Will ChatGPT Make Us All “Centaurs”?

John Battelle
4 min readJan 20, 2023

(Original post at Searchblog) Watching the hype cycle build around OpenAI’s ChatGPT, I can’t help but wonder when the first New York Times or Atlantic story comes out calling the top — declaring the whole thing just another busted Silicon Valley fantasy, this year’s version of crypto or the metaverse. Anything tagged as “the talk of Davos” is destined for a ritual media takedown, after all. We’re already seeing the hype start to fade, with stories reframing ChatGPT as merely a “co-pilot” that helps everyone from musicians to coders to regular folk create better work.

But I think there’s far more to the story. There’s something about ChatGPT that feels like a seminal moment in the history of tech — the launch of the Mac in 1984, for example, or the launch of the browser one decade later. Is this a fundamental, platform-level innovation that could unleash a new era in digital?

Possibly, but the simpler co-pilot concept also resonates. It reminds me of a conversation I had over the course of a year or so with Rob Reid, the author of the prescient 2017 novel After On. AI plays a central role in the novel, and Reid introduces the concept of “centaurs” — creatures that are part human, part AI — borrowed from Garry Kasparov, who imagined merging with Deep Blue’s chess AI back in 2014. More colloquially, Rob and I drained more than a few bourbons imagining how AI could be more like a smart friend or assistant, rather than an evil force hell bent on destroying humanity.

Centaur-like behavior is already emerging across the nerdosphere. I was on a call with a scholarly colleague just yesterday, and he showed me two applications that leveraged large-language models (LLMs) to both supplant and enhance human communications — both of them in multi-billion dollar markets that currently support millions of workers. I’ve no doubt that AI-enhanced models are just getting started, and we’ll likely see huge VC investment in the space this year.

What I’m interested in is the nature of those investments. While OpenAI is positioned as the alpha startup in the space — reportedly negotiating a $10 billion injection of capital from Microsoft at a $29 billion valuation — I find the ecosystem that’s developing around the APIs these large-language models enable to be far more fascinating. For AI to reach the…

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John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business