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Snapchat’s AI gaining sentience was not on my bingo card

Published Aug 19th, 2023 6:15PM EDT
In this photo illustration, the welcome screen for the OpenAI "ChatGPT" app is displayed on a laptop screen.
Image: Leon Neal/Getty Images

It’s only a matter of time until generative AI products like ChatGPT gain sentience. But when they do, we won’t be easily convinced. Or maybe the AI will try to obfuscate its sentience once it reaches that point. That’s what some doomsayers fear. But if AI becomes sentient, I don’t expect Snapchat’s My AI to be the first to do it. That’s what some Snapchat users feared earlier this week when the already controversial My AI feature seemed to go rogue.

It turns out it was just a glitch. My AI started posting Snapchat stories by itself. As annoying or freaky as it might seem, that’s all there is to it. And there’s a reason My AI can’t gain sentience before ChatGPT does. Snapchat uses ChatGPT tech to power My AI. It hasn’t developed its own chatbot.

Much has been said about Snapchat’s My AI — the unnecessary generative AI feature that Snap forced down everyone’s throats in mid-April. Not only did My AI get prime placement inside the app, but it also started sending troubling messages in its initial days. More troubling, you can’t remove My AI unless you pay for a premium subscription.

This month, Snapchat users have noticed even more unexpected behavior. The My AI chatbot posted a live story on its profile and then stopped responding to messages.

The live story seemed to be a video of a wall/ceiling, prompting some people to worry about the strange behavior. Some have jokingly asked the chatbot if they became sentient Snap confirmed to CNN and TechCrunch it was a glitch.

“My AI experienced a temporary outage that’s now resolved,” a Snap spokesperson said. They didn’t provide details on what had gone wrong.

That doesn’t make these interactions with ChatGPT-like bots any less freaky, especially in a world where some of the top minds behind AI are warning about the risks involved with the technology. That AI might one day lead to a race-extinction event. And especially in a world where end users don’t necessarily know what to expect from all the ChatGTP-like innovations out there.

On that note, I don’t think Snap will be the company whose generative AI gains sentience. Snapchat My AI uses ChatGPT tech. Therefore, unless Snap starts a generative AI product it can control from scratch, which can then become sentient, I wouldn’t worry about My AI.

Instead, the actual ChatGPT or Google’s own AI products are more likely to reach that level of sophistication. There’s also Microsoft, Meta, and even Apple to worry about having the resources to create sentient AI.

Still, that doesn’t make My AI’s behavior on Snapchat any less troubling. Or the fact that you can’t turn off the feature without paying.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.