A few weeks ago, Sam Altman, CEO of artificial intelligence startup OpenAI, logged onto a Zoom call. On the other side of the screen was Dave Rogenmoser, CEO of Jasper, a copywriting startup built on OpenAI’s flagship large-language model, GPT-3. The two companies share a Slack channel, where they trade updates and feedback about GPT-3, which is the backbone of Jasper’s business.
Rogenmoser had arranged to speak to Altman because he had just seen a post on the channel announcing ChatGPT, a new product from OpenAI that worked almost like a magic trick. With a simple prompt, ChatGPT could craft a business proposal, write a resignation letter or explain the inner workings of quantum mechanics. In fact, it worked a lot like Jasper’s core product. But unlike Jasper, ChatGPT was free.
Rogenmoser had some questions about that. “Look, we need to know some of what y’all are planning on doing,” he told Altman from his office in Austin, Tex. Jasper was an OpenAI partner, he noted—one that paid handsomely for use of GPT-3. OpenAI didn’t owe Rogenmoser anything, but if it planned to keep its chatbot available for free, the Jasper chief was going to need to rethink some things.
According to Rogenmoser, Altman assured him that ChatGPT—which had become an instant sensation, accumulating over a million users in a matter of days—wouldn’t stay free forever. Eventually, OpenAI would have to put it behind a paywall, if only to cover the staggering cost of computing. Each chat query cost OpenAI a few cents, which added up quickly when a million users pinged it multiple times a day. Altman also told Rogenmoser he hadn’t expected ChatGPT to blow up so much; he saw it more as an interface upgrade than a technological revolution, and was surprised by its breakout popularity. According to Rogenmoser, Altman offered a bit of reassurance: “We’re not trying to go and compete with our partners.”