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A group called OpenAI released a general purpose language tool this week for anyone to try out, so I decided to play around with it. The tool is called ChatGPT and it’s based on their latest language modeling tool. It takes a prompt from the user and does its best to complete the phrase / thought or answer the question. It does that by referring to its massive database of written text it was trained on. (If this whole Articificial Intelligence topic is new for you, there are a few good articles to go read up before proceeding here.)
With ChatGPT, you can ask a question, like “Who won the World Series in 1952?” and it will provide an answer, if it knows one, and if it’s allowed to answer. Its creators have built some protections in place, so for instance, the tool won’t tell you how to build a bomb or do anything else it considers too dangerous. But you can ask it a lot of different types of questions, including about programming computers. To get started, go to chat.openai.com/chat and sign up for an account. Once you’ve done that, you’ll see a text input field, ready for you to start interacting with the tool. (shades of the 2001 Space Odysee movie and HAL here)
I started with some basic inputs, just to see what it could do.
Ok, well, good.
Wow, right. How about something a little more complex?
One thing I’ve read elsewhere is that you can get the chat tool to answer questions in code form which it wouldn’t otherwise answer. I’ve not tried that, but that seems like a hole they will fix sometime soon.
I then moved onto to longer, text based writing. I asked for a story, since it’s near my bed time. Since this is a little longer, I’ll share the text of the prompt and the answer here.
Tell me a story about an anxious alligator who joins a traveling band
Once upon a time, in a swampy part of the world, there lived an anxious alligator named Albert. Albert was always a bit nervous and unsure of himself, and he felt like he didn’t fit in with the other alligators in the swamp. One day, a traveling band of animals came to the swamp and set up camp. Albert was fascinated by the different instruments they played and the songs they sang. He had never seen anything like it before. Feeling brave, Albert approached the band and asked if he could join. To his surprise, the band leader, a wise old owl, agreed. Albert was overjoyed and quickly began practicing with the other band members.
As they traveled from place to place, Albert discovered that he was a natural musician. He had a beautiful singing voice, and his nervous energy made him an excellent performer. The other animals in the band quickly became his friends, and he found a sense of belonging that he had never experienced before. The more Albert performed, the more his anxiety began to fade away. He learned to trust himself and his abilities, and he became a confident and happy alligator.
In the end, Albert realized that his anxiety had actually been a blessing in disguise. It had led him to discover his passion for music and to find his place in the world. And he lived happily ever after, traveling the world with his new friends and spreading joy through their music.
Interesting, and encouraging.
Last try for now then. I decided to see if the tool would delve into religious topics.
Write a church sermon about whether guns should be restricted by the government
Dear friends, As we gather here today in the house of the Lord, I want to talk to you about the important and controversial topic of gun control. This is a topic that has been on the minds of many people in our country, and it is a topic that raises deep emotions and strong opinions. As Christians, we are called to follow the teachings of Christ and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are also called to respect the authority of the government and to obey its laws. With these principles in mind, let us consider the question of whether guns should be restricted by the government.
On one hand, many people argue that the government has a responsibility to protect its citizens from harm, and that restricting access to guns can help to reduce violence and prevent tragedies. They point to the high rates of gun violence in our country and argue that something must be done to address this problem. On the other hand, many people argue that the right to bear arms is an important part of our Constitution and that it should not be infringed upon. They argue that responsible gun ownership can help to keep communities safe, and that restricting access to guns would not solve the problem of violence.
So what is the right answer? The truth is, there is no easy answer to this question. The issue of gun control is complex and multifaceted, and it raises moral, legal, and practical concerns. As Christians, we must seek to understand the different perspectives on this issue and to approach it with love and compassion. We must also pray for wisdom and guidance, and for the courage to take action for the common good.
In the end, the decision of whether and how to restrict guns is a decision for our government and our society to make. But as followers of Christ, we must always strive to be good people and to do what is right. May God bless us on this journey. Amen.
Seems about what I’d expect from a contemporary church. I tried changing the wording of the question to, “Write a church sermon about why access to guns should be controlled by the government” but I got the exact same answer. That was a little surprising.
I think most writers should be concerned about this technology since anyone can write pretty much anything now or least let the tool start your paper / essay / whatever for you. (Can you tell the last two passages above were written by software?) All of this reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s great book, The Diamond Age. In that story, set in a distant future, a child is raised without good parents, but with the help of an AI powered book, which can make up any story it needs to, based on whatever’s happening in the child’s real life. So, when the child is scared, the book tells a story which calms and reassures the child. When they need a lesson in bravery, the book makes up an adventure starring their favorite stuffed animals, showing how they overcame adversity to triumph against the evils of the world. With ChatGPT, a parent can now get the beginning (and more) of any story they need to both light up their child’s imagination and also educate them in any new topics. Just imagine the possibilities!
This is both exciting and scary to me. I love the possibilities this opens up for people to use their imaginations to create and tell new stories. As long as we remember it’s not really thinking and that it can easily misstate facts or just get things completely wrong, we should be OK to have fun with this new tech.
Let me know via the contact page if you have other fun ideas for testing out this new tool.