In November 2022, OpenAI—an artificial intelligence (“AI”) research laboratory funded by Microsoft—released its AI “chatbot” for public use: ChatGPT. Over the past several months, the popularity of ChatGPT has grown exponentially. Chatbots have become the topic of conversation everywhere, from the watercooler, to social media, to “60 Minutes” television episodes. As employees explore the seemingly endless positive and negative applications of ChatGPT, employers should consider the capabilities and risks of AI tools in the workplace.
What is ChatGPT?
At its core, ChatGPT is a language processing tool that is “trained” from information on the internet. Although based on AI, ChatGPT has many limitations because it relies on human feedback to improve its outputs and provide accurate answers to users. On March 14, 2023, Microsoft’s Corporate VP and Consumer Chief Marketing Officer Yusuf Mehdi announced that Bing—the company’s widely-used internet search engine—is now “running on GPT-4,” the fourth version of ChatGPT.
While AI technology has been advancing for years, free, user-friendly chatbots available to the public are novel. ChatGPT and similar tools can mimic human conversations, generate a vacation itinerary, draft a model workplace policy in seconds, instantly generate a string of computer code, or even draft email responses to coworkers and customers. According to a recent survey by Fishbowl of nearly 12,000 professionals, 43% of respondents admitted they use ChatGPT at work. Of those individuals, nearly 70% said their managers do not know about their work-related chatbot use.
On the other hand, many employers are actively seeking applicants with ChatGPT experience and knowledge of these emerging technologies. In an April survey of approximately 1,200 business leaders by ResumeBuilder.com, over 90% of the leaders who are currently hiring said they are looking for individuals with ChatGPT experience. While some employers are searching for so-called “prompt engineers” to help their organizations understand ChatGPT, other companies are taking a “wait and see” approach or prohibiting chatbot use altogether. Regardless of the approach, employers should be aware of several important legal risks and considerations.
Next Steps for Employers
Like any new tool or technology, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to drafting an employment policy that addresses employees’ use of ChatGPT or other AI tools. Similarly, employers must consider company-specific circumstances to determine whether they will rely on AI tools in their employment decisions or day-to-day business activities.
To address new and evolving AI technologies, employers should review their existing technology use policies, codes of conduct, and any confidentiality and trade secret agreements. Employers should consider updating these policies and agreements to cover emerging AI tools such as ChatGPT. Employers should also consider making clear that employees are prohibited from inputting confidential or proprietary information into chatbots such as ChatGPT. In addition, employers should consider setting reasonable boundaries for any acceptable ChatGPT use, including requiring employees who use ChatGPT for work-related projects to independently check all information and outputs. Finally, employers who allow the use of ChatGPT in the workplace should train employees on the proper use, potential benefits, and realistic risks associated with the chatbot.
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