Sam Leith Sam Leith

ChatGPT: a world-class BS machine

The OpenAI bot is just a clever toy


Two weeks ago, like most people, I hadn’t so much as heard of ChatGPT. By last week, I was hearing of practically nothing but. After OpenAI released its large-language model chatbot for the public to play with, it passed a million users in five days flat. Hype poured in. Columnists asked it to write the opening paragraphs of their columns about ChatGPT – with, of course, hilarious results.

Educationalists worried that this new AI chatbot would render coursework redundant and require a return to timed exams, so swift and plausible are its responses to prompts like ‘write me an essay about the causes of the first world war’. Computer programmers reported that it was ace at writing passable but not strictly functional bits of computer code. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman asked simply: ‘Will robots take away our jobs?’

By last night, so overwhelmed was it with trivial requests from drunk people, it had hoisted the flag of surrender, like Twitter’s famous ‘fail whale’. Of course, that error page was noisomely cutesy: ‘Explain the status of ChatGPT as a sea otter. Squeak squeak! Sorry, ChatGPT is very popular right now. Please try again later! Squeak squeak!’

It struggles especially with poetry – which, sure, so do most humans

Still, I was hyped. I was one of those people bombarding it with trivial requests. And in some respects, it really is quite something. I cannot speak to the information architecture that makes it possible, but it’s obviously top notch. You can admire its speed and fluency – and I dare say it would ace the Turing test from time to time, which is no small achievement. It produces wholly grammatical, natural language responses and has an impressive ability to work with what appear to be abstract concepts.

But it’s still just… very so-so. It may be impressive compared to, well, most of what has come before. It may, indeed, supply the odd shortcut for people looking to gussy up a first draft of a piece of technical writing to work from.

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