Further generations humans — or robots — may one day look back on this week as a watershed moment in human-computer interaction. On Monday, CEO Sundar Pichai announced a new Google chatbot called Bard, based on the previously published AI bot LaMDA. (The company also reportedly invested $400 million in large language modeling startup Anthropic.) A day later, Microsoft unveiled a new version of its Bing search engine based on OpenAI’s hit ChatGPT. In little more time than it takes to complete a query, AI systems have become a critical component of search, the most powerful application on the web.

Get ready for an endless discussion of the implications. But I’ve already fallen down that rabbit hole after mulling over a lesser-known beta product that launched last December and opened to the public a week ago. It’s a chatbot called Poe created by, of all companies, Quora, the 14-year-old social network that helps users find answers to questions by tapping into the knowledge of other users. Like Quora itself, you type in your question and wait for the answer. But Poe, which ostensibly stands for Platform for Open Exploration and is not a reference to the author of the macabre, provides its answers using text generation algorithms like ChatGPT and Anthropic’s Claude. A person does not need to think about a request and answer, the answers come instantly.

It struck me as an odd pivot for a social network. But when I contacted Quora co-founder and CEO Adam D’Angelo, he noted that even when he was in high school and working on projects with classmate Mark Zuckerberg, he was fascinated by the possibilities of AI. “That’s what made me really happy,” says D’Angelo, who then joined Zuckerberg’s startup Facebook. When he left his CTO position there in 2009 to start Quora, using other people to answer questions was kind of a fallback because artificial intelligence wasn’t advanced enough to do that. “At the time, it was very, very difficult to get artificial intelligence to work,” he says. “But there was just a huge untapped potential for connecting people to others through the Internet. So instead of worrying about creating this AI before it’s ready, why not just let people have access to all the other intelligence that’s out there?”

It turned out to be a pretty good idea. While Quora never became a huge force like Facebook, it has more than 300 million monthly users, D’Angelo says, and in late 2021 it was widely reported that, even before the pandemic, the company was preparing an IPO with a possible valuation of 4 billion dollars. Although the recent advertising slump led Quora to lay off some employees late last month, D’Angelo says the service is being asked more questions than ever, and he expects the ad market to , which is weakening, will recover.

But as a board member of OpenAI, the progenitor of ChatGPT, he saw firsthand the dramatic advances in the field and sensed an opportunity. By providing an interface for multiple bots, perhaps Quora could simplify access to the source of AI knowledge. Their conversational responses would appear in the same vein as the human responses provided on Quora itself. So his team secured access to Anthropic Claude’s OpenAI bot and chatbot—he doesn’t share the terms—and created Poe.

Quora’s move speaks volumes about the depth of change that artificial intelligence is currently imposing on the world. In case you missed the symbolism, let me blow your mind on this: a company whose very foundation was built on connecting people to each other to share knowledge is now moving towards a model where people are not talking to each other, but to robots . their answers.

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