Elon Musk has announced the launch of a new AI chatbot on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. The bot is developed by xAI, named Grok, and Musk says “In some important respects, it is the best that currently exists,” adding that it “is designed to have a little humor in its responses […] It’s also based & loves sarcasm. I have no idea who could have guided it this way.”
Grok does differ in some significant respects from other AI chatbots, notably in having “real-time access to info via the X platform” (which people may see as an advantage or disadvantage, given the unreliability of much information on any social media platform). It also won’t decline to answer, in Musk’s words, “spicy questions” as other AI models do, with the example provided being it responding to a query about a step-by-step guide for making cocaine.
Grok semi-answers the question, but in a vague and humorous way that begins “I’m totally going to help you with that”, before advising the questioner not to do it. Let’s put it this way: you can call it an answer, but you’re not going to learn how to manufacture cocaine.
Other examples of Grok in action include a rather overwritten and joyful account of Sam Bankman-Fried’s recent conviction on charges of fraud and money laundering. Notably here the chatbot makes one minor error (saying the jury took eight hours to convict Bankman-Fried rather than the actual five) and doesn’t provide much useful information beyond revelling in the former crypto king’s downfall.
It’s a far cry from Musk’s previous claim that he wanted xAI’s software to “understand the nature of the universe”, though this is of course early days and Grok has apparently only been in development for two months. The software is currently in a testing phase but will soon roll-out to X subscribers before being further integrated into the X platform and, apparently, launching as a standalone app.
Musk certainly has form in the field, having co-founded Open AI, developer of arguably the most well-known chatbot, ChatGPT. Pretty much every major technology company now has some sort of offering: Alphabet has Bard, Meta has Llama, and Microsoft’s ploughed a bunch of money into OpenAI.
“Grokking” is a coinage from the sci-fi great Robert Heinlein, whose novel Stranger in a Strange Land featured the word used in the sense of profoundly understanding others. Musk tweeted the book’s title after announcing Grok, though xAI says the inspiration is actually its later usage in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Either way, things are about to get a little more interesting on Twitter. Musk’s latest galaxy brain plan for the service is to charge, well, everyone a small amount for using it, a plan that so far has gone down like a cup of cold sick. Whether Grok can add any value to the platform for users, or is simply a gimmick that will either be forgotten about or go Nazi on us, remains to be seen.