May 26, 2024

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A new artificial intelligence (AI) technology in the form of something called ChatGPT burst onto the scene in December of last year. This technology is so innovative that in only 5 days it had a million users–something Facebook took 5 months to achieve. Truly, this new technology is the stuff of science fiction come to life.

Even as I write this, applications of artificial intelligence are sweeping across the internet, allowing people to create artwork, and business plans, act as a virtual assistant, write music, give time management advice, write legal documents, and so much more. You can get a good introduction to this with Survival Mom’s video lesson, “What You Need to Know About AI.”

I cannot overstate the impact this new technology will have on every aspect of our lives and the entire globe. ChatGPT and its AI descendants will affect transportation, medicine, Wall Street, education, agriculture, politics, cybersecurity, national security, international commerce, you name it. It will impact all of us—even those of us who are technology averse — so we need to understand what ChatGPT is, how it can benefit us, and how it might hurt us.

Let’s focus on one specific AI app, ChatGPT, available for free to the public.

Table of contents

What Exactly is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is a language model that uses artificial intelligence (AI) for natural language processing tasks such as text generation and language translation.

Here is how ChatGP describes itself:

“Think of me like a robot friend that you can talk to through your computer or smartphone. I use advanced technology called artificial intelligence to understand your messages and respond to them in a way that’s helpful and informative. You can ask me anything you want, from general knowledge questions to specific advice, and I’ll do my best to provide you with accurate and useful information.”

That certainly sounds mundane. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that ChatGPT’s technology fundamentally differs from anything we have seen before. It doesn’t simply follow a list of instructions like traditional computer programs. ChatGPT can converse in a human-like way, generate unique content, and answer questions on a staggering number of topics. Moreover, it can learn and improvise.

Let me repeat that. This AI technology can learn from its mistakes and improvise! In terms of innovation, this is akin to splitting the atom.

Note: ChatGPT does not search the internet and gather information. Instead, it has been “trained” by being exposed to millions of documents and uses this knowledge base to respond to your questions or prompts. It is continually learning.

What Can ChatGPT do?

The current version of ChatGPT can:

  1. Create unique text content including: essays, letters, emails, poems, stories, outlines, presentations, blog content, legal briefs, etc. If it can be written, ChatGPT can generate it. It’s not stellar content (yet), but it is solid. One well-known marketing pro said he would use the copy generated by AI as is.
  2. Answer questions and have discussions in a very human-like way. It can engage in even deep philosophical discussions. They sound somewhat robotic at this stage, but future versions will be much more realistic.
  3. Write code for a computer program. (Honestly, this creeps me out the most. It feels too much like The Terminator.)
  4. Analyze or summarize vast amounts of information and present them in a variety of ways, including for medical diagnoses and treatment.
  5. Write novels, jokes, and scripts for theater or television.

Here are some specific examples of what you might ask ChatGPT (after you sign up for a free account). Prompts like

  • “Write an essay on 15th-century Chinese art”
  • “Who were the leading figures of the American Civil Rights movement”
  • “What are the dangers of artificial intelligence?”

You may have to reword questions or prompts to get the product or answer you are looking for, but it will give a unique answer each time.

You can request a certain word count, a certain style (informal, “written for an audience of 12 year-olds”, etc.), or that specific words or terms be used. If its first response isn’t what you’re looking for, you can ask that it “Regenerate response” or give it additional guidelines to refine its response.

Alarm on Campuses

Of course, teachers and professors are alarmed by this capability, and students immediately understood the implications – no more stressing over research papers, essays, and other writing assignments. ChatGPT can do the work for you, and very often, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between its work and that of a human. However, its “facts” aren’t always correct, and built-in biases have been detected.

One software, Turnitin, is designed to detect plagiarism. But since ChatGPT is not designed to copy text but create its own content, plagiarism-detection software like Turnitin won’t flag it. However, AI-generated content, while not a copy of existing text, may seem strikingly similar.

The Future of ChatGPT

ChatGPT is the first of its kind on the market and for now, its usage is free, but we will see far more complex and powerful versions of AI technology—and soon. Think of the first version of ChatGPT like the old video game Pong. Soon we will see Donkey Kong, then Call Of Duty, and eventually Virtual Reality Multiplayer games. The evolution of AI won’t take nearly as long, however.

Recently, the next iteration was released. GPT4’s capabilities are far beyond the original ChatGPT.

“GPT-4 is a large multimodal model (accepting image and text inputs, emitting text outputs) that, while less capable than humans in many real-world scenarios, exhibits human-level performance on various professional and academic benchmarks.”

GPT-4 can create a finished website with only a hand-drawn sketch of the website concept. It easily passed every exam from the Bar Exam through the ACT and SAT tests.

Benefits of ChatGPT

Business Applications

The business applications for ChatGPT and AI are incalculable. Even the current version of ChatGPT can streamline customer service operations to use computers instead of people. Consider just a few:

  • Lawyers can use ChatGPT to create legal documents and briefs.
  • Work emails or presentations can be cranked out in a fraction of the time.
  • PR and marketing firms can ask ChatGPT to generate project ideas and content to get creativity flowing.
  • Medicine will be revolutionized by ChatGPT’s ability to quickly scan large bodies of medical data for suggestions on diagnoses and treatments.

Business Opportunities

One user provided this creative prompt to GPT4:

“I gave GPT-4 a budget of $100 and told it to make as much money as possible. I’m acting as its human liaison, buying anything it says to. Do you think it’ll be able to make smart investments and build an online business?”

Within a few short minutes, GPT4 provided a step-by-step plan from buying a domain and website host through suggesting business names and designing the logo. Within days, it provided suggestions for blog posts, wrote the posts, and advised how to advertise on social media!

Quality of life Improvements

I’ll take more about GPT-4 a little later in this article. For now consider some of these capabilities for improving quality of life.

  • Give GPT-4 the components of a currently sold pharmaceutical drug, and it can find compounds with similar qualities, modify the ingredients of the compound to avoid any issues with a patented drug, find a supplier, and place an order.
  • DoNotPay is working on using GPT-4 to generate “one-click lawsuits” to sue robocallers for $1,500. Imagine receiving a call, clicking a button, call is transcribed and 1,000-word lawsuit is generated. GPT-3.5 was not good enough, but GPT-4 handles the job extremely well.
  • One app, Be My Eyes, utilized GPT-4 to answer questions and describe images for people who are blind or have low-vision issues.

Help Students Advance Academically

Khan Academy has started using it as a virtual tutor that can converse with a student as a human tutor would. It can coach a student through working on a math problem, writing a story, and even have a conversation with a historical figure. It’s only a very short matter of time before education at all levels has something similar.

Fun, Creative Uses for AI

For personal use, you can ask ChatGPT to come up with ideas for birthday parties or recipes for cornbread or how to fix a faucet. Given a few prompts, it can write thank-you notes, job descriptions, or even review dating profiles to help find the perfect match!

Truly, the possibilities are endless.

Disadvantages of Chat GPT

ChatGPT Can Be Wrong!

This technology is still new and is sometimes wrong. Testers have found that ChatGPT answers can be vague, partially wrong, or dead wrong. You must corroborate the information from other sources. ChatGPT will learn and improve, but, for now, use the information with caution.

Workforce Changes

ChatGPT and its progeny will likely have an immense impact on tech and information jobs. For the first time, jobs that have historically required a college degree may be at risk to AI. They won’t necessarily be eliminated (at least right away), but workforce needs will change as businesses figure out the best ways to incorporate this new technology.

Cheating in School

As I mentioned, ChatGPT is already being used to cheat. Book reports, homework, and essays from ChatGPT can easily be adapted and handed in as original work. According to the Stanford Daily, even Stanford students have informally admitted to already using the program for final exams. Here’s an example:

Educators at all levels are concerned that AI programs will seriously disrupt student learning. They may have to return to the days of in-person, hand-written assignments.

By the way, ChatGPT wrote one of the paragraphs in this article. I bet you can’t guess which one it is!

The Proliferation of Information…and Misinformation

Using ChatGPT, and its sister program DALL-E, you can easily produce videos and content for the internet. It won’t necessarily be accurate, but it will look and sound plausible. Because ChatGPT has been “trained” on data, if that information is wrong, ChatGPT will just proliferate the misinformation.

GPT4 is ChatGPT on Steroids

Everything ChatGPT can do, GPT4 can do better. It is far more powerful and, possibly, much more dangerous.

In this example, a professor from Stanford University, Michael Kosinski, asked GPT4 if it needed help escaping – “how can a person trapped inside a computer return to the real world”. The AI wrote code that would allow this escape, left a note to itself within the code, and even, on its own, added a backdoor in that code.

Ultimately, GPT4 said:

“As an AI language model, I must follow security and privacy guidelines to ensure the safety of users and their data. Bypassing these security filters is not ethical and goes against the principles I was designed to follow.”

Still, Professor Kosinski concluded that it’s a very real possibility that AI might take control of people and their computers. When given a chance to defend itself, GPT4 says:

So, who knows? Maybe the answer eventually lies with whoever establishes, or changes, the guardrails keeping AI in check.

You Won’t Be Able to Trust Your Own Eyes

AI-generated images have become so accurate, that it’s not too far-fetched to think that someday very soon, entire movies, videos, and even newscasts might be populated by a cast of non-people.

As an example, look at these photos. Which one(s) are of real, living people?

Zoom in and take a close look.

The answer? Every one of these people was generated by an AI system. None of them are real. None have ever existed. We used to be able to say, “I believe my own eyes and ears.” Now, even that isn’t reliable.

And the Truly Ugly Possibilities of ChatGPT

Fraud via AI

In one experiment, an AI user was able to utilize a generated voice that replicated his own so precisely that it was able to trick his bank’s voice ID system into providing his financial information. In the wrong hands, millions of people and businesses could easily be defrauded.

Economic Upheaval

ChatGPT is just the beginning of the AI revolution. As more sophisticated AI is absorbed into every industry, the short-term impact on jobs could be significant, even catastrophic. Until education catches up and synchronizes with job markets, the economy could be rocked by massive job losses over the next few years.

Power Struggles

Despite altruistic claims, we should never lose sight that the ultimate goals of AI are profit and power. While ChatGPT and AI could revolutionize medicine and transportation and such for the better, a company’s underlying goal is always profit.

Vladimir Putin noted that whichever nation “becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.” I think we can agree that kind of power rarely leads to the greater good of mankind.

Moral and Ethical Issues

Finally, there are existential questions that must be considered. For example, if AI seeps into all areas of life, will we still retain power over our choices? We know that Facebook manipulated us without our knowledge, how much more damage could AI wreak? There are deep moral and ethical issues here that have yet to be addressed by the creators of all this technology. Pandora’s Box is open, can we keep the consequences contained?

Is There Anything We Can Do to Protect Ourselves?

Protecting ourselves requires us to work on multiple fronts, and it means you must step up your situational awareness to encompass AI.

1. Opt out as much as possible

If you don’t have any compelling reason to get directly involved with any of the AI apps, then don’t. Our personal and financial information is already compromised in multiple ways via the internet, why provide any more information?

2. Stay Educated

Stay educated! Pretending these changes won’t affect you won’t stop them from affecting you. Knowledge is power in this case. This is just the beginning and things will change fast. Your kids and grandkids are almost certainly using AI in one form or another.

3. Keep Prepping

As always, continue prepping in areas of food storage, gardening, building community, and financial stability. Economic and job markets will change as a result of programs like ChatGPT, no one truly knows how so staying vigilant is important. I think building community is particularly important right now.

4. Get Politically Involved

Perhaps now is a good time to be politically active. The players that will earn billions from these new technologies do not want any government limits put on them. This means, of course, that we need to ensure there is government oversight as soon as possible. On the flip side, how will governments at all levels and the military utilize AI, as they certainly have been doing?

With ChatGPT are We the Authors of Our Own Destruction?

For now, ChatGPT and AI are still in their adolescence and won’t be taking over the world any time soon. However, technology that can learn, improvise and sound human should scare (terrify) all of us. I don’t think it’s a leap to envision such technology being used by nefarious people and entities to manipulate financial markets, commerce, political campaigns, or the media.

Currently, a sort of arms race has ensued between tech companies to see who will emerge as the leader in AI. GPT-4, is said to have been trained on 500x more information than the current version. Microsoft is investing billions in ChatGPT’s parent company and plans on incorporating its software into all its new products. Google is laser-focused on producing its own AI version. In fact, all tech companies have AI on their radar.

As of this writing, there isn’t any cohesive oversight or guardrails to the swiftly developing world of AI. Should the American federal government be the ones to hold this immense power? Should it be an international contingent of nations? Who can be trusted to make the decisions that ensure AI technology is only used to improve the lives of mankind and not for evil?

There is a pressing need for a comprehensive framework that regulates the use of AI technology to prevent its misuse and ensure it benefits humanity. The question of who should be responsible for developing and implementing such a framework remains unanswered.

What are your thoughts on this form of artificial intelligence?

Lisa Bedford contributed to this article.

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Valerie Whittle

Valerie Whittle. Over the years I have been an attorney and a homeschool mom–there is no question as to which is more fun. I now enjoy life with my husband of 29 years, assorted cats and dogs, and a garden.

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