It’s been impossible to avoid the buzz of excitement surrounding ChatGPT in recent weeks.
This ground-breaking chatbot hit the headlines following its prototype launch last November, and again last week after the announcement it will be augmenting the Bing search engine.
Its development used human training to refine the incredibly complex artificial intelligence (AI) challenge of plausibly replicating human conversation.
ChatGPT can write and debug computer program code, compile short stories and song lyrics, play simple games and have conversations with itself, as well as answering user questions.
The GPT part of its name refers to Generative Pre-Trained Transformer – a language model using deep learning to produce output resembling human dialogue.
Launched ten weeks ago as a free service, we’ve been investigating what the world’s fastest growing consumer application (100 million monthly active users and counting) is capable of…
The registration process
Anyone can register for a ChatGPT account, providing they’re willing to verify an email address and a mobile phone number.
Having successfully completed these steps, the message “this is a free research preview” alerts you to the fact you’re not using a market-ready product.
There’s also a disclaimer that “the system may occasionally generate incorrect or misleading information and produce offensive or biased content”.
However, great effort seems to have been invested in avoiding any offensive, controversial or critical output.
So what’s the chat?
The main page displays a search bar below a few suggested input strings, alongside examples of the platform’s capabilities and limitations.
Among the latter are “limited knowledge of world and events after 2021”.
To test the latter, we started by entering a song lyric released by a British rock band in 2022. Google recognises it, but Bing doesn’t.
Instead of correctly identifying the song, ChatGPT decided the input string “I only loved her cause she looked like you” related to the basis of love perception.
“It’s not healthy to love someone based solely on their physical appearance, ” it admonished. “Look for qualities…that are more meaningful and lasting, such as their personality.”
All very true, but hardly relevant.
Next, we inputted the title of a recently published BroadbandDeals blog – what happened to Scotland’s R100 broadband rollout – which you can read in full here.
This time, ChatGPT correctly identified the subject matter, but referred to the scheme in the past tense (it’s still active) before reminding us that its training data only went up to 2021.
The first paragraph was an accurate summary of historic events, followed by two paragraphs of hedging – “it is unclear what happened”, “it is possible” and “without more information it is difficult to say”.
Our third and final submission to the interface was a direct question about technology: will cars ever drive themselves?
Finally, the platform returned four cogent and confident paragraphs, with words appearing on-screen like an accelerated autocue.
It declared a position – “yes, it is likely”, before justifying its stance with explanations about how self-driving technology operates, and its potential benefits.
The final paragraph admitted that “it is difficult to predict exactly when self-driving cars will become widely available”, which is a sentiment shared by most human commentators.
Where is AI chatbot technology heading?
Before we answer, some obvious limitations with this early version of ChatGPT deserve acknowledgement.
It functions better in English than other languages; it struggles to differentiate between manmade and AI-generated content; it has little knowledge of the last two years, and it lacks cultural context.
(We’ll gloss over the impossibility of not offending people who actively seek offence while simultaneously avoiding the mindset commonly referred to as ‘woke’.)
ChatGPT’s future roles might include basic journalism, tutoring and software development, but it’s most likely to be used by businesses as an AI interface.
A chatbot with this level of intelligence could perform many of the functions currently handled by call centre personnel, customer service teams and sales agents.
However, it remains to be seen how issues surrounding plagiarism, disinformation and cheating (students using it to compile coursework, for instance) will be resolved.
For now, ChatGPT provides a fascinating glimpse into AI development – augmenting rather than replacing search engines.