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A product race is under way in the world of artificial intelligence. Just this week, Google announced plans to release Bard, a search chatbot based on its proprietary large language model; yesterday, Microsoft held an event unveiling a next-generation web browser with a supercharged Bing interface powered by ChatGPT. Though most big tech companies have been quietly developing their own generative-AI tools for years, these giants are scrambling to demonstrate their chops after the public release and runaway adoption of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which has accumulated more than 30 million users in two months.

OpenAI’s success is an apparent signal to tech leaders that deep-learning networks are the next frontier of the commercial internet. AI evangelists will similarly tell you that generative AI is destined to become the overlay for not only search engines, but also creative work, busywork, memo writing, research, homework, sketching, outlining, storyboarding, and teaching. It will, in this telling, remake and reimagine the world.

At present, sorting the hype from genuine enthusiasm is difficult, but given the billions of dollars being funneled into this technology, it’s worth asking, in ways large and small: What does the world look like if the evangelists are right? If this AI paradigm shift arrives, one vital skill of the 21st century could be effectively talking to machines. And for now, that process involves writing—or, in tech vernacular, engineering—prompts.

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