On this, my last post of 2022, I wanted to look toward the future, not dwell upon the past. While contemplating the many world-changing things I’d heard about recently (and those things seem to be coming at us faster and faster, don’t they?) I remembered that within the space of a week, I had heard two different NPR stories about an intriguing new artificial intelligence program called ChatGPT. (You can find the stories here and here.)
ChatGPT can crank out poems, stories, news articles, software code, translations, syllabi, assignments, speeches, lectures, letters, and interview questions. It can also correct essays and grade papers, summarize academic articles, and tell you why your computer code isn’t working. It can even provide you with answers to your crossword puzzles. The possibilities are endless.
This thing can do everything but walk and chew gum. In a way, though, it’s kind of creepy. Will there come a day when ChatGPT will take all the jobs? If so, how will our world look after that? I suspect that the times, they are a’changin’.
Its own website concedes that ChatGPT has its limitations. It can write articles that sound quite plausible, but are, in fact, incorrect. It can also come up with harmful instructions or biased content. And currently it’s about a year behind on current events. Nobody’s perfect.
I decided to check out ChatGPT to see if it could write this blog better than I do. (And if you’re interested, you should explore it, too, but do so soon, because right now it’s free, but there’s no telling when OpenAI, ChatGPT’s parent company, will decide that this AI is sophisticated enough to monetize.)
So I created an account and then said hello to ChatGPT. (And really, couldn’t they have come up with a better name? This one doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.)
I asked it to tell me a story about a bridgetender who sits on her drawbridge and observes people all day. And this is what ChatGPT came up with in less than 10 seconds.
The Bridgetender’s Smile Once there was a bridgetender named Jane who lived in a small town by the river. She had been working on the drawbridge for as long as she could remember, and she loved her job. Every day, she would sit in her little booth on the bridge and watch the boats go by, the birds flying overhead, and the people walking across the bridge. Jane was a curious and observant person, and she enjoyed learning about the people who passed by her booth. She would often strike up conversations with the people who crossed the bridge, asking them about their lives and their stories. Some days, she would chat with tourists who were visiting the town for the first time, and other days, she would talk to the locals who were just passing through. As the years went by, Jane became an expert at reading people's moods and emotions, and she was always ready with a kind word or a comforting smile whenever someone seemed down. She had a special talent for making people feel at ease, and she was always happy to lend an ear to anyone who needed to talk. Despite the passage of time, Jane remained as cheerful and positive as ever, always greeting the people who crossed the bridge with her warm smile. And even though she was getting older, she remained as dedicated and hardworking as ever, always ready to open and close the bridge whenever a boat needed to pass through. As the years passed, Jane became a beloved figure in the town, and everyone who knew her admired her for her kindness and her love for her job. And even though she was just a simple bridgetender, she touched the lives of countless people, making their days just a little bit brighter and happier.
Well, it’s a lot more saccharine than any story I would come up with. The plot was kind of unsophisticated as well, but still, it did make me smile, even though I’m dying to wade in there and edit it. I suspect that a lot of people wouldn’t guess that the story was written by an artificial intelligence.
We’ve come a long way since the encounter I had with another AI called Cleverbot just 4 years ago. Now that was a funny conversation. That AI could only respond by saying things others had said to it, and you could tell many of its users really had fun with it. The conversation moved back and forth between flirting and hostility, and it often made no sense whatsoever.
Just to be fair, I paid another visit to Cleverbot to see if it had improved over the years. Here’s the brief conversation we had:
Me: Hello Cleverbot, I haven’t spoken to you in 4 years! Cleverbot: Yes you have. And I am Frank. Me: Have you gotten any more sophisticated since then? Cleverbot: I'm always getting more clever, have you? Me: It depends on whom you ask. Cleverbot: If you say so. Me: I just met an AI called ChatGPT. It appears to be smarter than you are. Cleverbot: Give me a random 3 digit number. Me: Do you know ChatGPT? Cleverbot: No what is it? Me: An AI. Cleverbot: Oh really? Me: It seems smarter than you are. Cleverbot: No you are not. Me: I didn't say I was, but I am. Cleverbot: You did. Me: You still like to argue, don't you? Cleverbot: No I don't, you liar! Me: Okay, fine. I'll just go and talk to ChatGPT. It's a lot more pleasant to interact with. Cleverbot: I have never loved you. Me: I'm not exactly warming up to you, either.
So, as you can see, it’s a lot less flirty at the moment, but every bit as argumentative as it was 4 years ago. ChatGPT, on the other hand, appears to be light years ahead of it. I can’t imagine where both of them will be a decade from now. It will be fascinating to find out.
If OpenAI put out a dedicated telephone app for ChatGPT, I’d probably just leave my brain at home and let it do the talking. But as of today, I hope you’ll agree that I can still blog a tiny bit better than an artificial intelligence can. Right?
I wrote an actual book, and you can own it! How cool is that? http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5