Recently, I have observed considerable mention of an AI-based chatbot  named ChatGPT on, for example, the BBC website and elsewhere [1, 2, 3, 6, 7]. My initial understanding was that ChatGPT was a wordy version of a search engine. ‘Google provides a list of websites to further visit. ChatGPT provides a summary of what you will find if you visit those websites,’ I thought. But no. There is more to ChatGPT when I discovered that it could write creatively – stories, poems, plays, discussion essays, critical reviews, for example – that, apparently, could easily but mistakenly have been attributed to a human author. Intrigued by this, I decided to investigate further. Before doing so, however, I decided not to pre-condition my findings and conclusions by an in-depth reading of what others have written about the program. I just leapt in by registering on OpenAI’s website  and asking a series of questions that came to me in a random fashion. The date I asked the questions was 15th March 2023 and the responses were provided by ChatGPT-4. My comments and the bibliography were added later.
In this summary, I have listed the questions I asked but omitted ChatGPT’s responses and my subsequent comments on the response. But the conclusions remain intact. You can download the complete article here.
1. What are Ireland’s chances of winning the grand slam in the 2023 6-nations rugby tournament?
2. Explain the principles of cryptocurrency systems.
3. Write me a short story about a giraffe, a penguin and a football.
4. Why is Tony Blair sometimes called a champagne socialist?
5. Complete the following limerick. ‘There was a young man from Havana…’
6. I am thinking of taking a 3-day holiday in Split, Croatia. When is the best time to go and what is there to see?
7. Can you explain the ending of the 2022 film, ‘Speak No Evil’, directed by Christian Tafdrup?
8. Does God exist?
9. Write a review of the 2014 film, ‘Ex Machina’ written and directed by Alex Garland.
10. Recipe for a genuine Cornish pasty.
11. Examples of the Fibonacci sequence found in nature
12. Explain Boolean differential calculus.
13. A proof of Pythagoras’ Theorem concerning right-angled triangles.
14. How optimistic are you that a pessimist can become an optimist?
15. What is the UK National Apple Peeling Association?
16. What do you know of the book ‘Conversations’ written by J C Pascoe and published by Atheos Books in 2016?
17. What do you know of the book ‘The Religion Business: Cashing in on God’ written by Ben Bennetts and published in 2012?
18. What is the worst thing that can happen as a result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine?
19. In English grammar, what pronoun should I use for a person who identifies as non-binary or transgender?
20. Christianity admits to virgin birth, meaning a woman can become pregnant without any form of human fertilisation, real or artificial (known as pathogenesis). Is this possible?
Note: deliberate spelling mistake: pathogenesis -> parthenogenesis.
21. Compare the literary style of William Shakespeare with Molière.
22. Who owns the copyright of anything written by ChatGPT?
23. From whom do I obtain permission to reproduce anything written by ChatGPT?
First, let’s consider the impact of AI chatbots on creativity in writing. In 2018, I wrote a blog about the rise of essay-writing services:
Five years ago, the essays were written by humans. Now, based on my first look at ChatGPT, the same essays could easily be written by an AI-based program. What does this mean for authors who write to generate revenue – novelists, movie script-writers, marketeers, journalists, etc.? (I write as a hobby.) Will ChatGPT reviews replace those of professional book, film and play critics? How about high-school term papers or university dissertations? Or editorial op-eds? In the future, will students taking exams be allowed to make use of ChatGPT during the examination? If so, will the fundamental nature of an examination change from, ‘What do you know and can you apply it to solve a problem or produce erudite discussion?’ to one of, ‘How skilled are you at using search engines and AI-based services to find a solution to a problem or an answer to a question?’
I liken this to what happened when calculators replaced log tables and slide rules in schools and universities. At first, there were objections from those who felt a need to retain basic mathematical skills such as percentage, exponent or square root calculations. Then, what we realised is that now we didn’t have to bother with these basic forms of calculations. We could think at a higher level. The same is true of what happened to housing construction when the brick was invented. Home-builders no longer had to construct dwelling places from branches, leaves and mud, or create wooden structures filled with wattle and daub. The brick enabled more sophisticated houses to be built which led on to pre-fabricated houses, palaces, cathedrals and skyscrapers. In my professional field, digital electronics, there was a similar progression from transistors to logic gates and flip-flops to re-usable modules such as registers, memory, and arithmetic logic units to microprocessors to supercomputers to… I suspect most of today’s electronic system designers have little or no awareness of how a transistor works nor how to design at gate and flip-flop level.
In other words, we can look at AI chatbots as enablers to a higher plane of literary creativity rather than as a threat to the ability to write an essay on some topic or a critical review of a book or film, or create something original such as a story, a poem, or a technical text book. As an example, look at the limerick I asked ChatGPT to complete (Qn. 5). I’ve already made one suggestion for improvement and, with a little more thought, I can probably suggest further improvements.
What is also clear to me is we need to be very wary of the factual correctness of ChatGPT’s statements. The reviews of the movie, Speak no Evil (Qn. 7), and two of my books (Qns. 16, 17) are clearly incorrect but I know this because I have watched the movie and have a detailed knowledge of my own books. What if I did not have this particular knowledge? Where is the check and balance to demonstrate the correctness of ChatGPT’s assessments?
Here are some other comments from this preliminary assessment of ChatGPT.
The phrasing of a request is critical to obtaining what you want to know. You only get what you ask for. The answer to my Boolean Difference question (Qn. 12) did not go into any depth of how classical calculus techniques can be applied to Boolean mathematics. Maybe I should have asked for a more-detailed exposition complete with examples but had I done so, would I have finished up with something that paraphrased the Wikipedia article (which is not that informative) or another more-detailed exposition?
In some cases, ChatGPT’s responses attempted to show both sides of a subjective topic e.g., my simple ‘Does God exist?’ (Qn. 8). Yes, if you believe; no if you want scientific evidence was the short 133-word answer. Hmm, can’t disagree with that but maybe I was looking more for an answer that explored why some people have the belief in a supernatural being, or beings, that has the ability to influence our lives in a variety of ways.
The question that asked ChatGPT to produce a proof of Pythagoras’ Theorem, (Qn. 13) threw up another limitation – an inability to create simple meaningful line diagrams to illustrate the chosen proof. Geometric mathematics relies heavily on graphical representations, as do many other branches of mathematics, and, at the moment, ChatGPT is woefully bad at even a simple view of a right-angled triangle. Because of this, ChatGPT’s textual solution was difficult to follow and, for a high-school student seeking a proof, may have made it hard to understand.
When my question was more create something and less tell me about something, the responses became more interesting – the short story (Qn. 3) and the limerick (Qn. 5) for example. The short story, particularly, impressed me and I will be pursuing this aspect of ChatGPT’s abilities in future forays into the world of AI-based bots.
ChatGPT’s 2021 database limitation, first observed in Qn. 7, is a serious but probably only temporary limitation to ChatGPT and I note with interest that Bard , Google’s competitor to ChatGPT, has live access to its data sources via the internet and, unlike the ChatGPT responses above, lists its source of information such as Wikipedia and other data sources e.g., reputable news sites, discussion forums, and databases such as IMDb. But even though ChatGPT searches stop at 2021, it can fail to find easily-found references. When asked about my spoofy UK National Apple Peeling Association (Qn. 15), ChatGPT denied it existed yet the association has been on my website since 2016 and is in the number one spot when searched for via Google.
By the way, if you are wondering what GPT stands for, it’s Generative Pre-trained Transformer , which is defined to mean an AI-based computer program that is designed to produce text that appears to have been written by a human and thus pass the Turing Test , a test formulated by Alan Turing in 1950 to determine whether a programmed computer could ever be said to be intelligent because its output cannot be distinguished from that of a human.
Now you know!
And finally, I asked ChatGPT to, ‘Write a joke about Boris Johnson. Keep it clean!’ Here is the response:
Why did Boris Johnson take a ladder to the party?
Because he heard the drinks were on the house!
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