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OpenAI begins piloting ChatGPT Professional, a premium version of its viral chatbot

OpenAI this week signaled it'll soon begin charging for ChatGPT, its viral AI-powered chatbot that can write essays, emails, poems and even computer code. In an announcement on the company's official Discord server, OpenAI said that it's "starting to think about how to monetize ChatGPT" as one of the ways to "ensure [the tool's] long-term viability."

The monetized version of ChatGPT will be called ChatGPT Professional, apparently. That's according to a waitlist link OpenAI posted in the Discord server, which asks a range of questions about payment preferences including "At what price (per month) would you consider ChatGPT to be so expensive that you would not consider buying it?"

The waitlist also outlines ChatGPT Professional's benefits, which include no "blackout" (i.e. unavailability) windows, no throttling and an unlimited number of messages with ChatGPT -- "at least 2x the regular daily limit." OpenAI says that those who fill out the waitlist form may be selected to pilot ChatGPT Professional, but that the program is in the experimental stages and won't be made widely available "at this time."

OpenAI ChatGPT Professional
OpenAI ChatGPT Professional

Image Credits: OpenAI

Despite controversy and several bans, ChatGPT has proven to be a publicity win for OpenAI, attracting major media attention and spawning countless memes on social media. Some investors are implementing ChatGPT in their workflows. Ryan Reynolds enlisted ChatGPT to write an ad for Mint Mobile, the mobile carrier he part-owns. And Microsoft will reportedly incorporate the AI behind ChatGPT into its Office suite and Bing.

ChatGPT had over a million users as of early December -- an enviable user base by any measure. But it's a pricey service to run. According to OpenAI co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, ChatGPT's operating expenses are "eye-watering," amounting to a few cents per chat in total compute costs. (ChatGPT is hosted in Microsoft's Azure cloud.)

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OpenAI is under pressure to turn a profit on products like ChatGPT ahead of a rumored $10 billion investment from Microsoft. OpenAI expects to make $200 million in 2023, a pittance compared to the more than $1 billion that's been invested in the startup so far.

Semafor reported this week that Microsoft is looking to net a 49% stake in OpenAI, valuing the company at around $29 billion. Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft would receive three-quarters of OpenAI’s profits until it recovers its investment, with additional investors taking 49% and OpenAI retaining the remaining 2% in equity.

OpenAI has an unusual corporate structure, operating under a "capped-profit" model that limits backers' returns to 100 times their investment -- or possibly less in the future.