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chatGPT as tutor and Google-killer

Like so many others, I have been blown away by the capability of chatGPT since its release in late November.  There has been a lot of focus on content creation – articles, poetry, lyrics, stories, etc – but one of its most powerful features is the ability to drill down into its “understanding” of a subject.  This capability is more private-tutor than search engine and Google should be rightfully concerned.

Nuclear Fusion (an example)

At the end of December (2022), the global media reported on the incredible achievement that scientists at National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California successfully produced more energy from a nuclear fusion reaction that was put into it.  Although years away, this was a major breakthrough on the path to create limitless, clean energy for the world.

Despite this momentous event and all of the explainer-journalism that followed, many people were probably still unsure what this actually meant.

If you wanted to learn more, you could have turned to Google.  But a search on “what is nuclear fusion” would result in a dictionary definition at the top of the results and then a number of pages of results that tried to answer that question.

The onus is on you, to look through these pages and read long explanations with the strong possibility of confusing yourself in the process.

Enter chatGPT as tutor:

The initial question is simply – “what is nuclear fusion?”

And I instantly get back a short but standard answer.  But I still don’t understand.

How about – “what does that mean?”

My new tutor has the “curse of knowledge” and so simply restates the original answer using different words.

I can ask it to explain it more simply :

I would like to know how this is achieved, but would like to keep the answer simple:

OK, not exactly simple but I am starting to get it – how about if it uses an analogy to explain it.. perhaps that will help.

And there you have the power of chatGPT in answering questions that blows “Googling” out of the water.  This ability to have a conversation where the “bot” remembers what you were talking about means that you are not starting from scratch each time.  It means that you can drill down on the information that you want explained in more detail and because chatGPT is exceptional at generating text (and not just serving up web pages), it can respond in unique ways – analogies in particular are incredibly powerful.

A lot has been made of chatGPT’s potential to allow students to cheat on their term papers and dissertations, but there has not been enough discussion on the teaching potential of this technology.  As a naturally curious person, I find myself turning to chatGPT to help me better understand topics where my knowledge is light and it has changed my relationship with the technology from curiosity to personal assistant to private tutor. Wow.

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