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The ChatGPT chatbot is blowing people away with its writing skills. An expert explains why it’s so impressive
We’ve all had some kind of interaction with a chatbot. It’s usually a little pop-up in the corner of a website, offering customer support – often clunky to navigate – and almost always frustratingly non-specific.
But imagine a chatbot, enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI), that can not only expertly answer your questions, but also write stories, give life advice, even compose poems and code computer programs.
It seems ChatGPT, a chatbot released last week by OpenAI, is delivering on these outcomes. It has generated much excitement, and some have gone as far as to suggest it could signal a future in which AI has dominion over human content producers.
What has ChatGPT done to herald such claims? And how might it (and its future iterations) become indispensable in our daily lives?
What can ChatGPT do?
ChatGPT builds on OpenAI’s previous text generator, GPT-3. OpenAI builds its text-generating models by using machine-learning algorithms to process vast amounts of text data, including books, news articles, Wikipedia pages and millions of websites.
By ingesting such large volumes of data, the models learn the complex patterns and structure of language and acquire the ability to interpret the desired outcome of a user’s request.
ChatGPT can build a sophisticated and abstract representation of the knowledge in the training data, which it draws on to produce outputs. This is why it writes relevant content, and doesn’t just spout grammatically correct nonsense.
While GPT-3 was designed to continue a text prompt, ChatGPT is optimized to conversationally engage, answer questions and be helpful. Here’s an example:
A screenshot from the ChatGPT interface as it explains the Turing test.
ChatGPT immediately grabbed my attention by correctly answering exam questions I’ve asked my undergraduate and postgraduate students, including questions requiring coding skills. Other academics have had similar results.
In general, it can provide genuinely informative and helpful explanations on a broad range of topics.
ChatGPT can even answer questions about philosophy.
ChatGPT is also potentially useful as a writing assistant. It does a decent job drafting text and coming up with seemingly “original” ideas.
ChatGPT can give the impression of brainstorming ‘original’ ideas.
The power of feedback
Why does ChatGPT seem so much more capable than some of its past counterparts? A lot of this probably comes down to how it was trained.
During its development ChatGPT was shown conversations between human AI trainers to demonstrate desired behaviour. Although there’s a similar model trained in this way, called InstructGPT, ChatGPT is the first popular model to use this method.
And it seems to have given it a huge leg-up. Incorporating human feedback has helped steer ChatGPT in the direction of producing more helpful responses and rejecting inappropriate requests.
ChatGPT often rejects inappropriate requests by design.
Refusing to entertain inappropriate inputs is a particularly big step towards improving the safety of AI text generators, which can otherwise produce harmful content, including bias and stereotypes, as well as fake news, spam, propaganda and false reviews.
Past text-generating models have been criticized for regurgitating gender, racial and cultural biases contained in training data. In some cases, ChatGPT successfully avoids reinforcing such stereotypes.
In many cases ChatGPT avoids reinforcing harmful stereotypes. In this list of software engineers it presents both male- and female-sounding names (albeit all are very Western).
Nevertheless, users have already found ways to evade its existing safeguards and produce biased responses.
The fact that the system often accepts requests to write fake content is further proof that it needs refinement.
Despite its safeguards, ChatGPT can still be misused.
ChatGPT is arguably one of the most promising AI text generators, but it’s not free from errors and limitations. For instance, programming advice platform Stack Overflow temporarily banned answers by the chatbot for a lack of accuracy.
One practical problem is that ChatGPT’s knowledge is static; it doesn’t access new information in real time.
However, its interface does allow users to give feedback on the model’s performance by indicating ideal answers, and reporting harmful, false or unhelpful responses.
OpenAI intends to address existing problems by incorporating this feedback into the system. The more feedback users provide, the more likely ChatGPT will be to decline requests leading to an undesirable output.
One possible improvement could come from adding a “confidence indicator” feature based on user feedback. This tool, which could be built on top of ChatGPT, would indicate the model’s confidence in the information it provides – leaving it to the user to decide whether they use it or not. Some question-answering systems already do this.
A new tool, but not a human replacement
Despite its limitations, ChatGPT works surprisingly well for a prototype.
From a research point of view, it marks an advancement in the development and deployment of human-aligned AI systems. On the practical side, it’s already effective enough to have some everyday applications.
It could, for instance, be used as an alternative to Google. While a Google search requires you to sift through a number of websites and dig deeper yet to find the desired information, ChatGPT directly answers your question – and often does this well.
ChatGPT (left) may in some cases prove to be a better way to find quick answers than Google search.
Also, with feedback from users and a more powerful GPT-4 model coming up, ChatGPT may significantly improve in the future. As ChatGPT and other similar chatbots become more popular, they’ll likely have applications in areas such as education and customer service.
However, while ChatGPT may end up performing some tasks traditionally done by people, there’s no sign it will replace professional writers any time soon.
While they may impress us with their abilities and even their apparent creativity, AI systems remain a reflection of their training data – and do not have the same capacity for originality and critical thinking as humans do.
Our society faces the grand challenge of providing sustainable, secure and affordable means of generating energy, while trying to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to net zero around 2050.
To date, developments in fusion power, which potentially ticks all these boxes, have been funded almost exclusively by the public sector. However, something is changing.
Private equity investment in the global fusion industry has more than doubled in just one year – from US$2.1 billion in 2021 to US$4.7 billion in 2022, according to a survey from the Fusion Industry Association.
So, what is driving this recent change? There’s lots to be excited about.
Before we explore that, let’s take a quick detour to recap what fusion power is.
Merging atoms together
Fusion works the same way our Sun does, by merging two heavy hydrogen atoms under extreme heat and pressure to release vast amounts of energy.
It’s the opposite of the fission process used by nuclear power plants, in which atoms are split to release large amounts of energy.
Sustaining nuclear fusion at scale has the potential to produce a safe, clean, almost inexhaustible power source.
Our Sun sustains fusion at its core with a plasma of charged particles at around 15 million degrees Celsius. Down on Earth, we are aiming for hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius, because we don’t have the enormous mass of the Sun compressing the fuel down for us.
Scientists and engineers have worked out several designs for how we might achieve this, but most fusion reactors use strong magnetic fields to “bottle” and confine the hot plasma.
A donut-shaped magnetic confinement device called a tokamak is one of the leading designs for a working fusion power generator, with many such experiments running worldwide. Christopher Roux, EUROfusion Consortium, CC BY
Generally, the main challenge to overcome on our road to commercial fusion power is to provide environments that can contain the intense burning plasma needed to produce a fusion reaction that is self-sustaining, producing more energy than was needed to get it started.
Joining the public and private
Fusion development has been progressing since the 1950s. Most of it was driven by government funding for fundamental science.
Now, a growing number of private fusion companies around the world are forging ahead towards commercial fusion energy. A change in government attitudes has been crucial to this.
The US and UK governments are fostering public-private partnerships to complement their strategic research programs.
For example, the White House recently announced it would develop a “bold decadal vision for commercial fusion energy”.
In the United Kingdom, the government has invested in a program aimed at connecting a fusion generator to the national electricity grid.
The technology has actually advanced, too
In addition to public-private resourcing, the technologies we need for fusion plants have come along in leaps and bounds.
In 2021, MIT scientists and Commonwealth Fusion Systems developed a record-breaking magnet that will allow them to build a compact fusion device called SPARC “that is substantially smaller, lower cost, and on a faster timeline”.
In recent years, several fusion experiments have also reached the all-important milestone of sustaining plasma temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius or above. These include the EAST experiment in China, Korea’s flagship experiment KSTAR, and UK-based company Tokamak Energy.
These incredible feats demonstrate an unprecedented ability to replicate conditions found inside our Sun and keep extremely hot plasma trapped long enough to encourage fusion to occur.
In February, the Joint European Torus – the world’s most powerful operational tokamak – announced world-record energy confinement.
And the next-step fusion energy experiment to demonstrate net power gain, ITER, is under construction in France and now about 80% complete.
Magnets aren’t the only path to fusion either. In November 2021, the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California achieved a historic step forward for inertial confinement fusion.
By focusing nearly 200 powerful lasers to confine and compress a target the size of a pencil’s eraser, they produced a small fusion “hot spot” generating fusion energy over a short time period.
In Australia, a company called HB11 is developing proton-boron fusion technology through a combination of high-powered lasers and magnetic fields.
Fusion and renewables can go hand in hand
It is crucial that investment in fusion is not at the cost of other forms of renewable energy and the transition away from fossil fuels.
We can afford to expand adoption of current renewable energy technology like solar, wind, and pumped hydro while also developing next-generation solutions for electricity production.
This exact strategy was outlined recently by the United States in its Net-Zero Game Changers Initiative. In this plan, resource investment will be targeted to developing a path to rapid decarbonization in parallel with the commercial development of fusion.
History shows us that incredible scientific and engineering progress is possible when we work together with the right resources – the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is just one recent example.
It is clear many scientists, engineers, and now governments and private investors (and even fashion designers) have decided fusion energy is a solution worth pursuing, not a pipe dream. Right now, it’s the best shot we’ve yet had to make fusion power a viable reality.
Herschel Walker's son gloated over his election loss and blamed Donald Trump for his doomed candidacy.
The former NFL star's son Christian Walker, who had publicly backed his campaign before turning against him, posted a series of tweets after the Georgia runoff election was called in favor of Sen. Raphael Warnock saying his father should never have entered the race, reported The Daily Beast.
“Don’t beat women, hold guns to peoples heads, fund abortions then pretend you’re pro-life, stalk cheerleaders, leave your multiple minor children alone to chase more fame, lie, lie, lie, say stupid crap, and make a fool of your family,” Walker wrote. “And then maybe you can win a senate seat.”
Multiple women, including Christian's mother, came forward during the campaign to accuse Walker of serial lying and infidelity and physical and emotional abuse, as well as secret children and abortions.
“Republicans, we say we don’t play 'identity politics' and then you ran this man mainly because he was the same skin color as his opponent with no background other than football," his son wrote. "A boring old Republican could have won."
"The Truth: Trump called my dad for months DEMANDING that he run," he added. "Everyone with a brain begged him: ‘PLEASE DON’T DO THIS. This is too dirty, you have an insane past… PLEASE DONT DO THIS.’ We got the middle finger. He ran.”