As it happens, this blog post comes after a very long period of absence and it is entirely my fault. Work ensures that my writer's block is always up and preventing me from posting anything new. But there are experiences that I've had over the past few weeks that are compelling me to put this down in words so that I may come here at a time in the future and look back at this article to marvel at an amazing juncture that is set to reshape our life, possibly for good. So, this will be Chapter 1 in a series of articles that I will write that will go from scratching the surface to digging deep.
This article is aimed at anyone and everyone who's hearing about AI all of a sudden but has little clue on what's going on. If you're a techie or have experienced AI first hand, I'll meet you a few chapters down this road.
Its March, 2023 and the term Artificial Intelligence has been around for a couple of years. We all know about it, have been knowingly or unknowingly using it when we use Amazon or Twitter to say the least. There are endless courses that claim to turn you into an AI Engineer in as short as 4 months and it appears as one of the top keywords in an IT professional's skills radar.
But our vision of Artificial Intelligence (henceforth referred to as AI because I don't want to type the damn thing) is perhaps rooted in the movies that we've seen growing up. The Terminator series of films come to mind straight away and then there are hundreds of others that I will not waste time mentioning that have set an imaginative benchmark for us and most of it is pretty scary. I mean, if SkyNet can launch Nukes and cause a nuclear holocaust, then we should be really worried about AI today, because its literally in its infancy, right? Nip it in the bud, eh? For the purposes of today's read, let's pack this vision in a black envelope and put it in the drawer. We'll come back to it in a couple of years.
In early January this year (2023), I came across a few Twitter posts about something called ChatGPT. A lot of excitement ensued and one afternoon, in between two office team calls, I decided to give it a shot. A free signup later, a dull grey UI was staring me in the face and asking me to type a question. What I saw over the next hour, blew my mind completely! Here was a chatbot that could literally answer any question that I asked and with great accuracy and in a language that I could easily understand. It wasn't throwing website links at me (looking at you Google) and asking me to "Go F yourself!". And before you say anything, I meant "Find".
So literally what I did was ask ChatGPT to help me with my writer's block and here's what I got.
If you look at ChatGPT's response, it is as if you're talking to another person, a rather intelligent person who knows how to respond and has the necessary knowledge as well. This literally means that you can just chat with the computer and get all the information you need. We're talking about going back to our fundamental behaviour where we do not have to learn how to get a computer to provide us with the information we need.
We've seen this with Amazon's Alexa and other voice assistants in the past and yes, its voice based so even better, right? Somewhat yes but the experience with ChatGPT is rather unique. You see, Alexa's core purpose is to provide answers to common questions, "What time is it?", "What is the weather like in Delhi?" and "Switch on the light". Alexa's AI algorithm understands our speech and uses that to do what it must. If you ask about something unique, then it tries to get that information from Wikipedia or elsewhere and just relays it.
With Alexa, it feels you're talking to an assistant but with ChatGPT, it feels more like an always agreeable friend.
ChatGPT (in its first public version) was designed to be textual, which I think is great and it was also designed to respond back in a more natural way. It has been built by a OpenAI, an AI research and development company fuelled by some of the brightest minds and investors in the worled. ChatGPT is one of several products that they offer, all based on the wonderful AI research that they're doing.
You can think of ChatGPT as a person sitting in front of you with whom you can chat to your heart's content. With Alexa, it feels you're talking to an assistant but with ChatGPT, it feels more like an always agreeable friend. And while at first, you might downplay this minor difference, as humans, we are more likely to chat comfortably with a friend and enjoy it, than with an assistant. This is a subtle yet major difference between voice-based assistants and ChatGPT.
The AI algorithm behind ChatGPT learns from conversation and the exposure to the massive amount of content that it has been trained on. To simplify it for noobs, the system behind ChatGPT is akin to an individual who has been taught a language such as English and then given an Encyclopedia to read and digest. Once the learner has done so, you (the user in this case) are free to ask any and all questions regarding the contents of the encyclopedia and the individual will answer back in a natural way.
To simplify it for noobs, the system behind ChatGPT is akin to an individual who has been taught a language such as English and then given an Encyclopedia to read and digest. Once the learner has done so, you (the user in this case) are free to ask any and all questions regarding the contents of the encyclopedia and the individual will answer back in a natural way.
Suddenly, with ChatGPT in hand, we could ask the computer to write us a letter where we just need to describe the intent and purpose, so, "I'm a Senior AI Engineer at Cyberdyne. Write a resignation letter to my boss, Dr. Miles Dyson. Be polite." And within seconds, ChatGPT spits this out...
Isn't this sweet?? You can ask ChatGPT to compose a song, write a poem, create a menu for a party, come up with birthday game ideas and even ask it to write the plot of the next blockbuster by Tom Cruise. Yes, it can do all that and lots more. It can get really creative with responses which is quite like a real human. For instance, I've asked ChatGPT to behave like Quentin Tarantino and comment on the role of AI. And here's what he has to say!
But whereas a real human is open and exposed to real time learning of facts to enhance knowledge, ChatGPT is currently limited to the knowledge it has been trained on (aka the encyclopedia). In simple words, it does not continually learn from the vastness of the internet. It has to be trained to upgrade its knowledge and capabilities. Something that the wizards at OpenAI, the masters behind ChatGPT are doing all the time!
So, while you enjoy using ChatGPT, do keep in mind that it will lie to you with confidence if it doesn't know the answer. It's not designed to say "No" really, so you will always get an answer, even if it is royally wrong.
What drives this amazing piece of tech is Natural Language Processing (NLP), a branch of AI that aims to get really proficient at understanding and conversing in human understandable and natural language semantics. If you read the responses by ChatGPT, you'll see two things:
INPUT: The user begins by asking a question in natural English language. This is what makes systems like ChatGPT special. You literally throw what's on your mind at the system.
OUTPUT: Once the system has done its magic, it responds back in a manner that feels natural to us humans. This is a fantastic achievement in itself.
And it's not just text-to-text (aka ChatGPT), this entire revolution is termed as Generative AI where you have text-to-image wonders such as Midjourney and Stable Diffusion as well. If you've never played with Midjourney, then prepare to be fascinated. By providing a simple to understand text prompt, you can generate photorealistic images!
So, for the prompt: "Create a highly detailed and photorealistic steampunk mobile phone design. The phone should incorporate Victorian-era aesthetics and mechanical elements, while still maintaining a sleek and functional modern-day design. The phone's materials should include a combination of brass, copper, leather, and wood, and it should have an ornate and intricate appearance. Additionally, the phone should include unique features such as a retractable mechanical keyboard, a built-in compass, and an analog clock display. Bring the design to life with intricate textures, lighting, and attention to detail.", Midjourney gave me the following image at the end:
The key thing to remember here is that you instruct the computer to produce an outcome and it generates that outcome for you based on the knowledge it has. And with this, we've officially entered the era of Prompt Engineering where your expertise is quite literally writing instructions (known as prompts) for the computer to understand and process.
In the next article, we'll dig one level down into ChatGPT and discuss the technology that drives it along with several other AI models and technologies that are rapidly changing the landscape today. We've just scratched the surface.