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ChatGPT: What is it and how to use it?
Artificial intelligence has come a long way in recent years. From computational photography to self-driving cars, we’ve seen the technology unlock new possibilities and disrupt entire industries. Now, we’re seemingly at the cusp of another revolution with ChatGPT, which has the ability to generate human-like text with nearly perfect grammar. And as its name suggests, it can even engage in a back-and-forth conversation.
So in this article, let’s take a closer look at ChatGPT, how it works, and where you might see it integrated in the future.
What is ChatGPT?
ChatGPT is a language model that generates text when you provide it with a prompt or question. It excels at natural language processing (NLP), which means it can hold a natural conversation or dialog just like a human would. ChatGPT was created by OpenAI, a San Francisco-based startup that has attracted funding from tech giants like Microsoft.
While you’ve probably interacted with dozens of chatbots already, most of them don’t work nearly as well as ChatGPT. A traditional customer service chatbot, for example, can only respond with the information it has learned. Enter anything it doesn’t know and it will likely respond with something along the lines of “Sorry, I don’t understand.” The same frustrating situation often crops up even with more sophisticated virtual assistants like Siri and Google Assistant, although less often.
ChatGPT doesn't have the same frustrating limits as a traditional chatbot.
On the other hand, ChatGPT rarely ever admits defeat — it can handle open-ended questions and doesn’t respond with generic replies. And as we’ll see soon, it can also summarize long documents, write simple computer programs, and simplify difficult-to-understand concepts. All of this stems from ChatGPT’s ability to predict words and form sentences.
How does ChatGPT work?
Since 2015, OpenAI has developed many generations of language prediction models, with the most recent one called GPT-3. ChatGPT is based on an improved version of GPT-3 and is also referred to as GPT-3.5.
ChatGPT is based on GPT-3, OpenAI's third-generation language model.
The term GPT stands for Generative Pretrained Transformer. Of course, that doesn’t mean much to most people outside the AI industry, so let’s break it down even further.
Like any machine learning project, building a language model starts with data collection. According to a report published by Stanford University, OpenAI gathered 570 gigabytes of text from a variety of sources. That included news articles, books, and even internet-based like Reddit and Wikipedia. This ensured a diverse and varied dataset, necessary for training the machine learning model.
In the training phase, the OpenAI team used a deep learning model known as the transformer architecture. Put simply, the model looked at the dataset and formed relationships between words and sentences. It did this by calculating the probability of one word appearing next to another, and then using this knowledge to predict the next meaningful word in its own sentences. The model can generate entire sentences and paragraphs using this prediction strategy alone.
But OpenAI’s researchers realized that machine training wasn’t enough to make ChatGPT sound like a human. To remedy this, the company hired a few dozen humans to perform two types of training: supervised learning and Reinforcement Learning through Human Feedback (RLHF).
OpenAI hired human trainers to generate natural responses and fine-tune ChatGPT.
In supervised learning, OpenAI’s employees played both sides of the conversation — they would write a prompt and also provide an ideal response from the chatbot’s perspective. With thousands of such examples, the model learned could be fine-tuned for dialogue.
Then, in the reinforcement training stage, the trainers collected a number of chatbot-generated responses and rated them based on their quality. Eventually, the model could predict which words and responses appealed the most to a human.
What can you do with ChatGPT?
Here are a handful of sample prompts you can enter into ChatGPT.
Draft an email to someone important
In a hurry and need to write a formal email to your colleagues or boss? ChatGPT can help with that. With just a single line prompt, it generates a full email that’s nearly ready to send. What’s more, if you don’t like it, you can type another prompt asking for specific changes.
Explain a historical event
If you want a quick summary of a particular event in history, ChatGPT can provide it with the right prompt. However, keep in mind that OpenAI doesn’t let you use the tool to generate political thoughts so you might not always get an answer, especially on controversial topics.
Write a short story or poetry in a particular style
You can ask ChatGPT to write poetry like Shakespeare on any subject of your choice. Or a speech in a public figure’s distinct style. The possibilities are endless.
Write code to automate routine digital tasks
I asked ChatGPT to write a Python script that pulls random comics from XKCD. I then asked it to help with running and automating the code so I can find a new comic on my desktop each morning. ChatGPT delivered on both fronts. I simply followed the instructions and ran the code — it worked perfectly! I did need to install a Python library first, but ChatGPT helped with instructions for that too.
It’s worth stressing that you can’t expect perfection. ChatGPT may deliver authentic-looking code but it might not always compile. Still, it’s a pretty cool proof-of-concept.
Related: I used ChatGPT to try and settle the Android vs iPhone debate
Why is ChatGPT so important?
Anyone that has used the chatbot will probably agree that it’s an impressive feat of engineering. But why exactly does ChatGPT worry tech giants like Google?
When you type a question into a search engine like Google, what do you see? A list of results ranked by relevance. If you type the same thing into ChatGPT, however, you’d get a human-like response with the ability to ask follow-up questions. For most people, this personal touch can make ChatGPT seem more like a personal assistant app than an online tool.
At the same time, however, ChatGPT has many limitations that make it ill-suited as a Google replacement. For one, it doesn’t keep up with current affairs, so you cannot use it to know about tomorrow’s weather or yesterday’s sports event. Its training data is now two years old. However, that could change in the future as OpenAI allows the model to browse the internet and learn from its interactions with humans.
ChatGPT has a few big limitations today, but that might change in the future.
Moreover, OpenAI used so much raw data to train GPT-3 that it can even handle tasks it wasn’t explicitly trained on. For example, you can ask ChatGPT to translate text from one language to another and it will do so with reasonable accuracy. Or you could ask it to write an essay, speech, or poem with highly specialized instructions. And even though it often gets simple math problems wrong, the model’s capabilities are still impressive when you consider it was fine-tuned solely for language.
For now, ChatGPT isn’t ready to become your number-one source of information anytime soon. It’s a predictive model, so it will often come up with sentences that sound plausible but aren’t rooted in reality. If you don’t know the subject matter yourself, you may lack the expertise to separate fact from fiction. But with more knowledge through continuous training? Many fear that language models could render certain online services obsolete. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why companies like Google have accelerated their own AI efforts.
How to use ChatGPT?
OpenAI has released ChatGPT for free in its testing phase but plans to monetize it down the road. To that end, you may notice an optional $42 per month ChatGPT Pro subscription after you log in. According to OpenAI, this version offers faster responses and a lower chance of slowdowns. But for now, anyone can use the base version for free. Here’s how to get started:
- Visit the ChatGPT website.
- Click or tap on Sign up and enter your email address. Alternatively, you can log in using your Google or Microsoft account.
- Enter your first and last name, then verify your phone number. You can opt to receive the verification code via WhatsApp.
- Accept the terms and conditions when presented.
- Once signed up, simply type your prompts in the text box at the bottom and press enter to send. You should see ChatGPT start responding almost immediately.
Yes, ChatGPT is currently free to use in its research preview phase. This may change in the future as OpenAI gathers sufficient data to improve its systems.
ChatGPT was created by OpenAI, a San Francisco-based startup that has raised billions of dollars from Microsoft and other investors.
Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in OpenAI but does not completely own OpenAI. According to some reports, Microsoft will receive 75% of the company’s profits until it recoups its initial multi-billion dollar investment. After that, it will retain a 49% stake in the startup.
Elon Musk was a founding member of OpenAI, but he stepped down as chairman of the board in 2018. At the time, he cited a potential conflict of interest between his roles at OpenAI and Tesla. In December 2022, Musk paused OpenAI’s access to the Twitter database and expressed concerns over its revenue plans going forward.