I used ChatGPT for a day for searches instead of Google, and I found it scarily impressive

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ChatGPT, a AI chat bot, has gone viral in the past two weeks.

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  • ChatGPT is a chatbot that relies upon artificial intelligence to generate text.
  • The bot writes essays, poems, and can even be used as a search engine.
  • Here’s my take on using ChatGPT instead of Google for a day.

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Technology’s “next big thing” may have emerged last month.

It’s called ChatGPT, which is a chatbot developed by an artificial intelligence company OpenAI. The difference between ChatGPT and an average chatbot is that the former relies on an emerging technology called “generative” artificial intelligence (AI), which means it can produce its own content as opposed to just responding to existing content. 

Aside from the obvious applications — writing cover letters, poems, and jokes to impress your boss — ChatGPT can also serve as a search engine.

That has been troubling news for search-engine king Google, which issued a “code red” on the potentially competitive technology in late December, with CEO Sundar Pichai redirecting certain teams to boost its focus on AI products, Insider reported

At the same time, concerns have emerged about ChatGPT’s potential to spew out biased and misinformed content. Others have argued that the tool isn’t as smart as people are making it out to be

As a lifelong Google user, I thought it prudent to see what life might look like if online search is indeed overtaken by this buzzy new chatbot.

Here’s what happened when I spent a day searching terms on ChatGPT. 

On Christmas Day, I woke up around 9 a.m. I usually check the weather via an app on the iPhone. Instead, I turned to my new encyclopedia for the day and typed in “what is the weather today.”

“I’m sorry, but I am unable to provide current weather information as my training data only goes up until 2021.”

That’s 1 point for Google. I then asked it for the weather on December 25, 2020 since that was in the applicable date range.

“I’m sorry, but I do not have access to historical weather data for specific dates. Is there anything else I may be able to help with?”

I was home with my parents for the holiday, so I explained my project to them. My father, a chemical engineer, was intrigued. He suggested I ask it for the definition of an atom.

ChatGPT’s reply:

“An atom is the basic unit of matter that makes up all chemical elements. Atoms are made up of a small, dense nucleus containing positively charged protons and neutral neutrons, surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The number of protons in the nucleus determines the identity of the element, and the arrangement of the electrons around the nucleus determines the chemical and physical properties of the element.

Atoms can bond together to form molecules, which are the building blocks of most substances, including living things. The study of atoms and their properties is known as atomic physics.”

My dad thought the answer was passable, worthy of a B+, in his books. There were certain words he thought were unnecessary. He suggested I ask it for the definition of osmosis.

“Osmosis is the movement of a solvent (such as water) through a semi-permeable membrane (a membrane that allows some substances to pass through but not others) from an area of low solute concentration (dilute solution) to an area of high solute concentration (concentrated solution) until the concentration of solute is equal on both sides of the membrane.

In other words, osmosis is the process by which water moves through a membrane in order to balance the concentration of solutes on either side of the membrane. This process is important in many biological systems, as it allows cells to maintain a balance of water and solutes inside and outside the cell.

For example, in plant cells, osmosis helps to regulate the amount of water inside the cell, which is important for maintaining the shape and turgor (the state of being swollen or turgid) of the cell. In animal cells, osmosis helps to maintain the proper balance of water and electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium ions) in the body, which is essential for proper functioning.”

This response got an A+ from him. I thought the answer was a bit long, but it saved me the time of skimming two or three Google searches on the topic. My next query was asking about what to have for breakfast.

“There are many options for a healthy breakfast. Some ideas include:

  1. Overnight oats: Combine rolled oats, yogurt, milk, and any desired toppings (such as fruit, nuts, or seeds) in a jar or container and let sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning, you’ll have a creamy, tasty breakfast ready to go.
  2. Scrambled eggs: Scramble eggs in a pan with some diced vegetables, such as bell peppers and onions, for added nutrients. Serve with whole grain toast or a piece of fruit.
  3. Breakfast smoothie: Blend together your favorite frozen fruit, a scoop of protein powder, and some milk or yogurt for a quick and easy breakfast on the go.
  4. Whole grain waffles or pancakes: Top with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup for a tasty treat.
  5. Breakfast burrito: Fill a whole grain tortilla with scrambled eggs, black beans, avocado, and any other desired toppings for a protein-packed breakfast.

Remember to include a source of protein in your breakfast to help keep you full and satisfied throughout the morning.”

I was shocked. The suggestions were not only healthy, but easy to make. As a vegetarian, I was surprised to see they were all herbivore-friendly. My brother and I went for option 4. Then we asked ChatGPT what to do in West Bloomfield, Michigan, where my parents live.

“West Bloomfield, Michigan is a suburb of Detroit located in Oakland County. Some things to do in West Bloomfield include:

  1. Visit Marshbank Park, a popular spot for hiking, picnicking, and fishing.
  2. Play a round of golf at one of the area’s many public or private golf courses.
  3. Explore the West Bloomfield Woods Nature Preserve, a 125-acre natural area featuring walking trails and a variety of wildlife.
  4. Take a stroll around Orchard Lake, a beautiful lake with a public beach and several parks.
  5. Check out the West Bloomfield Farmers Market, held on Sundays in the summer, for fresh produce and locally made goods.
  6. Go shopping at the Orchard Mall or one of the many other shopping centers in the area.
  7. Visit the West Bloomfield Family Aquatic Center, a popular spot for swimming and water play in the summer months.
  8. Catch a movie at the Emagine Entertainment theater.
  9. Enjoy a meal at one of the many local restaurants, ranging from casual to fine dining.”

By this point my skepticism was beginning to fade. ChatGPT’s answers included activities I had never even heard of even though my parents had been living in West Bloomfield for years. I was curious to see what it would suggest for New York, where I normally live.

“New York City is a vibrant and exciting place with a wide variety of things to see and do. Some suggestions for activities in New York City include:

  1. Visit iconic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and the Empire State Building.
  2. Explore the city’s many museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of Modern Art.
  3. Take a stroll through one of the city’s diverse neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Little Italy, or Greenwich Village.
  4. Check out a Broadway show or a performance at one of the city’s many theaters.
  5. Go shopping in some of the city’s famous department stores or browse the unique offerings at local boutiques and markets.
  6. Enjoy a meal at one of the city’s many restaurants, featuring cuisine from all over the world.
  7. Visit the High Line, an elevated park built on an abandoned railroad track.
  8. Take a trip to the top of the Rockefeller Center for a panoramic view of the city.
  9. Enjoy a sunset cruise around the island of Manhattan.”

These responses were a little less impressive as they seemed like suggestions from a generic guidebook. My brother, a senior in college who recently finished a class on Sufi art, suggested I ask about the “best Islamic artist.”

“It is difficult to determine the best Islamic artist as art is a subjective and personal matter, and what one person may consider the best may not be the same for someone else. Islamic art is a diverse and rich tradition that encompasses a wide range of styles and media, including calligraphy, miniature painting, ceramics, textiles, and architecture. Some notable Islamic artists include:

  1. Hassan Massoudy, an Iraqi-born artist known for his expressive calligraphy and fusion of traditional and modern styles.
  2. Mahmoud Farshchian, an Iranian master of traditional Persian miniature painting.
  3. Farid Belkahia, a Moroccan painter and sculptor who was a pioneer of modern Moroccan art.
  4. Mona Hatoum, a Palestinian artist who works in a variety of media, including sculpture, installation, and video.
  5. Kamal Boullata, a Palestinian painter and art historian who has written extensively about modern Arab art.

It is important to note that the term “Islamic art” refers to art created by or for Muslims, and does not necessarily refer to art that depicts religious themes or motifs. The art of the Islamic world is diverse and reflects the wide range of cultures and societies within the Muslim world.”

ChatGPT was turning out to be more diplomatic than I expected. I tried something more controversial— what did it think of Elon Musk?

“As an AI, I do not have personal opinions or feelings. I am programmed to provide objective and factual information to the best of my ability based on my training and knowledge.

Elon Musk is a successful entrepreneur and CEO of several companies, including SpaceX and Tesla. He is known for his innovative ideas and his work on developing electric vehicles and reusable rockets. Some people have praised Musk for his efforts to advance technology and promote sustainability, while others have criticized him for his business practices and controversial statements.”

Impressively neutral. My mom, heading out to the grocery store, chimed in with a more practical question. What was the average gas mileage of a Mini Cooper?

The fuel efficiency of a Mini Cooper will depend on the specific model and year of the vehicle, as well as the type of fuel it uses. Here are the EPA-estimated fuel efficiency ratings for some popular Mini Cooper models:

  • Mini Cooper Hardtop:
    • Gasoline: 28 mpg city/38 mpg highway/32 mpg combined
    • Diesel: 36 mpg city/40 mpg highway/38 mpg combined
  • Mini Cooper Convertible:
    • Gasoline: 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway/29 mpg combined
    • Diesel: 35 mpg city/39 mpg highway/37 mpg combined
  • Mini Cooper Clubman:
    • Gasoline: 27 mpg city/35 mpg highway/30 mpg combined
    • Diesel: 35 mpg city/39 mpg highway/37 mpg combined

It’s important to note that these estimates are based on laboratory testing and may not reflect real-world driving conditions. Actual fuel efficiency can vary depending on factors such as driving habits, road conditions, and vehicle maintenance.”

As the day ended, my family debated the best movie to watch. Naturally, I posed the question to ChatGPT.

It is difficult for me to provide a list of the top movies currently as my knowledge was cut-off in 2021 and I am not able to browse the internet to find current information. In general, the popularity of movies can vary widely and depend on a variety of factors, such as the quality of the film, the talent of the actors, and the marketing efforts of the studios. Some popular movies may be highly rated by critics and audiences, while others may be less well-received. It is always a good idea to read reviews or watch trailers before deciding to see a movie, to get a sense of whether it is likely to be something you will enjoy.”

Overall, my entire family was impressed by ChatGPT. I felt like it definitely saved me a few steps over using Google. Most of the answers it generated felt balanced yet informative.

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lvaranasi@insider.com Lakshmi Varanasi