Competition for jobs is fierce in China right now. After he graduated from college with a business major earlier this year, David struggled to find work. There were too many applicants for every position, and, he says, “even if you find a job, the pay is not as great as previous years, and you have to work long hours.”
After David—who asked for anonymity to talk freely about his business—saw some videos on Weibo and WeChat about ChatGPT, the generative artificial intelligence chatbot released to great fanfare late last year by the US tech company OpenAI, he was struck with an idea. There’s a thriving essay-writing business in China, with students asking tutors and experts to help them with their homework. Brokers operating on the ecommerce platform Taobao hire writers, whose services they sell to students. What if, David thought, he could use ChatGPT to write essays? He approached one of the sellers on Taobao. He quickly got his first job, writing a paper for a student majoring in education. He didn’t tell anyone he was using a chatbot.
“You first ask ChatGPT to generate an outline with a few bullet points, and then you ask ChatGPT to come up with content for each bullet point,” David says. To avoid obvious plagiarism, he tried not to feed in existing articles or papers, and instead asked the chatbot open-ended questions. He picked out longer sentences, and asked ChatGPT to elaborate and give examples. Then he read through the piece and cleaned up any grammatical errors. The result wasn’t the smoothest, and there were a few logical gaps between paragraphs, but it was enough to complete the assignment. He submitted it and made $10. His second job was writing an economics paper. He glanced through the requirements, picked up a few important terms like “dichotomy,” and asked ChatGPT to explain these terms in easily understandable ways and give examples. He made around $40.
ChatGPT is not officially accessible to Chinese users. Emails with Chinese domains, like QQ or 163, can’t be used to sign up to the service. Nevertheless, there’s an enormous interest in the potential of the system. Youdao, a popular online education service operated by the tech giant NetEase, recently released an online course: “ChatGPT, from entry to proficiency,” promising to “increase your work efficiency by 10 times with the help of ChatGPT and Python.” On Zhihu, China’s quora, a forum website where questions are created and answered, users ask “how to make the first pot of gold using ChatGPT”; “how to make RMB1,000 using ChatGPT”; “how ordinary people can make money using ChatGPT?” The answer—which ChatGPT itself told me when I asked it how to make $100—is content. Lots of content.
Yin Yin, a young woman who has worked for a few social media influencers as a content creation assistant, came across ChatGPT after seeing a viral YouTube video. In April, she found a Taobao store selling home decor using traditional Yunnan tie-dye techniques. She approached the owner and offered to help him improve its layout and to do some social media promotion. The store’s product descriptions were plain and lacking in details, she says. She tracked down the most popular home decor items on Taobao, extracted their product descriptions, and fed them to ChatGPT for reference. To make the content even more eye-catching, she asked ChatGPT to specifically emphasize a few product features and to add a few emojis to make it more appealing to the younger generation. She is now paid monthly by the Taobao shop owner.
Others are using AI for way more than product descriptions. One user, Shirley, who also asked to be identified using only her first name because she writes under a pseudonym, Guyuetu, on the fashion and lifestyle sharing platform Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu), published a whole book written using AI. She decided on the subject: the correlation between blood type and personality (a pseudoscientific belief that is relatively common in Japan and Korea). She asked ChatGPT to “create an outline for a book about Japanese’s people’s take on blood type and personality,” then used it to generate an outline for each chapter, and then to generate different sections for each chapter. “If you don’t like what’s been written, you can always ask ChatGPT to rewrite, like rewrite a paragraph using a more fun, lighthearted tone,” she says. Within two days, she finished the book “The Little Book of Blood Type Personality: The Japanese Way of Understanding People,” with a cover and illustrations created by Midjourney, a service which creates images from text prompts. She published the book on Kindle.