Wikipedia released its list of 25 most viewed articles on English Wikipedia in 2023. As always, it's a good sign of the times.
There's a lot of what you'd expect on the list. The Barbie movie is there (No. 13, with 18 million views). Taylor Swift, unsurprisingly, came in 12th place (19.4 million views). Movies, football players, celebrities who passed away too young, they've all done it. (Matthew Perry is in 17th place with 16.4 million views, and Lisa Marie Presley is in 22nd place with 13.7 million.)
But the No. 1 most viewed article, with a whopping 49.4 million views? That's it Wikipedia entry on ChatGPTa chatbot developed by OpenAI and launched just over a year ago, on November 30, 2022. With its intelligent responses and ability to engage in a human conversation, it captured the public's attention and sparked a broad conversation that is still going strong 12 months later.
ChatGPT is not the only genAI chatbot out there. Microsoft's Bing, for example, began integrating AI into searches in February and opened it up to more users in May. Google Bard has also opened up to larger audiences. (In a review of the three services in the spring, CNET's Imad Khan called ChatGPT the best, but noted that all three were learning and changing.) And there are even more, including Character.ai and Claude.ai (the latter created by people who jumped from OpenAI).
Still, it's ChatGPT that has become the touchstone for many people when they think about AI – which we're probably all doing a lot more of than we did a year ago. Hence the consecration at the top of Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia and extremely popular resource. Students turn to it for homework help, sports and movie fans to answer those pesky trivia questions, job seekers use it to research potential employers, and for almost anyone, it's very useful. easy to just fall down the rabbit hole of a random article and not emerge for hours. Wikipedia has received over 84 billion page views so far in 2023, according to data shared with CNN.
This top ranking from ChatGPT is a clear sign of how much the generative AI tool has upended the zeitgeist in 2023 – and how little people still know about what it is or does.
From zero to first place in one year
ChatGPT came quickly. Last year's list of top Wikipedia entries didn't include ChatGPT, of course, as it was only a few days old. But last year's list also didn't include any entries related to artificial intelligence. The late cannibal and murderer Jeffrey Dahmer topped the 2022 list with 54.9 million views, thanks to Monster, the Netflix series about his life and crimes.
The ChatGPT entry is not the longest on Wikipedia. But it is complex, with 210 footnotes cited. He defines what the bot is and tells some of the history – ChatGPT gained more than 100 million users by January and now has 150 million – and discusses its features, training and reception.
The GPT part of the name stands for pre-trained generative transformer, and this training of AI, on huge amounts of data, is the basis of the technology. With the GPT-4 update in March to the underlying large language model – the technology that powers the chatbot so that it is capable of generating responses with original content – ChatGPT can produce longer text strings, respond when given images, and avoid some of the pitfalls of previous versions. With these improvements, ChatGPT became smart enough to not only pass the bar exam, something it was already able to do, but also score in the top 10%.
This fundamental ChatGPT training is not without controversy. Writers, including Game of Thrones author George RR Martin, are part of a lawsuit against ChatGPT's parent company, OpenAI, in which the plaintiffs allege that use of their works constituted copyright infringement.
ChatGPT and Wikipedia: more similar than you think
It's funny that ChatGPT, of all things, ended up at the top of Wikipedia's most-read list, because the two have similarities. You don't need to know anything about a topic to use ChatGPT or Wikipedia for information – that's why people turn to each of them. They are a starting point. If you have deeper knowledge of a topic, you can focus on a specific Wikipedia entry or a ChatGPT question.
Wikipedia, however, is assembled by human editors and cites their sources. Sometimes Wikipedia entries have errors, whether unintentional or intentional. Just check the page for a controversial public figure after they die—you'll often see mean jokes and fake descriptions, though the site quickly weeds them out.
But Wikipedia does a great job of pulling together the basics and telling you how to find out more.
On a good day, that's what ChatGPT does too. Need to send a confidential email to your boss or mother-in-law? ChatGPT doesn't know this person, so it doesn't know how to personalize the email with the specific details that will help it read best to the recipient. But it can outline the basic phrases a person might use to request a meeting or suggest a change in family vacation plans.
When I was at school, we had old-fashioned, multi-volume, paper-and-ink encyclopedias. And you better believe that professors place strict limits on their use as reference sources. They didn't want you to quote them in an article – too easy, too lazy, not enough specific information.
Many teachers have similar rules for Wikipedia. You can start there and get a good feel for your topic, but don't you dare let that be your resource. It would be good to think of people who use ChatGPT in the same way: as a jumpstart, an idea generator. Not to, uh, have AI write essays for school assignments that they consider to be their own work.
It's still early days yet, but nearly 50 million people used Wikipedia to learn more about ChatGPT this year. This number is likely to grow.
It’s under the “Usage and Implications” heading that things really start to get interesting.
The Wikipedia entry discusses the controversies surrounding the chatbot, from kids using it to cheat at school to the bot returning unreliable information or even hallucinations when a generative AI tool makes up things that seem true. In fact, on Tuesday, Dictionary.com named the meaning of AI “hallucinate” as the word of the year 2023defining it as “producing false information contrary to the user’s intent and presenting it as true and factual.”
There's also the big fear, the idea that the power of AI will lead to a Terminator-style future where machines are no longer under human control. A American scientific article in October discusses “AI anxiety,” a term that explains fears about the rapid growth of generative AI.
Many people fear that AI will eventually take their jobs, and others have greater fears involving human obsolescence. I admit, I definitely have a lot of anxiety about AI – after all, I've seen the Terminator. And as a member of Generation X, I was always raised with the idea that man-made destruction is just around the corner. It was in our songs, our books, our films. Let's play a game? What about global thermonuclear war?
Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI who in November was fired and rehired in the space of a week, earlier this month he talked about And now? with Trevor Noah. Noah asked Altman about fears that genAI will cause the apocalypse. Altman's response wasn't exactly reassuring for worried people like me.
“Society has… actually a pretty good, messy but good process for collectively determining what the safety limits should be,” Altman told Noah on the podcast. “I think the world needs to face this head on…this idea that there is a catastrophic or potentially existential risk in a way that just because we can't define it precisely doesn't mean we can ignore it either. And so we're working very hard here to try to predict and measure what these problems might be, when they might arise, how we would detect them early.”
Thank you, I think? As Binkley told Milo in Bloom County“well you can just rock me to sleep tonight.”
Wikipedia, of course, may not offer the most detailed explanation of ChatGPT or AI. But I'm strongly in favor of this getting to number one on Wikipedia's list. The more people get a clear picture of this technological advancement – the good, the bad and the unknown – the better off we will be.
Where will AI be next year?
I tell my teenage daughter and her friends not to worry too much about what careers they will have when they grow up, because those jobs probably haven't been invented yet.
Likewise, we simply have no idea where ChatGPT will be a year from now. It only seems fair that it has fantastic uses and naturally creates more controversy about things we wish it couldn't do.
If life were an episode of the Twilight Zone, we might be able to somehow look at the list of the most viewed Wikipedia articles for the next year and learn from them what the world has been through in the 12 months of 2024. But we are still in our world, so I asked ChatGPT if it could predict Wikipedia's most viewed entries for the next year. His response was both revealing and vague, as one would expect.
“I wish I had a crystal ball for that!” ChatGPT responded. “Predicting the future is a little tricky, especially when it comes to Internet trends. But if I had to guess, it could be something related to a major global event, scientific discovery, or technological advancement. What's your prediction?”
Editor's note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create some stories. For more information, see this post.