The AI bubble is like the Dutch tulip mania of the 1630s

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL February 1, 2023
A tulip, known as 'the Viceroy' was listed in the 1637 Dutch catalogue Verzameling van een Meenigte Tulipaanen. Depending on weight, one bulb was priced at anywhere between 3,000 and 4,200 guilders, a starting price that was 10 times the annual salary of a skilled craftsman. Photo: CC BY-SA 4.0

Two months on from ChatGPT’s November 30 public launch, the story remains alternately amusing and alarming.

Among creatives, there’s a somewhat injudicious rush to compliment or caterwaul.

Business too are on an artificially induced Artificial Intelligence (AI) jag, similar to the dotcom boom, the stampede to the worldwide web, and then crypto and blockchain-related.

The mythical pot of gold at the end of the AI rainbow means shares of a digital media company like Buzzfeed Inc. soared by 203 per cent after it declared AI-inspired content would become part of its core offering.

Say what?

What could AI, which doesn’t actually know anything (but can generate reams of text when prompted), possibly do to help Buzzfeed’s output become more interesting, insightful or useful to the reader?

AI seems to be an emerging bubble with everyone seeking to proclaim they’re getting into it (in some, as yet unspecified way) and the market clapping back with a giddy response.

It’s a little like the tulip mania of the 1630s in the Netherlands but then all bubbles – NFTs, meme stocks and now AI – look pretty much alike, foolish, fantastic, fast.

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