what is chat gpt

What is Chat GPT?

An overview of ChatGPT, how it was made, what it does, and teaching tips for sharing the good and bad aspects of this new tool.

People everywhere are asking, “What is Chat GPT?” and “Why does it matter?” I'll admit when I first went into Chat GPT earlier this year, I was not particularly impressed. However, I soon realized that my lack of knowledge about how to prompt the tool affected the quality of the results I received.  Additionally, I didn't know I could give feedback to improve the prompt.  Furthermore, I also didn't understand how it worked or what it was used to do. Therefore, as I've always done on this blog, my students and I began studying this tool to understand the big fuss.

This post is written entirely by me although I've enlisted the help of Grammarly Pro catch typos. As a classroom teacher, I'm diving in to break down the essential high-level elements to teach to my students. Because this is an emerging field, I've supported my points with various sources and given you resources to dig deeper. Additionally, I've included screenshots to explain the interface. I've quoted sources and given you places to dig deeper. This is Day 4 of the 80 Days of AI where you can dig in to learn more.

The purpose of this post is to:

1. What is Chat GPT?

OpenAI created Chat GPT, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Chatbot. This means that you can have a conversation with it.

While the Chat GPT on the OpenAI site is text-based, they have created an API. An API allows other tools to use Chat GPT technology. So, for example, the Promptheaus extension or TalkBerry for Google Chrome lets you use your voice to ask Chat GPT questions

Moreover, the ability to create good prompts has gained a new term called “Prompt Engineering,” which, as my friend Steve Dembo said in the post on Thursday, may be important initially but could diminish in the long run as AI improves.

AI Acronym

Chat GPT

ChatGPT stands for "Chat-based generative pre-trained transformer." According to the Engage AI Institute

"In this case, the model: (1) can generate responses to questions (Generative); (2) was trained in advance on a large amount of the written material available on the web (Pre-trained); (3) and can process sentences differently than other types of models (Transformer).

3 Simple Points to Explain Chat GPT

So, in simple terms, as you teach about this tool, understand that:

1. First, Chat GPT needs to be prompted. (Generative)

2. Second, OpenAI trained ChatGPT using written material ON THE WEB (more on this later) (Pre-Trained)

3. Thirdly, Chat GPT processes sentences differently than other models out there. This uniqueness means that no two responses are ever alike. Each response remains unique as the model uses algorithms to select the next word. This is a feature of its transformer architecture.(Transformer) 

CLASSROOM OBSERVATION: This is why when my students and I used Chat GPT to write TicTacToe programs in the Python language, all ten were different, and only eight of them worked.

RESOURCE: The Engage AI Institute's Glossary of AI Terms for Educators has some fantastic definitions for more terms than I will share here as you embark on your learning journey.

2. What is Chat GPT Not?

First, it is critical to understand that Chat GPT is NOT a search engine. Some people might find it surprising that this tool can provide incorrect information, commonly referred to as “hallucinations.” Therefore, we should verify the “facts” that it tells us, mainly because it does not always accurately cite sources (even when you ask it to.)

Secondly, if you look at the Chat GPT information from Open AI, you will learn that this tool has been trained on “vast amounts of data from the internet written by humans, including conversations.” Additionally, OpenAI captured this data before 2021, so the tool's understanding of events and the world post-2021 may be flawed.

Thirdly, when they initially trained Chat GPT, human vetting couldn't cover every piece of information. As a result, Chat GPT absorbed information without knowing whether it was factual or fictional. If it encountered a body of false or misleading data, it might consider it true and relay incorrect information. Therefore, you should always cross-reference the tool's statements with information from a reliable search engine.

However, the feedback process helps to correct inaccurate information, especially when the original user points out an error to Chat GPT. I teach my students that it is our responsibility to correct AI when it reveals error in fact or behavior that exhibits bias.

AI Definition

Training Data

Training data is "an extremely large dataset that is used to teach a machine learning (ML) model" (Techopedia). In this case, ChatGPT is a type of Machine Learning called a Large Language Model (LLM). According to Molly Ruby of Toward Data Science, "LLMs digest huge quantities of text data and infer relationships between words within the text." OpenAI called this process "generative pre-training (GP).

TEACHING TIP: ChatGPT learns from human-created content. As we know, humans have biases, make mistakes, and draw wrong conclusions. Therefore, you can expect ChatGPT to have potential bias, make mistakes, and draw wrong conclusions as well.

As you study AI, understanding the data used to train the model is vital to understanding how to use it. Training data has three forms:

Training Data Form 1. Unsupervised ML Models.

In unsupervised models, the training data is not labeled. 

TEACHING TIP: In their June 2018 abstract,  Improving Language Understanding by Generative Pre-Training, Open AI scientists created a method allowing ChatGPT to learn from mass quantities of unlabeled data followed by "discriminate fine-tuning" on each task because it would provide "a significant performance boost.) Therefore, much of the Chat GPT's data set  is not human reviewed. However, as they state in their paper, without this, ChatGPT might not exist.

Training Data Form 2. Supervised ML Models.

In this case, the training data is labeled in some way. It could be labeled "true or false" or with some other sort of data. Obviously, this could slow down the training process, but if data is labeled accurately, it can provide many benefits to the output. For example, when ChatGPT moved from its 3.0 model to the 3.5 model we are using today, Open AI hired 40 contractors to create a supervised data set. Prompts were collected from user input, and the labelers wrote appropriate responses. So, now the new GPT 3.5 model is called the SFT Model for (Supervised Fine Tuning).  That said, it is a huge dataset and much hasn't been reviewed by humans.

TEACHING TIP: We need to know that our prompts can and likely will be read by those hired as part of Open AI's SFT work. So, we should not put anything in a prompt we do not want to read by a stranger. This includes asking ChatGPT to revise a strategic plan, revision of confidential information of any kind, or things that include names, addresses, places, or anything that should be protected for privacy or legal reasons. This applies to any AI tool using SFT. However, it seems you need SFT to create a good model. This is the Human Intelligence (HI) that makes AI so powerful.

Training Data Form 3. Reinforcement.

In reinforcement learning, the model's performance is evaluated and it learns based on feedback. 

TEACHING TIP: As you interact with ChatGPT you can give it feedback on its response. As you do, you may even see it admit mistakes, converse with you, or seemingly change "opinion." However, the reviewers labeling the data behind the scenes may also review your prompt and the response. For this reason, you should scrutinize each site's privacy policy using AI Chatbots for how their reinforcement learning is happening.

RESOURCE: Read more at 365 Data Science, Toward Data Science, and Open AI's Research Brief.

3. What are the Concerns about Chat GPT?

Understandably, OpenAI warns users about not using it for medical information.  OpenAI says

“OpenAI's models are not fine-tuned to provide medical information. You should never use our models to provide diagnostic or treatment services for serious medical conditions.”

However, as some users report, if they instruct ChatGPT to avoid negative responses, it complies and will only tell you positive things. Accordingly, it does not warn users every time when they ask potentially harmful or dangerous questions.

For example, a company named Nabla attempted to see in various healthcare scenarios. In one test, the GPT-3 version disturbingly recommended suicide to a simulated patient. 

Even more troubling is the ethical slips of some companies. In one example, Rob Morris, founder of Koko, a free therapy program admitted on Twitter that they were using GPT-3 to provide mental health support to their users. In this case, they had a “copilot” approach where the humans supervised the AI “as needed” for about 30,000 messages. Furthermore, he did this solely relying upon the standard agreement users had initially signed without further disclosures. Many condemned this as highly unethical, and I agree. This is a case study to help us understand that chatbots may not be disclosing their use of the ChatGPT technology, and trusting chats without such disclosures should be concerning to us.

TEACHING TIP: Every teacher studying this tool should read Open AI's “Disallowed usage of our models.” on their Usage Policies. While you might not share this list with students (for obvious reasons), if an item is on the list, it is because it has been observed.

Open AI Disclosure Requirements for ChatGPT

“We have further requirements for certain uses of our models:

  1. Consumer-facing uses of our models in medical, financial, and legal industries; in news generation or news summarization; and where else warranted, must provide a disclaimer to users informing them that AI is being used and of its potential limitations.
  2. Automated systems (including conversational AI and chatbots) must disclose to users that they are interacting with an AI system. With the exception of chatbots that depict historical public figures, products that simulate another person must either have that person's explicit consent or be clearly labeled as “simulated” or “parody.”
  3. Use of model outputs in livestreams, demonstrations, and research are subject to our Sharing & Publication Policy.

You can use our free moderation endpoint and safety best practices to help you keep your app safe.”

From OpenAI: Usage Policies.

The Risk of ChatGPT Use by Minors

My Dad always told me, “Don't gamble with what you cannot afford to lose.”

Notably, the risks with Chatbots, which authoritatively mimic human language without the morality or ethical compass to understand the implications of response, can be hazardous. Therefore, eagerly jumping into AI without understanding the harmful implications is foolhardy. 

Our children are already asking ChatGPT questions about their mental health. And as I've said in my podcast Generative AI, ChatGPT, and Learningage considerations and mandatory disclosures should happen. Although ChatGPT requires users to be 18, many students have accessed it without facing an age-related question. Without proper verification, some students will lie about their age to access the technology they desire, unaware of the privacy risks or potential inaccuracies.

Understandably, students don't understand privacy concerns or that the content could be inaccurate. Therefore, this is why we're discussing, and I'm teaching about this tool. The risks are too significant for my students to be uneducated.

AI Definition

Asilomar AI Principles

Recently, a group of AI scientists and leaders, wrote an open letter demanding the halt of any technology past GPT 4 being developed for the next six months.

(I pondered this on my own blog post Should AI Be Stopped as many of the business people signing the letter, I wonder if they signed it for competitive reasons vs. altruistic reasons. However, as a former pastor once said "low motivation is better than no motivation" so the concerns remain valid.)

In the Asilomar principles state guidelines for research, ethics, and values, and long-term issues with the goal of AI being "to create not undirected intelligence, but beneficial intelligence." It also states that "teams developing AI systems should actively cooperate to avoid corner-cutting on safety standards." Furthermore, it talks about avoiding an arms race in lethal autonomous weapons, something which should also concern every person on this planet.

Teaching Tip: Discuss the Asilomar AI Principles with students. Read them yourself. Consider the implications if we use AI Tools from companies not committed to these principles or if the government does not consider regulations of industries using AI tools like ChatGPT. 

Resources: Asilomar AI Principles, Pause Giant AI Experiments: An Open Letter, OpenAI: Usage Policies

4. How Do I Use ChatGPT?

First, sign up for an account at https://openai.com/blog/chatgpt. Remember that while it uses the GPT 3.5 or GPT 4.0 engine, it isn't the same because ChatGPT contains additional instructions from OPENAI.

Is ChatGPT free? Remember that you start with a “Research” version when you sign up.  The “free” version will not work when they are over capacity. However, a paid version for $20/month lets you use the GPT4 engine and always gives you access to ChatGPT.

The ChatGPT Interface

It looks so simple, but let's go through the four screens. Amazingly, in just four screenshots, you'll know all you need to know about interacting with ChatGPT's interface.

Note that in this example, I'm using a sample prompt recommended for college students studying tough subjects on the prompt site FlowGPT.  (I do not endorse the word “dumb” but nevertheless wanted the experience of using this prompt as is.)

Screenshot #1

The Chat List Box for ChatGPT

This box on the left saves your chats. You can rename the titles and delete chats. However, deleting chats from the left does not delete it from the training data in OpenAI. It remains in the data attached to your account inside their database.

The chat list on the left side of the screen
The Chat list on the left side of the ChatGPT screen: It saves the chats on the left Pencil - You can rename them with the pencil. Trash Can - Remember that deleting your chat doesn't delete it from OpenAI, they still have the chat unless you delete your whole account and request data deletion.
Screenshot #2

Selection of the Engine This Chat Will Use

In the pro version of ChatGPT, you can select the current 3.5 engine or the experimental 4.0 version. You cannot change this after you have begun. GPT-4 has limitations in the number of prompts you can give it a day.

The ability to select the engine is available inside the pro version of ChatGPT. In this case, I've chosen the GPT-4 Engine.
The ability to select the engine is available inside the pro version of ChatGPT. In this case, I've chosen the GPT-4 Engine.
Screenshot #3

Prompting ChatGPT

In this prompt, I created a bot named LAN GPT. This was a prompt idea I located on a prompt website. These prompt idea websites are springing up. While I can copy this prompt, once I've created the "bot" I can return to it in my chat list on the left. It gets "smarter" as I provide it more feedback and use it more.

In this case, I've pasted in a prompt from FlowGPT recommended for college students. Notice the informal language and descriptive nature.
In this case, I've pasted in a prompt from FlowGPT recommended for college students. Notice the informal language and descriptive nature. You won't start off like this but this shows you where it can go.
Screenshot #4

AI Response

In this case, I've trained ChatGPT to respond in a way to set up our interaction. However, it will respond with the typical icon as you interact with it.

You can see that ChatGPT has responded with a question, ready to behave like a bot that I have "trained" in a certain way. This is a more advanced example of the use of ChatGPT but hints at the power of this tool.
You can see that ChatGPT has responded with a question, ready to behave like a bot that I have "trained" in a certain way. This is a more advanced example of the use of ChatGPT but hints at the power of this tool.

Prompt Engineering

When I started, I didn't get great results because I didn't know what to ask it. While this may be the word of the moment, there is some truth to knowing how to ask it questions. I've included some examples to get you started and an infographic I've created to help “prompt” some ideas for those of you experimenting.

I will return to this on Monday's post as I don't want this post to be too long already. I will give you a few prompts to get you started and then share the infographic.

OK Prompt

“Write a story.”

Better Prompt

Write a story about two boys named Bob and John who live in Alaska and have a dog named zipper. They fight a polar bear and save their village.

Best Prompt

“Write a 500-word story about two boys named Bob and John who live in the cold wilderness of Alaska. They have a dog named Zipper who likes to run off at the worst times playfully.  They fight the dangers of the wilds of Alaska, including a polar bear, and save their village. Use descriptive language depicting the beauty of Alaska as you tell the story.”

So, in case you decide to copy and use my prompt, I'm going to share the output I received from GPT-4 with this last prompt. See what you think and compare what it tells you in your story. See how they are different?

The First part of the story from ChatGPT
This is the first part of the story from ChatGPT. Note that I am not copying and pasting from ChatGPT as search engines are already detecting and seem to be penalizing bot-written copy. So all of you thinking it is cute to let ChatGPT write for you -- bad idea.
I set a word limit on this
The second part of this story. I did set a word limit on this but was quite pleased with the result.

Teaching Tip: If you teach older students who may have an account, use the same prompts as I did in my AI Investigation Lesson Plan here and have discussions about how they are different.  Or modify them.

Quick Handout

Prompt Engineering Tips for ChatGPT

I will blog on this more next week as part of the 80 Days of AI, but here's the infographic I've created to use for that post so you can get started on your journey.

Get Started with Chat GPT Prompt Engineering
How to get started with prompt engineering with ChatGPT

Start Learning

Intentional learning is a decision. I hope this gets you started on your journey. I look forward to learning from you. Please share your resources and thoughts in the comments here or message me on Twitter. And come right back here or join my newsletter in the box below to join me for #80DaysofAIandHI. I'm so excited to learn. 

And as I've said before. If you want to learn, write about it. And to write about it, you have to use your Human Intelligence and write it yourself. Good writing will be part of learning, so let's figure out how to make it happen. And if you're concerned about academic honesty, I shared some about what to do when you suspect a paper is written by AI. This is an emerging area as well. 

Have a happy day, and always keep learning! 

Did you find this post helpful? Check out more posts from the 80 Days of AI and HI. While I'm still teaching in the classroom, I'm available for a few workshops, keynotes, and speeches each year. If you are interested in connecting, contact me. 

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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The Cool Cat Teacher Blog
Vicki Davis writes The Cool Cat Teacher Blog for classroom teachers everywhere