My conversation with an algorithm.

In April, Steven Johnson wrote that he latest generation of an algorithm that uses deep learning to produce human-like text called Generative Pre-trained Transformer, version 3 (GPT-3) could “write original prose with mind-boggling fluency.” I was intrigued.

After reading Simon Willison’s excellent tutorial, encouraging me to play with GPT-3 because it’s “absurdly good fun,” I decided to dive in last weekend and play around. It was ridiculously easy to get started.

I asked GPT-3 to come up with a new tagline for SmartNews based on the following prompt:

Write a tagline for SmartNews, a news application that creates empathy for its users by showing them news from many different points of view. The algorithm does most of the curation but the entire process is monitored and enhanced by a small team of experienced journalists.

Get the news you need, without the noise

Not bad.

I veered epistemological and asked GPT-3 to prove it’s intelligence. The following are screenshots from our conversation in the console which they call a Playground, reminding you that this is not the voice of God or anything like that and responses here are nothing to take too seriously.

I like how my browser’s spell check stumbled over some punctuation.

Cheeky eh? OK, right back at ya.

I later read that this phrase, “There is no one correct answer to this question.” is a common dodge in order to duck a question that it does not feel confident in answering.

Later on, on a call with my parents, I and explained how GPT-3 worked and asked them if they wanted to ask the algorithm some questions. My father fired off the question below.

While the answer was the quality of a Google search result, the follow up response was quite interesting and shows not only the ability to summarize what it’s learned but also the ability to package and apply those learnings in response.

The next question was also from my father.

The algo’s response to the “complicated language” question was interesting. I did not think about the number of speakers of a language as an input but that was certainly thought provoking. I would whole-heartedly agree that Finnish is devilishly complex.

I threw out the domino pizza question as a variation of Google’s famous how many golfballs fit inside a 747 question.

I was surprised with how far off the answer was to this relatively easy to figure out question. (I’ve heard GPT-3 is not so great at math).

I moved on to politics. Out of curiosity, I put this one out there just to see if had a sense of news & politics. It was not clear if this is ordered by priority but if it is, it’s interesting to see the #1 response which certainly seems timely.

Incidentally, I asked the same question last night and got a different set of responses then from my questions which were asked last weekend.

Inflation is certainly in the news and Yosemite is on fire. I’m not aware of any big cyber-attack but there are quite a few stories out there about potential Amazon Prime Day hacks. Nuclear War is interesting – could it be in response to PSA just released by NYC? Is GPT-3 reading the news?

I have an on-going debate with my father about which city is more congenial, Tokyo or New York (we also have an on-going debate about print v. online but that’s for another blog post).

The dialog is below. My father choose the word “comfortable.” I’m not sure about an algorithm’s definition of “comfortable” and you’ll see how it wriggles out of answering directly.

Which city do most people think is more comfortable, Tokyo or New York?

There is no definitive answer to this question as everyone has different opinions. Some people may find Tokyo more comfortable because it is a clean and safe city, while others may find New York more comfortable because it is more exciting and diverse. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide which city is more comfortable for them.

Why is Tokyo clean and safe?

Tokyo is clean and safe because it has strict laws and regulations regarding littering and public safety. There are also many public services that help to keep the city clean and safe, such as regular trash collection and a robust police force.

Why is New York exciting and diverse?

There are many reasons why New York is an exciting and diverse city. It is a melting pot of cultures, with people from all over the world coming to live and work there. There is always something to do, whether it is exploring the city’s many museums and galleries, or taking in a Broadway show. New York is also home to some of the best restaurants in the world, so foodies will never be bored.

My mom asked a question which kicked off the most interesting exchange of the night when I tried to pin GPT-3 down on specifics.

I’ll definitely be playing around with this some more.

Firing off questions and pondering responses from the great algorithm in the sky is a big upgrade from the usual family activities such as playing charades or hearts. I’m bringing along GPT-3 to my upcoming reunion for sure.