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ChatGPT achieves in six months what Facebook needed a decade to do: The meteoric rise of the AI chatbot

Here is a look at how the bot has grown compared to other pioneering platforms such as YouTube, Spotify and Instagram

Sam Altman
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman during a lecture at the University of Tokyo on Monday.PHILIP FONG (AFP)

Nothing seems capable of stopping the rise of ChatGPT, the generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool created by OpenAI that has amassed tens of millions of users since its launch just six months ago. Not even the apocalyptic manifestos signed by AI leaders, the threat it poses to jobs or the doubts it has raised about the potential and limits of AI technology appear capable of slowing it down. When talking about artificial intelligence, the only certainty is the overwhelming success of ChatGPT, which recorded one million users just five days after its launch, according to a tweet from Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI.

Six months have passed since then, and ChatGPT has gone on to break many other records. Its growth has surpassed that of other platforms that have changed the technological landscape, be it in terms of numbers of users — the chatbot is about to register one billion unique users per month, according to an analysis by VezaDigital agency — or the amount of press and institutional recognition it has achieved worldwide. What Facebook, Google, Spotify or Apple took years to achieve, ChatGPT has done in months or even days.

The fastest growth in history

The most striking result is how quickly ChatGPT has become popularized since its launch on November 30, 2022. Indeed, it is the fastest-growing product in history. However, it should be noted that OpenAI does not offer official data. What is known about the chatbot comes from Altman or from the analysis of external consultants. A UBS study, for example, estimated that ChatGPT had 100 million active users in January, just two months after its launch. The platform’s meteoric rise has not gone unnoticed by large investors, such as Microsoft, which that same month invested $10 billion in OpenAI. It took Microsoft three years to invest $250 million into Facebook.

ChatGPT’s rise has been much faster than that of other social media networks. While ChatGPT took two months to reach 100 million users, Facebook — which launched in 2004 — did not reach that figure for four and a half years. Instagram, which was not yet part of Meta when it launched in 2010, took two and a half years to reach one million downloads on iOS devices. Twitter had to wait five years, while TikTok did it in just nine months.

Other pioneering tech products also lag behind when compared to ChatGPT. In June 2007, Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone to the U.S. market. The device — which would change the cellphone industry forever — sold one million units in just over two months, and 100 million in three and a half years. Netflix, which was founded in 1999, did not exceed one million subscribers until 2017. It’s important to note, however, that the streaming platform initially began as a DVD delivery, which made it much more difficult for it to achieve this goal. It took Spotify a decade to reach 100 million subscribers, a milestone it achieved in April 2019.

YouTube grew much faster, but still not as fast as ChatGPT. Founded in February 2005 by three former PayPal employees, YouTube reached 100 million daily views in a year and a half. It rose so quickly that a year after its launch, it was the fast-growing product on the internet.

Media attention

In addition to attracting users, ChatGPT has not stopped making headlines. In February this year — three months after its launch — the prestigious TIME magazine dedicated its front cover to a screenshot of a conversation with ChatGPT, in which it asked: “What do you think of a Time cover story with the title ‘The AI Arms Race is Changing Everything.’”

It took Facebook and YouTube three and two years, respectively, to land on the front cover of Time. In 2006, Time set out to recognize the millions of people who anonymously contribute content to websites such as YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, choosing “You” as the person of the year. The groundbreaking front cover featured a computer with the word “You” on the screen.

In the case of Facebook, founder Mark Zuckerberg has appeared twice on the cover of the magazine: first when he was named Time’s person of the year in 2010, and again in 2021, more than a decade later, following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. On that occasion, the magazine questioned whether it was time to delete Facebook.

It took Google’s three founders eight years to appear on the cover of Time, while Instagram’s Kevin Systrom and Spotify’s Daniel Ek have never landed a cover shot. That said, they both appeared on the front page of the equally prestigious Forbes magazine, two and four years, respectively, after the launch of their platforms. The only product that comes close to ChatGPT is the iPhone, which in November 2007, four months after its launch, was named “invention of the year” by Time.

Interest of world leaders

The unprecedented growth of ChatGPT, and of artificial intelligence more generally, has also caught the attention of world leaders. Altman was virtually unknown six months ago. But since the chatbot’s launch, he has been traveling around the globe nonstop on what he calls “the OpenAI world tour.” He went to the White House, where together with other AI pioneers, he spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden about the dangers of AI technology. And from there, he traveled to Canada, Nigeria, Portugal and Spain.

But perhaps the most striking meeting took place on May 16 in the U.S. Senate, when Altman appeared before a Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law to discuss the benefits and risks of AI technology. This was not the first time that a Senate committee has met with the young leaders of the tech world. But what was surprising was how quickly Altman reached this level of institutional recognition, and the relaxed and cordial tone with which the hearing was conducted.

Sam Altman y Pedro Sánchez
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (right) and OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.

Zuckerberg also appeared before a Senate committee in 2018, 14 years after the birth of Facebook. In this case, the CEO of Meta — which owns Facebook, YouTube and Instagram — was called to testify to explain the massive data leak from Cambridge Analytica. Visibly nervous, Zuckerberg struggled to answer lawmakers’ questions, saying: “I deeply regret that we didn’t do enough.” The encounter damaged both Zuckerberg’s and his company’s image.

Likewise, concerns about TikTok, the popular Chinese social network founded in 2016, took seven years to reach the U.S. Congress. In March, just weeks before Altman’s hearing, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew waded in on the debate over whether to ban the platform in the United States. It did not go very well, judging by the fact that a few weeks later, the governor of Montana signed the first law that prohibits the use of TikTok in a U.S. territory.

Not only has ChatGPT managed to stay ahead of its competitors in terms of growth, but it has also won over public opinion, despite the continuous doomsday talk about AI technology.

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