Meet ChatGPT, your new AI best friend
What is ChatGPT?
Ever wonder what it’d be like to talk with an artificial intelligence (AI)? ChatGPT is a charming new AI chatbot, a sophisticated machine – programmed with a wealth of data – that you can chat with online, in ordinary language. We hear it works best in English, although it can dabble in other languages, too. A San Francisco-based company called OpenAI developed it.
And – if you can get into its website at a time it’s not crazily crammed with other people – you can chat with it. Try asking it questions, or getting it to solve math problems. Or ask it to write you a song or poem in the style of a famous poet.
Poetry from AI
Any Google search bar can answer factual questions. What’s different about ChatGPT, however, is that it can be creative, too. When I asked ChatGPT to write a poem about EarthSky.org, it responded (within seconds) with this:
Gazing up at the endless sky,
We find ourselves wondering why,
Why we’re here and where we’re bound,
In this vast and endless round.
But fear not, for EarthSky.org
Brings us closer to the stars,
Guiding us through space and time,
Helping us to find our shine.
With news stories far and wide,
We learn of planets, stars and tides,
We explore the mysteries of space,
And find a sense of wonder in this place.
So if you’re feeling lost or small,
Just look up and you’ll recall,
The endless beauty of the night,
And all the wonders that ignite.
So let’s raise our eyes to the sky,
And let EarthSky.org be our guide,
As we journey through this life,
In search of love, and joy and light.
We were impressed. ChatGPT not only captured our purpose (EarthSky.org guides us through space and time …) but – we thought – also captured our voice. It captured what we ourselves have gotten from astronomy, and what we hope you’ll get, too: the endless beauty of the night and love, joy and light.
Go ChatGPT! Visit ChatGPT.
How the buzz started
And try they did! The website reached 1 million users in its first five days.
You can set up your own account with ChatGPT and see how it works for yourself. You create a login, at which point you get the “prove you’re not a robot” test, which is undeniably ironic.
Afterward, you can add your question, give a command or just start chatting. For example, you could ask it to do your homework with a question like, “What is the theme of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood?” Or, for our purposes, we could ask, “What is ChatGPT?” I tried that, and here’s the answer I got, again within a seconds:
ChatGPT is a large language model developed by OpenAI that is trained to generate human-like text. It can be used for a variety of natural language processing tasks, such as text generation and question answering.
ChatGPT as astronomy teacher?
We also tried ChatGPT on a simple astronomy question: “What is a sunspot?” Interestingly, when we asked the question twice, we got two different answers. And, as it turns out, the second answer contained inaccuracies. The first answer was:
Sunspots are temporary, dark patches that appear on the surface of the sun. They are caused by intense magnetic activity, which disrupts the flow of hot gases within the sun and cools the surface of the sunspot. Sunspots are usually cooler than the surrounding solar surface and are therefore darker. They typically last for a few days to a few weeks before disappearing. Sunspots are an important indicator of solar activity and can have a significant impact on Earth, including causing auroras and affecting satellite and power grid operation.
And the second answer was:
A sunspot is a region on the surface of the sun that is cooler and darker than the surrounding areas. Sunspots are caused by the sun’s magnetic field, which inhibits the flow of hot gases to the surface. They are relatively cool, and their temperatures are about 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,800 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than the surrounding areas. Sunspots are often accompanied by solar flares, which are bursts of electromagnetic radiation that are emitted from the sun. Sunspots are relatively common and can occur anywhere on the sun’s surface, although they are more likely to form at higher latitudes.
At first, we preferred the second answer. We wondered if ChatGPT itself “learned” between answer #1 and answer #2. But “learning” – on the internet – doesn’t always lead to correct knowledge about the real world. Solar physicist and EarthSky contributor C. Alex Young – who is Associate Director for Science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center – told us:
The second answer on sunspots has factual inaccuracies. Sunspots are not 1,000 C (1,800 F) but around 3,700 C (6,700 F). And they do not appear anywhere on the sun and are not more likely to form at higher latitudes. They form in a range of latitudes, roughly between 0 and 40 degrees. They are near 40 degrees at the start of the solar cycle then move to lower latitudes near 0 degrees at the end of the cycle.
So – in terms of factual accuracy – ChatGPT might sound accurate, and might give you information, but that information might not be factual. After all, Chat GPT relies on data from the internet. And, as we all have come to realize garbage in, garbage out.
ChatGPT as author?
So what does it all mean? There’s already talk about people using ChatGPT to generate their online content. And how about content for other purposes … term papers for a college class, for example. Do realize that ChatGPT is dependent on online data, and lots of it. And, as we all know (or should know!), online data is not always accurate or bias-free.
Some have breathlessly proclaimed ChatGPT to be the most important development since the invention of the printing press or the splitting of the atom. We’ll see. But there are issues with the accuracy, truthfulness and inherent bias of the materials that AI platforms such as ChatGPT generate…
There’s no issue around personal use of ChatGPT as a conversational assistant. And the rules around using ChatGPT to generate term papers seem pretty clear (don’t even think about it). But when it comes to applying AI-generated prose in content intended for wider distribution – say marketing materials, white papers, or even articles – the legalities get a little murky. When it comes to intellectual property, the model for ChatGPT ‘is trained on a corpus of created works and it is still unclear what the legal precedent may be for reuse of this content, if it was derived from the intellectual property of others,’ according to Bern Elliot, analyst at Gartner.
So will we see future articles at EarthSky and other outlets written, or at least partially written, by ChatGPT? Maybe! Someday! But – for us at EarthSky, at least – not for awhile.
Used for good or ill
So ChatGPT is fun and, perhaps, has many helpful uses. Its most important use at this time, for most of us, might simply be to educate us as to what an AI is, and how it feels to interact with one.
But people might also use ChatGPTs (and other future, increasingly sophisticated online chatbots) for ill, depending on who’s behind the prompts. Researchers at Northwestern University announced on January 10, 2023, that they found ChatGPT could write fake abstracts that could fool scientists. They found that:
Blinded human reviewers – when given a mix real and falsely generated abstracts – could only spot ChatGPT generated abstracts 68% of the time.
Catherine Gao, who designed the study, said:
Our reviewers knew that some of the abstracts they were being given were fake, so they were very suspicious. This is not someone reading an abstract in the wild. The fact that our reviewers still missed the AI-generated ones 32% of the time means these abstracts are really good. I suspect that if someone just came across one of these generated abstracts, they wouldn’t necessarily be able to identify it as being written by AI.
So … eek. As if there weren’t already enough rubbish on the internet, now unscrupulous people don’t even have to write it themselves. They can probably figure out how to get ChatGPT to write it for them.
Now, more than ever, don’t believe everything you read online!
Bottom line: ChatGPT is a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to generate text in answer to questions or writing prompts. The result is usually (but not always) quite accurate answers, and (so much fun!) human-like answers.