Generative AI is changing everything. But what’s left when the hype is gone?

No one knew how popular OpenAI’s DALL-E would be in 2022, and no one knows where its rise will leave us.

By Will Douglas Heaven

MIT Technology Review: It was clear that OpenAI was on to something. In late 2021, a small team of researchers was playing around with an idea at the company’s San Francisco office. They’d built a new version of OpenAI’s text-to-image model, DALL-E, an AI that converts short written descriptions into pictures: a fox painted by Van Gogh, perhaps, or a corgi made of pizza. Now they just had to figure out what to do with it.

“Almost always, we build something and then we all have to use it for a while,” Sam Altman, OpenAI’s cofounder and CEO, tells MIT Technology Review. “We try to figure out what it’s going to be, what it’s going to be used for.”

Not this time. As they tinkered with the model, everyone involved realized this was something special. “It was very clear that this was it—this was the product,” says Altman. “There was no debate. We never even had a meeting about it.”

But nobody—not Altman, not the DALL-E team—could have predicted just how big a splash this product was going to make. “This is the first AI technology that has caught fire with regular people,” says Altman.

Paul Trillo, a digital and video artist based in California, thinks the technology will make it easier and faster to brainstorm ideas for visual effects. “People are saying this is the death of effects artists, or the death of fashion designers,” he says. “I don’t think it’s the death of anything. I think it means we don’t have to work nights and weekends.”