The Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into OpenAI, the artificial intelligence start-up that makes ChatGPT, over whether the chatbot has harmed consumers through its collection of data and its publication of false information on individuals.
In a 20-page letter sent to the San Francisco company this week, the agency said it was also looking into OpenAI’s security practices. The F.T.C. asked the company dozens of questions in its letter, including how the start-up trains its A.I. models and treats personal data.
The investigation was earlier reported by The Washington Post and confirmed by a person familiar with the investigation.
The F.T.C.’s investigation poses the first major regulatory threat to OpenAI. Sam Altman, the start-up’s co-founder, testified in Congress in May and said he invited A.I. legislation to oversee the fast-growing industry, which is under scrutiny because of how the technology can potentially kill jobs and spread disinformation.
OpenAI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When OpenAI first released ChatGPT in November, it instantly captured the public imagination with its ability to answer questions, write poetry and riff on almost any topic tossed its way. But the technology can also blend fact with fiction and even make up information, a phenomenon that scientists call “hallucination.”
ChatGPT is driven by what A.I. researchers call a neural network. This is the same technology that translates between French and English on services like Google Translate and identifies pedestrians as self-driving cars navigate city streets. A neural network learns skills by analyzing data. By pinpointing patterns in thousands of cat photos, for example, it can learn to recognize a cat.
Researchers at labs like OpenAI have designed neural networks that analyze massive amounts of digital text, including Wikipedia articles, books, news stories and online chat logs. These systems, known as large language models, have learned to generate text on their own but may repeat flawed information or combine facts in ways that produce inaccurate information.
Chatbots like ChatGPT, which are also being deployed by companies like Google and Microsoft, represent a major shift in the way computer software is built and used. They are poised to reinvent internet search engines like Google Search and Bing, talking digital assistants like Alexa and Siri, and email services like Gmail and Outlook.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.