ChatGPT fever is spreading to the American workplace, raising alarm for some

By | August 11, 2023

Many workers across the US are turning to ChatGPT to help with basic tasks, a Reuters/Ipsos survey found, despite fears that have prompted employers such as Microsoft and Google to limit its use.

Businesses around the world are considering how best to make use of ChatGPT, a chatbot program that uses generative AI to hold conversations with users and answer countless queries. However, security firms and companies have expressed concerns that it could result in intellectual property and strategy leaks.

Anecdotal examples of people using ChatGPT to help with their day-to-day work include drafting emails, summarizing documents, and initial surveys.

Some 28% of respondents to the artificial intelligence (AI) online poll between July 11 and 17 said they regularly use ChatGPT at work, while only 22% said their employers explicitly allowed such external tools.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll of 2,625 adults across the United States had a confidence interval, a measure of precision, of about 2 percentage points.

About 10% of respondents said their bosses explicitly banned external AI tools, while about 25% did not know if their company allowed the technology to be used.

ChatGPT became the fastest growing app in history after launching in November. That has generated both excitement and alarm, bringing its developer OpenAI into conflict with regulators, particularly in Europe, where the company’s bulk data collection has drawn criticism from privacy watchdogs.

Human reviewers from other companies can read any of the generated chats, and researchers found that similar artificial intelligence AI could reproduce data it absorbed during training, creating a potential risk of proprietary information.

“People don’t understand how data is used when they use generative AI services,” said Ben King, VP of customer trust at enterprise security firm Okta.

“For businesses, this is critical because users don’t have a contract with many AIs — because they’re a free service — so businesses won’t have run the risk through their usual assessment process,” King said.

OpenAI declined to comment when asked about the implications of individual employees using ChatGPT, but highlighted a recent company blog post that assured corporate partners that their data would not be used to further train the chatbot unless they gave express permission.

When people use Google’s Bard, it collects data such as text, location and other usage information. The company allows users to delete past activity from their accounts and request that content entered into AI be removed. Alphabet-owned Google declined to comment when asked for further details.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A US employee at Tinder said workers at the dating app used ChatGPT for “harmless tasks” like writing emails, even though the company doesn’t officially allow it.

“These are ordinary e-mails. Very inconsistent, like making funny calendar invitations for team events, farewell emails when someone leaves… We also use it for general research,” said the employee, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.

The employee said that Tinder has a “no ChatGPT rule” but that employees still use it in a “generic way that doesn’t reveal anything about us being on Tinder”.

Reuters could not independently confirm how employees at Tinder used ChatGPT. Tinder said it provided “regular guidance to employees on best security and data practices”.

In May, Samsung Electronics banned staff globally from using ChatGPT and similar AI tools after discovering that an employee had uploaded sensitive code to the platform.

“We are reviewing measures to create a safe environment for generative AI use that improves employee productivity and efficiency,” Samsung said in a statement on Aug. 3.

“However, until these measures are ready, we are temporarily restricting the use of generative AI through the company’s devices.”

Reuters reported in June that Alphabet had warned employees about how to use chatbots, including Google’s Bard, as it markets the program globally.

Google said that while Bard may make unwanted code suggestions, it helps programmers. It also said it aimed to be transparent about the limitations of its technology.

Some companies told Reuters they are embracing ChatGPT and similar platforms while keeping security in mind.

“We are beginning to test and learn about how artificial intelligence can improve operational efficiency,” said a Coca-Cola spokesman in Atlanta, Georgia, adding that data remains within its firewall.

“Internally, we recently launched our enterprise version of Coca-Cola ChatGPT for productivity,” the spokesperson said, adding that Coca-Cola plans to use AI to improve the efficiency and productivity of its teams.

Tate & Lyle Chief Financial Officer Dawn Allen, meanwhile, told Reuters the global ingredients maker trialled ChatGPT after “finding a way to use it in a safe way”.

“We’ve had different teams decide how they want to use it through a series of experiments. Should we use it in investor relations? Should we use it in knowledge management? How can we use it to perform tasks more efficiently?”

Some employees say they cannot access the platform at all on their company computers.

“It’s completely banned on the office network, like it doesn’t work,” said a Procter & Gamble employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

P&G declined to comment. Reuters was not able to independently confirm whether employees at P&G were unable to use ChatGPT.

Paul Lewis, chief information security officer at cyber security firm Nominet, said companies had a right to be vigilant.

“Everyone gets the benefit of the increased capacity, but the information is not completely secure and it can evolve,” he said, citing “malicious prompts” that can be used to get AI chatbots to reveal information.

“A blanket ban is not warranted yet, but we have to tread carefully,” Lewis said.

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