The Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into OpenAI, the artificial intelligence startup that makes ChatGPT, into whether the chatbot has harmed consumers through its data collection and posting false information about people.
In a 20-page letter sent to the San Francisco company this week, the agency said it was also investigating OpenAI’s security practices. The FTC asked the company dozens of questions in its letter, including how the start-up trains its AI models and treats personal data.
the investigation was previously reported by The Washington Post and confirmed by a person familiar with the investigation.
The FTC investigation poses the first major regulatory threat to OpenAI. Sam Altman, the co-founder of the start-up, testified in Congress in May, saying he invited artificial intelligence legislation to oversee the fast-growing industry, which is under scrutiny because of how the technology can kill jobs and spread misinformation.
OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When OpenAI first released ChatGPT in November, it instantly captured the public’s imagination with its ability to answer questions, write poetry, and riff on almost any topic thrown its way. But technology can also mix fact with fiction and even fabricate information, a phenomenon scientists call “hallucination.”
ChatGPT is powered by what AI researchers call a neural network. This is the same technology that translates between French and English on services like Google Translate and identifies pedestrians as autonomous cars navigate city streets. A neural network learns skills by analyzing data. By identifying patterns in thousands of cat photos, for example, you can learn to recognize a cat.
Researchers at labs like OpenAI have designed neural networks that analyze massive amounts of digital text, including Wikipedia articles, books, news, and online chat logs. These systems, known as large language models, have learned to generate text on their own, but they can repeat faulty information or combine facts in ways that produce inaccurate information.
Chatbots like ChatGPT, which are also being implemented by companies like Google and Microsoft, represent a major change in the way computer software is built and used. They are poised to reinvent Internet search engines like Google Search and Bing, talking digital assistants like Alexa and Siri, and email services like Gmail and Outlook.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.