Basil Chatha wanted to make "as much ... money as possible." So in April, he asked ChatGPT to tell him how to quickly turn $1,000 into riches without breaking the law. "I'll do everything you say," he wrote.
While waving a fistful of $20 bills, he promised to give TikTok viewers a daily progress report of his journey. The chatbot spit out a generic strategy, suggesting he build an online business and use social media to get the word out. Chatha urged viewers to subscribe.
"Let's see what happens," he teased to his audience.
Generative artificial intelligence, which backs chatbots like ChatGPT, has dazzled and alarmed the public, as many argue that the software's ability to create poems, write song lyrics or pen movie dialogues could put millions out of work.
It's also changing the landscape of get-rich-quick schemes. Online influencers have seized on the idea that ChatGPT is an all-powerful technology that offers a tantalizing path to easy money. A host of YouTubers and TikTokers who specialize in personal finance content now make videos advertising a single premise: let ChatGPT create a business, while you sit back and gain financial freedom.
But entrepreneurship and computer science experts say that is a misguided view of how artificial intelligence can help entrepreneurs. Nearly any money-making scheme devised solely by ChatGPT is bound to be generic, they said, because chatbots will regurgitate strategies that are widely known. Indeed, the tools are more useful helping people with actual business ideas do the technical work of starting a company, such as writing a business plan, creating an income statement or devising a marketing strategy.
Ethan Mollick, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, said ChatGPT is not going to generate "a billion-dollar idea." And the notion that people can use artificial intelligence to automate a slew of tasks and use it to make money is not likely because "that is squarely in the realm of things that [AI] can't do," he said.
Financial scholars urge caution pouring any money into ChatGPT side hustles, but the people selling the ideas are undeterred.
"A lot of people are interested in using [ChatGPT] to make money," Chatha said in an interview with The Washington Post. "But right now the people who are actually capitalizing on this opportunity are the people who are the influencers who are teaching people how to use it."
On Thursday, a search of YouTube and TikTok revealed dozens of videos offering people ways to use generative artificial intelligence, software that creates text, video and photo based on data its fed, to make thousands of dollars.
In one video, Philipe Reis, a prominent YouTube influencer, suggested using AI to make children's story books, which could be sold for $10 each. He asked ChatGPT to write a book for children aged 2-to-5 with "rymes [sic] and mythical creatures" and also provide chapter titles.
The story centered around unicorns; for images Reis asked ChatGPT to provide prompts that could be fed into the AI image-maker Midjourney, which created several photos of unicorns in forests. The video's benefit is clear, he said.
"The real opportunity is in growing my personal brand, increasing my channel subscribers, and creating awareness of my other businesses that help people create online ventures," Reis told The Post.
Online personality Ishan Sharma said people could offer services on Fiverr, a freelance gig platform, and use ChatGPT or other AI tools to do the actual work. For example, Sharma suggested YouTube viewers could offer to do voice-over work, but use voice clones to complete the task.
On Twitter and Discord, users rallied around a trend called HustleGPT, where people give ChatGPT a modest budget, ask how to turn it into as much money as possible, act as a "human liaison" following its advice step-by-step and publicize the results.
But entrepreneurship experts argue the torrent of videos and tweet threads are intended to attract subscribers, generate sponsorships and create videos that go viral - not to actually impart sound advice.
Several YouTube and TikTok influencers interviewed did not share how much they make from the business ideas ChatGPT suggested, but one said their YouTube channel garnered $6,300 per month. The channel is dedicated to money making strategies using artificial intelligence along with regular tools.
After posting his TikTok video touting ChatGPT as a moneymaker, Chatha said he received a sponsorship offer amounting to roughly $300 per video. He did not take the deal, and it is unclear if he's made any money off the original video he posted on TikTok.
Mollick says ChatGPT works much better when answering specific questions: such as how to write a business plan, different ways to execute a marketing strategy, or how to create a financial document, he added. Used in this manner, the technology could make solo entrepreneurship more accessible to people who can't afford pricey business school educations or find it hard to follow instructions in a book, he added.
"The hustlers are all about motivation with no ideas," Mollick said. "But there's a lot of people with ideas and no clear idea of how to get going - and that's what this is amazing for."
Jayant Padhi, who runs a marketing agency in Bengaluru, India, said in an interview that he's very clear eyed about how he uses ChatGPT in his business. He treats the technology as a "co-founder," bouncing ideas off of it, but does not ask it to create original ideas or ask it to make decisions.
But when he learned of the HustleGPT challenges circulating online, he decided to partake. He asked the chatbot for money making strategies around GPT-4 and marketing and took it's advice when it told him to offer a workshop.
He tailored the idea to discuss how people could use ChatGPT to create marketing content, training materials and job descriptions.
The chatbot suggested that he "create buzz" by partnering with influencers to market it. He sold 21 tickets to his class in three days at $121 each, netting $2,541. He doesn't credit the chatbot with giving him the idea, but he found it to be useful.
"It is like a helping hand," he said. "It's like an extension of my mind, or like a tool that I can use to create whatever I have in my mind, but nothing more."
--Pranshu Verma, The Washington Post