How to use (and how not to use) ChatGPT

New AI model can surprise and amaze you, but beware its limitations

Lesson #
May 25, 2023
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ChatGPT, the new artificial intelligence model that has captured the imagination of millions, has strengths and weaknesses. Like any tool, it's good for some things and not good for others. The trick is to know what and how to use it. Plus, learn the English expression write (someone or something) off.


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Transcript

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What you should—and should not—do with ChatGPT

Lesson summary

Hi there, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English lesson number 575 for Thursday, May 25, 2023. The full lesson is available at PlainEnglish.com/575. That’s thanks to JR, the producer, who takes care of all that for us.

Last week, you learned about ChatGPT—the new large language model that has captured the world’s attention. There are pros and cons to ChatGPT: it’s good for some things; it’s not good for others. So on today’s lesson, we’ll talk about what you should use ChatGPT for and what you should not use ChatGPT for. In the second half of the lesson, I’ll tell you what it means to write something (or someone) off. And we have a song of the week.

Before we dive in, just a quick reminder that the doors are open to our ChatGPT challenge starting June 5, 2023. To sign up for that free five-day e-mail course, visit PlainEnglish.com/GPT. Now we’re ready!

Ways to use ChatGPT

Let’s switch things up and start with the things you should not do with ChatGPT. Then, once we have the cons out of the way, we can talk about some things you can safely do with ChatGPT. Here we go.

Number one: Sorry if this is a disappointment, but you can’t use ChatGPT as a research tool if you need it to generate correct facts. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: ChatGPT gets facts wrong. But before you write it off entirely, consider this : if you ask a direct question about a basic fact, a fact commonly written on the internet before 2021, then ChatGPT will probably get it right. The example from Monday was, “What is the capital of Canada?” That is a simple, direct question with a simple answer. The internet’s training data is full of material that directly states Ottawa is the capital of Canada, so ChatGPT will get that correct almost every time.

But if you ask it, “What are some great things to do with children in Ottawa, Canada, in the month of September?”—you might want to check your facts. This is a more subjective question. There’s less in the training data to help GPT get the right answer. ChatGPT doesn’t research the answer to your questions. It only predicts the correct answer based on what words are close to other words in its training set. The internet might not have a lot of data about what to do with children in Ottawa, Canada, in September.

So when there’s less training data on the specific topic, then the model needs to rely more on its predictive capabilities. That’s where things can go wrong; that’s when it starts making things up out of thin air . And unfortunately, it doesn’t ever tell you how much confidence it has in its answers. So you never know whether its answers are based primarily on data or primarily on guessing. And that leaves you blind. In these cases, you’d be better off doing research the old-fashioned way: searching on Google!

Number two: You can’t use ChatGPT to answer questions about values or to express a point of view. ChatGPT isn’t a person and doesn’t have logic or reasoning skills. It also doesn’t have values. So if you ask it a question about right or wrong, or if you ask it a question about what you should do, then you won’t get a satisfying answer.

You can’t ask ChatGPT to do any thinking or analysis. What’s more , ChatGPT is trained on data from the internet, and the internet contains some great data, but it also contains some inflammatory, biased, discriminatory language, too. So all that is baked into the cake—buyer beware.

Number three: You can’t use ChatGPT for anything recent. Its training data ends in 2021. Until the model changes fundamentally, you won’t be able to use it for anything recent, unless you program it into the prompt. If you ask for a list of books by your favorite author, it won’t include anything later than 2021.

So by now you must be thinking: ChatGPT is useless. It produces incorrect facts, can’t reason, can’t analyze, and doesn’t know anything later than 2021. Next!

Hear me out . There are several things ChatGPT is very good for. You just have to know what to use it for. There are a lot of good applications, but I’m going to give you a few general categories.

The first thing I like to use ChatGPT for is to generate ideas. Earlier I gave an example prompt, “What are some great things to do with children in Ottawa, Canada, in the month of September?” ChatGPT told me to take a child to a writers’ festival. Warning: do not take a child to a writers’ festival! That is no kid’s idea of fun. Chat GPT also told me to go to the auto show. Great idea! But the auto show is in March. Oops.

However, the response did give me several ideas of things to do in Ottawa, some of which are great for children, some of which are actually good in September—I confirmed. So I used my human intelligence, in combination with ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence, to learn about what to do in Ottawa in September. On this prompt, ChatGPT isn’t a silver bullet, but it isn’t an epic fail either.

How else can you use ChatGPT to generate ideas? I said before it can’t make decisions and doesn’t have values or reasoning skills. But you can ask ChatGPT to make a list of pros and cons of a decision. That won’t be the complete list, but it can at least get you thinking about the decision.

I do this myself. You know, the second half of each Plain English lesson is an English expression. So sometimes I ask ChatGPT to generate some example sentences using the expression. And if ChatGPT produces, say, seven examples, I won’t like four of them. I’ll just reject four right away. The other three I can work with. They’re usually very general; they’re not great examples, so I don’t use them directly. But it gets my mind thinking. It helps me generate my own ideas. It kind of gets me off to a good start.

That brings me to the second thing you can do with ChatGPT, which is to get your brain started. Sometimes, just getting started is half the battle. Do you respond to a lot of e-mails? Customer complaints? If so, you can have ChatGPT draft the reply to the e-mail. If a customer complains, you can ask ChatGPT to write a gracious reply. You’ll read it, of course. You’ll edit it if necessary. You might even change it entirely. But often, the draft will be just fine. And instead of writing a whole response from scratch , you can use ChatGPT to get you started. That can save you some mental energy.

If you manage a social media account for a business, you might give ChatGPT 5 facts about a new product and ask it to draft the content of the post. You can ask ChatGPT to speak in your brand voice. And read the result: you’ll probably change it, but it gets you started.

Here’s something else ChatGPT can do: it can manipulate language in different styles. A lot of people on the internet are having fun with this, saying things like: how do I change the brakes in a car? Explain it in the style of Shakespeare. Good wholesome fun!

But let’s say you’re reading an article about something you don’t really understand very well. You can ask ChatGPT to summarize it in simpler language. And it can summarize or re-write the article in a way that’s easier for you to understand.

You can also check the tone of your messages. For example, in business communication, I know I tend to be more direct and to-the-point. That’s not always the tone that’s most appropriate. So I can paste an e-mail and ask ChatGPT to re-write it in a tone that’s friendlier.

The same goes the other way. Let’s just say you’re not good at writing formal, business-like text. But you need a LinkedIn profile. You can give ChatGPT your bio and ask it to write your bio in a professional way, suitable for LinkedIn. Obviously, you’ll read it before you post it. But this can help you find the right tone for the right situation.

Learn ChatGPT with Plain English

Yes, I do realize the irony of what I said before and yes, it was a joke. I said the “old fashioned” way of doing research is to search on Google!

How times change. Well you can be on the cutting edge of the changing times with ChatGPT—and you can do it all with us, your favorite English-learning platform. That’s because, as I said on Monday, we are hosting a free five-day challenge about ChatGPT .

It’s not about learning English. The prompts—you guys are going to love the prompts, they are a lot of fun—the prompts are not about English learning. They are about real life.

But this is how I trick you into improving your English. None of the prompts—I promise you—are about grammar, expressions, quizzes, none of that. The prompts are fun and useful things to do in ChatGPT…but you’re going to do them with us in English. And without realizing it, you’re going to improve your English in the process because you’ll be interacting with the tool in English.

And listen, you’ll be reading and writing in this challenge. This is going to be so much fun, I cannot wait. The more people who join, the more people who participate, the more fun it’s going to be, because there’s a community element. It’s going to be on WhatsApp.

So go ahead and join now by visiting PlainEnglish.com/GPT and sign up there. The challenge starts June 5, so you’ve got a little bit over a week before it starts. But sign up now so you have plenty of time to get settled in before the challenge starts. PlainEnglish.com/GPT.

¿Hablas español?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into Spanish. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

你说中国话?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parlez-vous français?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Você fala português?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

日本語は話せますか?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Parli italiano?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

The transcript of this lesson is available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Sen Türkçe konuşmayı biliyor musun?

The transcripts of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Turkish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

Mówisz po polsku?

The transcript of Plain English lessons are available with interactive translations into your language. In each lesson transcript, we select about one hundred difficult words, phrases , and expressions for translation. Polish translations are available starting at Lesson 278.

How is this different than simply using a translation engine?

Translation engines are powerful tools for communicating in the modern world . However, they often miss the context and can either mislead you or leave you confused . Our human translators are here to make sure that you’re getting not only the correct definition, but also the full context .

How can I use the translations in my studies?

Most members use the translations as they are listening to the lesson and reading along . When you come across a word you don’t understand, you don’t have to press pause to discover the meaning . You can simply hover your mouse over the highlighted word . This lets you learn the definition of the word without having to press pause on the audio.

Do the translations work on mobile?

Yes! Instead of hovering over a highlighted word, just tap on it .

Can I see a sample?

Yes, please visit PlainEnglish.com/sample to see a sample episode with the Spanish translations.

How can I access the translations?

Translations are included in two memberships: Plain English Plus+ and Starter. Choose a plan and get started today!

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