The grind-set, side-hustle, passive-income crew has a new favorite toy: ChatGPT. On YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, a motley assortment of established and would-be financial influencers are pumping out videos advising how you — yes, YOU — could be making tens of thousands of dollars in your sleep with the help of OpenAI’s chatbot.
“It’s one of the craziest softwares I’ve ever seen on planet Earth, and you can become a millionaire just using ChatGPT I guarantee you,” advises a young man in one video wearing a “CEO” beanie.
“If you start today, you could literally have a million-dollar course creation business by this time next year,” says a woman in another tagged “#investinyourself,” #6figuresidehustle,” and “#7figurebusiness.”
“You can become a millionaire just using ChatGPT, I guarantee you.”
It’s no surprise that this excitable group has jumped on the AI bandwagon. Though the technology underpinning ChatGPT is not in itself revolutionary, the decision by creator OpenAI to make the system free has exposed millions to a novel form of automation — one with the potential to “disrupt” — for better or worse — numerous industries and workplaces.
The launch of ChatGPT last November capped a year of AI hype, and for startups seeking funding and influencers looking for followers, those two letters have supplanted crypto, Web3, and NFTs as the buzzword du jour. “Last year, a ton of companies that couldn’t raise were baptizing themselves as web3 crypto companies,” one VC investor told Bloomberg recently. “The same is happening now with AI.” Indeed, scroll back through the timelines of many ChatGPT hustlers, and you’ll soon find advice on how to spot no-lose coins and must-have apes. Now, though, the pivot is to AI.
Skim their advice and some patterns quickly emerge. One common scheme is to sign up to various freelance marketplaces — Fiverr, Upwork, etc — and advertise your skills writing blog posts and ad copy. Then, when a request comes in from a client, just plug their brief into ChatGPT and send over whatever it generates. If your client doesn’t like the results, just ask them for notes, feed those into the chatbot, and send the results back again.
As CEO-beanie puts it: “At that point, you’re having a robot do the work for you. It literally costs you zero freaking dollars. The ChatGPT just builds the freaking paragraphs. All you gotta do is keep presenting it to the guy until he freaking likes it.”
Another is to feed the content ouroboros: generating anodyne YouTube content like “15 most dangerous beaches in the world” and “top 10 most beautiful cities.” Just plug these titles into ChatGPT and combine the copy it generates with free stock video. Upload it to YouTube, add in some ads, then wait for the income to trickle in.
Image: The Verge / YouTube
Other methods are a bit more convoluted. Some involve using ChatGPT to generate custom workouts or meal plans or suggest selling chatbot-generated tutorials on education sites like Udemy. One strategy involves using ChatGPT to answer popular questions on Q&A sites like Quora (e.g., “how to lose weight”), then stuffing your profile with affiliate links in the hopes some curious soul will click through. Others draw on additional AI tools. Why not use ChatGPT to write a children’s book, for example, illustrate it using an AI art generator, then sell the result on Amazon’s self publishing platform?
In each video, though, the narrator tends to skim over a few very important points: like whether or not the content they’re creating is accurate, helpful, or even good; or, if there’s a client, whether or not you tell them they’re paying for the services of a machine.
Such tutorials are incredibly popular, racking up hundreds of thousands of views and appearing in the top results for simple searches like “ChatGPT.” In the comment sections, though, you’ll find plenty of skepticism, as well as counter-programming from other influencers pointing out that these guides are often ill-considered and unproven, requiring quite a bit of work on the part of the would-be hustler, and with little guarantee of income.
Influencers don’t make money by following their advice but by selling it
As with all get-rich-quick schemes, each video raises an unanswered question: if your method works so well, why are you telling me? But if you’re an influencer, you make your money not by following your advice but selling it, through paid newsletters or video hits. Embracing the buzzy ChatGPT is less about utility and more about riding the ever-changing currents of online attention. (It’s my unempirical belief that everyone in the hustler economy, viewers and creators alike, knows that the advice is mainly junk but doesn’t mind because they’re convinced it’s the other guy that’s the sucker. From my limited understanding, this is also how the stock market works.)
Regardless of their utility, these schemes tell us a lot about ChatGPT — about the sort of work it enables and encourages and how it will likely be used in the future.
It’s arguable that there’s nothing particularly novel or insidious about the methods described in these videos. Adopting new tools often gives workers an edge over their peers, and the mark-up paid by oblivious clients is just the penalty for not keeping on top of the technology. But given what we know about the shortcomings of ChatGPT — its tendency to produce fluent bullshit in particular — these hustles could degrade the markets where they’re adopted, triggering a decline in quality offset by cheaper costs of production.
In this light, they’re similar to another favored scheme of internet entrepreneurs: dropshipping. With dropshipping, sellers never stock or ship their product (often, they don’t even design it). Instead, they make money by identifying trends then producing flashy adverts to find customers for the latest style of coat or watch. ChatGPT enables a similar dynamic in the creative industries and world of knowledge work: separating production from sales, allowing sellers to deliver goods that seem useful at first glance but fall apart when tested, and offering the scale and speed of production that obscures traditional feedback mechanisms like brand reputation. This is the future many fear for the web: AI-generated junk suffocating online platforms like algal blooms that choke the life out of ponds.
We’re already beginning to see the effect of AI-generated junk on the web
You might say this is just fearmongering, but we’ve already seen the beginning of this process in some online spaces. Programming Q&A site Stack Overflow, for example, banned AI-generated answers, with moderators explaining that the content often looked correct but was revealed to be false after close scrutiny, and that the time needed to verify each answer was too much of a burden. While in the media world, entities like private equity-backed marketing firm Red Ventures have been using AI tools to produce content for their properties, from SEO buckets like Bankrate.com to news sites like CNET. The result has been a minor scandal, with staffers unsure if co-workers are human or machine and errors found in more than half of the AI-assisted articles published on CNET.
Such decline is not inevitable, but neither is it easy to avoid. Software to detect AI-generated text is far from foolproof, and the incentive to use tools like ChatGPT recklessly is as straightforward as it is alluring: profit. Arguably, OpenAI itself has shown the way here, releasing ChatGPT with easily-fooled safeguards and without any reliable method to spot its output. One of the most popular TikTok videos explaining how to get rich with ChatGPT notes that viewers have a few years at most before the public become aware of the technology and should jump in before the rest of the world catches up. “For the small few who implement I’ll see you in first class,” says the video’s caption. The rest of us just keep scrolling.