Edward Tian has had a busy few months.
In December, the Princeton student used his vacation to develop a tool called GPTZero for educators to determine whether or not student essays were written using OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Buoyed by growing concerns about new technology and the emerging AI boom, Tian’s tool went viral, reaching more than 6 million users in just a few months.
Since then, he has received calls and meetings from numerous investors, built a team and startup named after GPTZero to help further develop the bot detector, and secured millions of dollars in funding for their new product: Origin, a web extension , as he said, can recognize AI-generated text on web pages. It has already caught the attention of media moguls, tech founders, and big-funded venture capitalists.
Oh, and he’s also about to graduate from college.
“The last few months have definitely been wild,” Tian told The Daily Beast. “It was definitely crazy.”
“In a world full of fake news, finding the source of the information is crucial. If you don’t know the source, how can you trust the information you consume?”
— Edward Tian, GPTZero
The same goes for the tech world more broadly. Since the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, it seems like the whole world immediately forgot the old fads of crypto and the metaverse and started relying heavily on generative AI like chatbots and image generators. While the likes of big companies like Google and Microsoft are embracing AI, there is a parallel industry of tools to combat and detect these bots that is quietly growing – and GPTZero is a big part of that effort.
The startup’s new tool Origin represents another weapon in this growing AI arms race. The app currently works as a Chrome extension, allowing users to analyze any text they find online to see if it contains AI was generated or not. Origin isn’t just useful for educators who want to find out if their students wrote an essay about the Battle of Hastings. According to Tian, it could also help people like journalists and technology watchdogs spot AI-generated misinformation online.
“In a world full of fake news, finding the source of information is crucial,” Tian said. “If you don’t know the source, how can you trust the information you consume?”
Tian describes it as a way to strengthen media and digital literacy at a time when people are increasingly suspicious of the things they see online — and with good reason. media companies like buzz feed And CNET have already started quietly producing AI-generated content. Last month, insider Editor-in-Chief Nicholas Carlson announced plans for his editorial team to experiment with bot-written content.
Tools that can detect whether something was generated by a bot or not are becoming as important as, if not more important than, the bot that generated it. Therefore people like the former The New York Times CEO Mark Thompson and former Reuters CEO Thomas Glocer has started investing in GPTZero. As the world grapples with the full impact of Generative AI, it becomes more important than ever that we can separate the things created by a human from the content created by a suite of code.
For Tian, the impact of tools like Origin can be summed up by why he created GPTZero in the first place: “Humans deserve to know when the writing isn’t human.”
“The value of human writing is there, but it gets eroded when people can’t tell the difference in the information they consume,” Tian said. “And I think our eyes are no longer good enough to tell the difference.”
The AI boom has produced strange bedfellows. During its I/O developer conference on Wednesday, Google announced a slew of AI-injected products designed to help users compose emails, generate images for slideshows, and even create fun captions.
However, the company also announced that it will introduce a watermark feature for all of its AI-generated images, so users can know whether an image was created with their image generation tool or not. The watermark itself is actually in the metadata of those images — so there’s no easy way to instantly tell if an image was created by a bot or not without downloading it and searching through the metadata.
Google also announced that AI-generated images will be flagged in Google image results so users can tell if an image was created by a bot or not. This summer, the company is also launching a new tool for the US called “About this image,” which essentially allows users to perform a reverse image search, which uses Google indexing to show them where the image first appeared in the image internet has emerged.
The irony, of course, is that Google is also putting all its energy into AI. Not only does it appear that the company is rolling out its proprietary PaLM 2 to almost its entire line of products, but the company is also rolling out its Bard chatbot in more than 180 countries. This puts powerful and potentially dangerous bots in the hands of millions if not billions of people.
Google isn’t the only company that seems to take advantage of both sides, so they always end up coming out on top too. Jack Altman, the brother of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, invested in GPTZero through the family’s investment firm Altman Capital. Tian told The Daily Beast that while Sam was interested, he couldn’t get involved directly due to “conflicts of interest” — presumably due to the fact that he’s the CEO of one of the most well-known AI companies in the world.
“There is intrinsic value in having a human being on the other side that I believe will never change.”
— Edward Tian, GPTZero
It’s clear that as AI rises, so do the tools and services aimed at combating and detecting it, such as Origin. But more importantly, they could give us the opportunity to counter a kind of digital solipsism that seems to be pervading the world as AI becomes more powerful and pervasive. We need to know if the people we interact with, the content we read, and the media we interact with are real – otherwise the internet would be a truly lonely place.
“I feel that human society will lose its drive to progress and create new things if everyone just uses the AI results that recreate what already exists on the internet,” Tian said. “There’s an intrinsic value in having a human being on the other side that I don’t think will ever change.”
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