ChatGPT's paid version is close – and it could have a big impact on free users

ChatGPT has exploded in popularity over the past few months, but the heady days of unrestricted free access to the AI chatbot could soon be over – some users are reporting that they're seeing an upgrade plan to a pricey ChatGPT Professional version.

The chatbot's maker OpenAI hasn't made any official announcements about a paid-for tier of ChatGPT or its possible pricing yet. This means that pop-up messages about a Professional Plan costing $42 per month, shared across Twitter (opens in new tab) and Reddit, remain speculation. We've reached out to OpenAI for confirmation.

But the rumors do suggest that a ChatGPT Professional tier, which OpenAI recently opened an official waitlist (opens in new tab) for, is getting close. And if the message that some users have reported seeing after clicking on a new 'Upgrade plan' option is correct, it could have big ramifications for free users of its AI skills.

According to the message, the $42 per month Professional Plan will apparently give subscribers access to the service "even when demand is high", including a "faster response speed" and will afford them "priority access to new features". But the flip side is that the Free Plan promises that ChatGPT will be "available when demand is low" potentially restricting your access.

It isn't yet clear how often or when this "low" demand might be. ChatGPT has regularly buckled under demand for its AI skills, serving up a "ChatGPT is at capacity right now" message that'll be familiar to regular users. But if the descriptions of the two ChatGPT plans are true, it could mean free users being locked out of the service during popular times of the day.

There would certainly be users and businesses who could justify a $42 per month tier for ChatGPT, with Bloomberg (opens in new tab) reporting recently that 30% of professionals have tried the AI chatbot while at work. Many users on the service's Discord server and across Reddit have, though, expressed their disappointment about the rumored pricing and the paid tier's potential ramifications for the free version. We'll update this article when we hear back from OpenAI.

Analysis: The AI chatbot arms race begins

It isn't just ChatGPT's AI skills that are evolving quickly – its business model is also being forged quickly under the twin pressures of internal and external forces.

Microsoft has a big stake in ChatGPT and has said it plans to bring the service to its cloud-based Azure service "soon", alongside the likes of Outlook and Word. And The New York Times (opens in new tab) also recently reported that Google is planning to reveal some of its new chatbot innovations at Google I/O, which starts on May 11.

The report suggests that Google will “demonstrate a version of its search engine with chatbot features this year”, which backs up a previous quote from Demis Hassabis (CEO of the Google-owned DeepMind) that it could launch a 'dialogue agent' called Sparrow for a private beta sometime in 2023.

AI chatbot competition is so fierce that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have apparently been drafted in to offer advice on how the search giant should tackle ChatGPT. While it's still early days for the technology, with some alarms raised about its capacity to write malware and make discriminatory comments, Google's concern about an impact on its traditional search business is understandable.

So far, Google has erred on the side of caution, with DeepMind noting the potential for "inaccurate or invented information" with chatbots, and the potential impact that could have on brand trust. But with ChatGPT Professional seemingly getting close, and Microsoft baking its AI skills in its services, it looks increasingly like 2023 will be the year of a growing chatbot arms race.

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