My First ChatGPT

I dialed into ChatGPT today for the first time. I was pretty happy with my experience. I didn’t intend to bang on my shiny new toy with a mallet but rather use it as something to enhance my life. Thus, I didn’t intend to expose its political biases or trick it into acting foolish, inappropriate, or to provoke controversy.

However, it’s easy to want to probe the boundaries. One thing I did in that vein was to ask for its favorite tongue twister. It gave me one that was pretty easy. It used phrasing that I took to mean that this was a “classic” tongue twister that might be well known. The tool also mentioned that since it was just a language model, it didn’t have a personal preference. (That’s the gist of its disclaimer, not the exact wording.)

Perhaps, going back to my first experiences with Siri, I could wonder whether there were easter eggs hidden in ChatGPT. Siri was obviously programmed to have clever answers to certain stock questions. Why would I admire this tool if it had the same tricks? I would be disappointed rather than impressed if they were there.

After getting used to it, I decided to use it for something useful. I’ve been writing some JavaScript code lately and I wondered whether it could help me learn more about that.

I directed the conversation to JavaScript generator functions and async functions. It gave useful information. For one question, the code it generated didn’t match the explanation. However, the concept’s description was accurate, and the coding error was obvious. When I continued questioning about other features of JavaScript, I opened a tab and used DuckDuckGo to point me to a article to confirm its description. I also got more thoroughly vetted information there.

I used that additional info to direct the conversation further. I also turned to to see whether one language feature was commonly available in different browsers. I was impressed that ChatGPT was explicit on reporting the different versions of ECMAScript involved. That helped identify when certain syntax was added to the language standard. Some of what it explained went over my head. I need to use those features in real code and read the explanations again. Also, it assumed I understood a related feature better than I actually do.

To me ChatGPT is not a toy. It can be played with, certainly. But so can a can of whipped cream. I don’t learn much playing with either. Eventually I’ll knock off the valve or make a mess to clean up. I’d rather learn how to use it efficiently. The language model is not god-like or without flaws. A word processer’s spell checker is not without flaws either, so I learned how to use it efficiently and moved on from there.

When I was done, I tried to capture the discussion by copying the text and pasting it into Word, but the code that it generated didn’t paste properly. The line breaks in the code were lost. Another problem was that I was pasting white text in a document with a white background. When I went to Acrobat Pro and pasted it using the Edit Text tool, the pasted text came out correctly except that the font changed for the code.

If I represent something that ChatGPT does as if it were my own work, that’s simple plagiarism. It might appear to pass when writing a blog post or two, but a professional writer shouldn’t use it as a substitute for his or her own work. Even using it to improve a paragraph needs more effort. I should use my own words instead of mimicking ChatGPT’s robotic syntax.

I asked it to improve three of paragraphs here. It didn’t understand what I was trying to emphasize. One “improvement” was such a mess that I couldn’t use it at all. The other two were far from my normal style–too formal with a stilted vocabulary–and had to be overhauled. Mostly, I used them as an inspiration for further editing.

My attitude can be to treat it more as a thesaurus than as a copywriter-for-hire. You have to know what you’re doing when you use a thesaurus.

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