OpenAI connects ChatGPT to the internet

OpenAI has announced that its AI-powered chatbot, ChatGPT, can now access the internet through new plugins that extend its capabilities. The plugins will grant ChatGPT access to third-party knowledge sources and databases, including the web, to help it answer a wider variety of questions. The plugins are currently in alpha, and OpenAI plans to initially prioritize a small number of developers and subscribers to its premium ChatGPT Plus plan before rolling out larger-scale and API access.

One of the most intriguing plugins is OpenAI’s web-browsing plugin, which allows ChatGPT to draw data from around the web to answer questions. Previously, ChatGPT’s knowledge was limited to dates, events, and people prior to around September 2021. The plugin retrieves content from the web using the Bing search API and cites its sources in ChatGPT’s responses. However, a chatbot with web access can be a risky proposition, as demonstrated by the failures of previous AI systems that were given access to the web.

The live web is less curated than a static training dataset and is less filtered, which means search engines like Google and Bing may not always provide the most reliable sources. Google’s algorithm prioritizes websites that use modern web technologies, potentially burying quality content. This gives search engines a lot of power over the data that might inform web-connected language models’ answers. OpenAI admits that a web-enabled ChatGPT might perform all types of undesirable behaviors but says it has implemented safeguards informed by internal and external red teams to prevent this.

Beyond the web plugin, OpenAI has released a code interpreter for ChatGPT that provides the chatbot with a working Python interpreter in a sandboxed, firewalled environment. The interpreter supports uploading and downloading files and is particularly useful for solving mathematical problems, doing data analysis and visualization, and converting files between formats. OpenAI has also developed plugins with early collaborators, including Expedia, FiscalNote, Instacart, Kayak, Klarna, Milo, OpenTable, Shopify, Slack, Speak, Wolfram, and Zapier, to extend ChatGPT’s capabilities.

To foster the creation of new plugins, OpenAI has open-sourced a “retrieval” plugin that enables ChatGPT to access snippets of documents from data sources like files, notes, emails, or public documentation by asking questions in natural language. OpenAI says it is “working to develop plugins and bring them to a broader audience,” and hopes to “build something that is both useful and safe.”

Plugins are a significant addition to ChatGPT’s development, as they greatly expand its capabilities beyond the information contained in its training data. Some experts have accused OpenAI of profiting from unlicensed work in ChatGPT’s dataset, which includes public websites. However, plugins potentially address that issue by allowing companies to retain full control over their data.