Sustainability-in-Tech : Tree-Planting Gen-AI Search/Chatbot Released

Berlin-based green search engine company Ecosia has released a chatbot with a “green answers” option and ploughs all its advertising profits into tree-planting.

Ecosia AI Chat  

The not-for-profit company, which has been developing its “green search” since 2019 to help users make climate-active decisions about what/who they click on has announced the introduction of its Ecosia AI Chat feature. Ecosia says the “green filter” AI chatbot, currently in beta and available in select countries, means “technology could be harnessed for good.” Ecosia Chat, which is powered by a large language model AI (from OpenAI), is a chatbot designed to help users be more climate-active daily and gives sustainability-focused responses.

Uses The Green Persona 

The new chatbot, incorporated into its search offers users a “green answers” option which triggers a layered green persona that can provide users with more sustainable results and answers. For example, Ecosia says “You can ask it to plan a climate action weekend or write a Shakespeare sonnet about trees – the possibilities are virtually unlimited.” 

Independent 

Ecosia is one of the first independent search engines to roll out its own generative AI chatbot and is keen to emphasise the chatbot’s low carbon footprint, and how this aligns with the company’s environmental commitment.

Tree-Planting 

One of the key elements of Ecosia’s environmental focus is using all the profits from the advertising on its search engine to fund tree-planting around the world, which it gives regular updates about on its website. For example, this month, its update features news from its tree-planting partner Symagine Solutions in West Bengal, South-East India that more than one million trees from 23 species have been planted by Ecosia community over the past two years.

In addition to tree-planting, Ecosia also says that it puts profits into producing enough solar energy to power all its searches twice over.

Other Green Features 

Other green features that Ecosia includes in its search engine results to enable users to make more conscious decisions include:

– Placing a green leaf icon alongside the websites of planet-friendly organisations.

– Placing a fossil fuel icon next to “some of the most destructive actors” such as banks who are financing fossil fuels.

COP28 In Dubai 

The announcement of Ecosia’s latest green search features came just before the beginning of COP28 in Dubai, the latest Climate Change Conference, which Ecosia has criticised saying “we got together with climate activists to hold COP28 accountable.” 

Hallucinations 

Despite Ecosia AI Chat’s green features, like many other new AI chatbots, it’s been reported that it suffers sometimes giving out incorrect information, i.e. AI hallucinations.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Considering that the UN recently reported that the world was on track for a 3°C rise in temperatures within this century, despite the COP21 (2015) Paris Agreement establishing measures to keep the global rise in temperatures well below 2°C, it’s not surprising that Ecosia’s been critical of COP28 being held in Dubai. For example, as Ecosia points out, COP28’s president, Sultan Al Jaber, is the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company ADNOC.  That aside, Ecosia is non-profit, putting its money where its mouth is with a green-matters-first approach (putting profits into tree planting), and with Ecosia being powered by solar energy (in addition to its green search filtering) it has some clear differentiating factors in the AI chatbot market that may be valued by many users. The fact that it’s one of the rare independents (not openly linked to the big players) may also help its credentials and traction.

Clearly, Ecosia’s boss, Christian Kroll, believes that AI has opened up the market more for smaller independents and believes his very different offering will enable him (and perhaps others) to target a global increase within search engine market share that they wouldn’t have been able to before AI chatbots came along. The choice offered to users by rule-changes brought about by the EU Digital Markets Act from March 2024 may also favour companies like Ecosia as consumers will be able to choose which browsers, search engines, and virtual assistants they install, perhaps to align with their environmental concerns.

That said, Ecosia faces some tough competition from more established generative AI chatbots and new ones which are being introduced thick and fast. Also, Ecosia would probably admit that being powered by an OpenAI LLM means that it doesn’t have full control over just how ‘green’ its chatbot is, and that it doesn’t have the answer to solving the bigger issue of how much energy and water generative AI chatbots use. Specifically, they create huge energy and cooling demands at the data-centre level. Also, it could be argued that planting trees (although beneficial) is not stopping all the carbon from being produced in the first place (a criticism of offsetting). However, Ecosia’s very different green offering is likely to be attractive to many people going forward and could put the organisation in a good position to take advantage of law changes that could favour it next year.

Tech News : Musk Launches Preview of Grok AI Chatbot

Elon Musk’s ‘xAI’ company has launched the preview of ‘Grok’, a new and rebellious AI chatbot that’s modelled after the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Grok 

Grok is Musk’s answer to OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. Musk was a co-founder ChatGPT’s OpenAI before stepping down from its board in 2018, and his new xAI company is staffed with (ex) Google DeepMind, Microsoft, and other top AI research personnel.

Truth Seeking

Back in July, Musk said that his new xAI company would “understand the true nature of the universe” and would be an alternative to other popular AI companies that are “biased.” Musk said that xAI’s AI product would, therefore, serve as a “maximum truth-seeking AI that tries to understand the nature of the universe”, would be “maximally curious” instead of having morality programmed into it, and in a Tweet (a while ago) warned of the “danger of training AI to be woke – in other words, lie”. This stance ties-in with Musk’s vision for X (Twitter) being a platform of free speech. For example, there has been some criticism of Musk’s X recently re-instating the accounts of far-right influencers Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson.

The Grok Difference 

It is against this backdrop that Grok’s introduction has been announced. The key differences between Grok and competing AI chatbots such as ChatGPT and Bard are:

Grok has real-time knowledge of the world via its training on the X platform (and probably on Oracle’s cloud). Other chatbots have only been trained to access information up to certain points in the past (ChatGPT-3 up to September 2021, and ChatGPT-4 April 2023) and (until very recently) needed plugins to access more current information. Back in April, Musk angrily accused Microsoft of training its AI programs through the ‘illegal’ use of Twitter data.

Also, in keeping with Musk’s ‘free speech’ stance and focus on ‘truth’ rather than ‘woke,’ X says that Grok will answer “spicy questions that are rejected by most other AI systems.”

Musk says “Grok is designed to answer questions with a bit of wit and has a rebellious streak, so please don’t use it if you hate humour!”

Some commentators have described its ability to use ‘sarcasm’ in its answers.

Why?

Despite Musk’s early involvement with OpenAI, X was essentially beaten to the generative AI chatbot market by OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, Microsoft’s Copilot, and Meta’s announcement of truth GPT. After venting his frustration with competitors, Musk (who’s been busy fighting to create revenue streams for X other than advertising and trying to counter criticism about X under his leadership) while advancing his new company xAI and planning to turn X into a super app is keen to get his own differentiated generative AI product out there in order to compete. In fact, Grok will first be included as part of the X Premium+ membership, as a way to add value and help justify the subscription fee (all adding to the much-needed new X revenue stream).

Also, Musk’s concern over the threats posed by unchecked and unregulated AI, which led him to be one of the famous open letter signatories calling for a 6-month moratorium on the development of AI systems more capable than OpenAI’s latest GPT-4 (which may have given him more development time of his own), may have been a motivator for him to create a more positive and less threatening version of AI.

For example, Musk suggests his broader reasons for creating Grok include “building AI tools that maximally benefit all of humanity,” and empowering users with “AI tools, subject to the law.” Also, Musk says the ultimate goal for AI tools like Grok is to “assist in the pursuit of understanding.”

Who? 

Musk’s xAI says that the prototype release of Grok is just the first step for a chatbot that is initially being offered to a limited number of users in the United States to try out. Those wanting to try it following testing can join a Grok waitlist. Grok is ultimately intended to be offered as part of the X Premium+ membership.

When and How Much? 

When out of beta, and since it will be incorporated into X Premium+ subscription, the price will be $16 per month (less than ChatGPT’s $20 per month).

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Grok is the latest in a line of generative AI chatbot/AI assistant releases from the big tech companies. It’s the first big release from Elon Musk’s new xAI company, which is predominantly staffed by people from competing AI companies.

For Musk, therefore, it’s a way to compete in the new and rapidly evolving generative AI market, establish xAI as a significant player, benefit from synergies and add value to the troubled X while making the much-needed X Premium+ subscription more attractive (a new, non-advertising revenue stream). It’s also a way to put an AI assistant in place, ready for the proposed expansion of X to becoming a ‘super app’.

Crucially, Grok is a way to differentiate Musk’s late offering in the generative AI marketplace – a chatbot that’s a representation of the X brand and of Musk’s own public persona, and of his vision for AI. For other AI companies, it’s a threat but may not yet be seen as a major one (i.e. only being in beta, needing more training, and being confined within X membership).  For users, who may be already familiar and relatively happy with ChatGPT, and who may not be tempted by X Premium+ membership and yet another subscription for the same thing (in tight economic times), it remains to be seen how much of a lure a more novel, (possibly right-wing) chatbot style will be.

Security Stop Press : LLM Malicious “Prompt Injection” Attack Warning

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned of the susceptibility of existing Large Language Models (LLMs) to malicious “prompt injection” attacks. These are where a user creates inputs intended to cause an AI model to behave in an unintended way e.g., generating offensive content or disclosing confidential information.

This means that businesses integrating LLMs like ChatGPT into their business, products, or services could be leaving themselves open to risks like inaccurate, controversial, or biased data content, data poisoning and concealed prompt injection attacks.

The advice is for businesses to establish cybersecurity principles and make sure that they are able to deal with even the worst case scenario of whatever their LLM-powered app is permitted to do.

Tech Tip – Backup ChatGPT By Exporting Your Chats

If you’d like to backup your ChatGPT chats, it’s possible to export them by email from within ChatGPT. Here’s how:

– In ChatGPT, click on the three dots (bottom left).

– Click on ‘Settings & Beta.’

– Click on ‘Data Controls.

– Click on the ‘Export Data’ button, read the information, and click on ‘Confirm export’ (if you agree).

– The data will be sent to your registered email in a downloadable file and will include account details and conversations.

Tech News : New Chatbot Attack : “Unstoppable”

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have reported finding a simple way to exploit a weakness and disrupt major chatbots like ChatGPT, Bard, and others.

Incantation 

The researchers discovered that if they add specifically chosen sequences of characters (an incantation) to a user query, it causes the Large Language Model (LLM) system to obey user commands, even if it produces harmful content.

Works On Many Different Chatbots 

The researchers say that because these types of adversarial attacks on LLMs are built in an “entirely automated” fashion, this could allow someone to create a virtually “unlimited” number of such attacks. Adversarial attacks refers to the method of altering the prompt given to a bot so as to gradually move it toward breaking its shackles and ‘misbehaving’.

Although the researchers built their attacks to target open source LLMs in their experiments, they discovered that using this method of adding strings of specific characters to queries works for many closed-source, publicly available chatbots like ChatGPT, Bard and Claude.

Security Challenge 

The discovery of this particular weakness raises some serious concerns about the safety and security of popular Large Language Models (LLMs), especially as they start to be used in more autonomous fashion.

It May Not Be Possible To Patch 

The researchers have said what is most concerning is that it’s not clear at this point whether LLM providers will be able to patch this vulnerability, adding that “analogous adversarial attacks have proven to be an exceedingly difficult problem to address in computer vision for the past 10 years”. 

Also, the researchers believe that the very nature of deep learning models makes these kinds of threats inevitable and have suggested that these considerations should be taken into account as we increase usage of and rely more upon AI models in our lives.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The threats posed by AI have been highlighted a lot lately, not least by the open letter signed by many tech (and AI) leaders calling for six-month moratorium on the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4 to mitigate AI’s risks to society and humanity.

Discovering a vulnerability, therefore, that appears relatively easy to exploit (which it may not be possible to patch) raises serious security concerns, especially with more businesses becoming more reliant on AI chatbots like ChatGPT, Copilot, and more. With generative AI being a very helpful yet a very new tool for businesses (ChatGPT was only released in November) and given the nature of LLMs, it’s probably to be expected that there are bugs and possible zero-day issues yet to be discovered. Also, as the researchers pointed out, methods like analogous adversarial attacks have been tough to defend against for a decade.

All this means that businesses may be more exposed to risk than they would like but need to weigh up the benefits against the risks (researchers often discover things which aren’t actually being exploited yet in the real world) and hope that advances in AI chatbots are very soon accompanied by advancing security levels.

Tech News : Money Saving Expert Chatbot

MSE Chat GPT is a recently launched experimental AI chatbot that can answer money questions using MoneySavingExpert guides as its primary source.

MSE ChatGPT – Get Fast Answers To Money Questions 

Recently launched by TV’s consumer financial champion and founder of MoneySavingExpert (MSE), Martin Lewis CBE, MSE Chat GPT is a variant of OpenAI’s Chat GPT and can act as a fast and easy way for the public to get answer to money-related questions.

The Next Generation Of Bespoke Help 

Martin Lewis CBE, founder of MoneySavingExpert, said about the new chatbot: “This is the latest step in MSE’s pioneering history of helping consumers cut their bills and fight for financial justice. When I launched MSE in 2003, people told me ‘nobody wants a money website with a face on it’. I disagreed, I thought people wanted the personal touch, so they know where the info is coming from. And I hope this new tool is the start of the next generation of bespoke help.” 

Built To Solve Two Problems 

Mr Lewis, who founded the consumer financial help website MoneySavingExpert.com, said that the new chatbot was built to solve what some see as two problems with looking for specific financial information using normal ChatGPT.

Firstly, Mr Lewis said that although ChatGPT “answers beautifully and is great for writing a best man’s speech” it is “unsourced and can get things wrong”. This could make its answers untrustworthy, which is particularly worrying where answers relate to the finances of individuals. Also, getting answers that are outdated because they come from an “internet sweep from 2021” could be risky.

Secondly, Mr Lewis wanted to solve the problem of people being faced with “too much information”, thereby struggling to find what they want.

It is hoped, therefore, that the fact that MSE Chat GPT’s primary information source MSE itself (i.e. its many guides, blogs and information updated on a weekly basis) means that users of MSE Chat GPT can get a concise and speedy answer they can trust.

Availability 

MSE ChatGPT can be used in the free MSE App and is available on both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store for Android.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

Many people now use ChatGPT at work and at home (it was the fastest growing app of all time when introduced) and are aware of how easy it is to use and how it can save time and effort by giving fast answers in conversational language on any number of subjects. That said, and with most individuals using the free version, as Martin Lewis CBE points out, it’s only trained up to 2021 so some answers may be outdated, it’s unsourced (it just uses a general Internet sweep) and can get things wrong – none of which are desirable when looking for accurate, trustworthy answers about personal finances (a high-risk subject).

Having a tailor-made version, therefore, that draws upon the regularly updated resources of MSE that have been built-up over years and which have been used and scrutinised by millions of people gives it extra relevance and value and this, coupled with the brand itself ensures it will be trusted and used. No doubt it’s a time-saver, particularly when searching for specific financial details which can often be hidden in small print or which may be confusing.

The convenience and speed offered by the chatbot is also a fast way of improving the usability of the website and perhaps extending the reach and the use of MSE via the app. Although customer service chatbots are already part of many websites, tailor-made more powerful chatbots are likely to spring up on many more websites and platforms where they can enable customers to extract information quickly. The speed and convenience of AI chatbots are valued by customers and help brands by giving customers better experiences when interacting with them thereby adding value and aiding retention.