022.

The GPT stands for "generative pre-trained transformer" – a family of language models trained to produce human-like text.

It has a neural network, pre-trained on massive amounts of text data, such as books, articles, and websites, to give it a general understanding of the world, and has been fine-tuned for more specific tasks.

The chatbot, which you can ask pretty much anything, has the ability to weigh up the importance of certain words in a user's request, allowing it to give contextually relevant responses.

What is the current legislation on AI in the UK?

A visitor wears virtual reality goggles at the World Artificial Intelligence Cannes Festival (WAICF) in Cannes, France, February 10, 2023.  REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
A visitor wears virtual reality goggles at the World Artificial Intelligence Cannes Festival. (Reuters)

This week the UK government published its plans on how it wants to regulate AI technology, taking what has been described by some as a "light touch" approach as it seeks to "turbocharge" the industry's growth.

Rather than setting up a new regulator, it wants to empower existing regulators to come up with "tailored, context-specific approaches" to ensure this technology is used "responsibly".

AI is currently controlled in the UK by a patchwork of legislation that isn't specific to the technology. For example, it is subject to data protection laws, while discriminatory outcomes resulting from AI's use could be in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

Some critics worry the government's new approach will fail to keep up with the pace of change, with Michael Birtwistle of The Ada Lovelace Institute claiming it has "significant gaps" and is "underpowered" relative to the scale of the challenge.

How many people are using ChatGPT?

ChatGPT example
Here's what ChatGPT said when we asked it what it can do. (ChatGPT)

ChatGPT is one of many AI models but its explosive popularity has thrust it to the spotlight and has made it the poster child of artificial intelligence.

Since its launch in November 2022 it has become one of the fastest growing apps in history, gaining 123 million active users in its first two months.

To put that into perspective, it took TikTok about nine months after its global launch to reach 100 million users and Instagram two-and-a-half years, according to data from Sensor Tower.