A number of AI-focused startups are facing the existential question posed by Steve Jobs: Are you a company, or just a feature?

On Tuesday, OpenAI quietly rolled out an update to a limited number of paying subscribers to ChatGPT Plus that lets users upload PDFs, documents, and other file types to the chatbot and ask ChatGPT questions about them.

Thanks to advances in generative AI, AI PDF readers have become a popular way to work with large documents like court filings and contracts. AI PDF readers can help increase productivity by cutting hours out of sorting, reading, and searching hefty documents. “Chat with your PDF” is a popular pitch.

While the update is not officially confirmed (OpenAI has not responded to a request for comment from Decrypt), screenshots of the new feature have sparked alarm online, with some saying it will put companies built around using generative AI to read documents out of business.

“Many startups just died today,” AI researcher Alex Ker posted on Twitter, sharing a photo of an update notice from OpenAI. “We had a wave of products better suited as features rather than stand-alone companies.”

The development is reminiscent of memorable moves by Apple, including an attempt to buy Dropbox after dismissing it as a product feature instead of a business, and adopting search innovations popularized by an independent developer into its core operating system—described as being “Sherlocked.”

The Best AI Platforms for Navigating PDFs—That Are Not ChatGPT

“’Use tools without switching’ is going to be a huge unlock,” Rundown AI founder Rowan Cheung said. “Having everything in one spot feels like we’re one step closer to the all-in-one AI assistant that we’re all predicting.”

Huge new updates to ChatGPT / GPT-4.

1. Upload and chat with any PDF document
2. Use tools without switching chats

Here’s everything you need to know and my thoughts: pic.twitter.com/ESFt7bpGyy

— Rowan Cheung (@rowancheung) October 29, 2023

Since the launch of GPT-4 in March, subscribers to ChatGPT Plus have had access to a growing library of plugins. Several GPT-4 plugins are designed to let users interact with PDFs, including AI PDF, AskYourPDF, ScholarAI, and Webpilot.

Outside the ChatGPT Plus platform, a cottage industry of AI PDF readers has emerged using ChatGPT’s API, including HiPDF, SmallPDF, and ChatPDF.

But not everyone is ready to bend the knee to OpenAI’s AI behemoth. RIval AI developer Anthropic included a document upload feature in the earliest versions of Claude AI. In October, Austin-based AI PDF developer Humata announced the raise of $3.5 million led by tech giant Google’s Gradient Ventures.

“The long-term vision for Humata is to develop tools that make people wiser and more productive,” Humata AI CEO Cyrus Khajvandi told Decrypt at the time. “The future of work will rapidly change this decade as AI automates mundane processes and frees people to be more creative.”

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