Danny Richman, a 60-year-old search engine optimization consultant, first met contractor Ben Whittle, 31, in December 2021. Whittle had come to fix a bathroom leak that was dripping into the living room of his house, on the outskirts of London. The pair then struck up a friendship, and Richman started to advise Whittle, who trained as a plumber, on expanding his business.
With Richman’s encouragement, Whittle this year founded a swimming pool installation company called Ashridge Pools. There was one problem, though: Whittle has dyslexia, and he struggled to write emails to clients. “To start with, I was reading and writing my bits, and then Danny was editing for me,” Whittle told BuzzFeed News. “And then he realized, There’s probably a much quicker way to do this.”
There was. Richman built Whittle an app that converts what the contractor types into a formal email. Richman said it took him all of 15 minutes to make the app, which can be used on phone or desktop and is based on OpenAI’s GPT-3 artificial intelligence tool. (OpenAI recently released ChatGPT, an AI bot that anyone can use. It immediately went viral thanks to its ability to write convincing essays.)
“[Whittle] could be writing in Swahili or Cockney rhyming slang — it would make very little difference what format you sent it, because it's been instructed to output in British English spelling and grammar in a professional but friendly format,” Richman said.
Whittle said that the app is helping to improve his own language skills, as he can compare how he writes to what the tool spits out. “I've got young children. So it makes me feel good to be able to now help them with what I struggle with,” he said. “When the boys have to write something, I'm like, ‘Oh, that needs a full stop’” — a period — “because now I know where it belongs.”
Whittle said that none of his clients are aware that he is using the tool to help him communicate with them. But that is likely to change now that a recent tweet by Richman about the app went viral.
Since that time, Richman said, he has been contacted by people around the world wanting help. Charities, teachers, and individuals have reached out to him to ask for help to build something for people with speech and language difficulties. Richman is also talking to OpenAI about ways to share the app further with the company’s help. “My hope is that this can be achieved at zero cost to users and without the need for any form of commercialization,” he said.
A spokesperson for OpenAI said that the company hoped Richman's app "can play a small part in achieving professional and personal goals. We look forward to what Danny and others continue building with GPT-3.”
Richman said that he’s received a lot of messages saying that “finally” AI had done something positive. He pointed out that there is widespread mistrust of the technology. “But overall, I do feel extremely optimistic and see many ways in which this technology can be used to empower people,” Richman said. “And that it can be a really positive and democratizing force.”
This story was updated with a comment from an OpenAI spokesperson.