Fun with GPT-3

GPT-3…that’s the Generative Pretrained Transformer…is an artificial intelligence system that has been getting a lot of attention in the tech world of late.  Created by OpenAI, the system is designed to work with languages…or other forms of text data structured in some way, such as computer code…it takes an input and transforms it into a response or creation which is predicted to be useful in a particular domain.  Several people have remarked that GPT-3 answers to questions are much more coherent and easy to understand than are Google Search results for the same query.

One implementation based on GPT-3 is ChatGPT. It has been trained on vast quantities of data pulled from the Internet (up through 2021), and is supposed to be able to answer questions like: “Explain quantum computing in simple terms”, “Got any creative ideas for a 10 year old’s birthday?”, and “How do I make an HTTP request in Javascript?”  The system is available for demo use, so I tried it out.

First, let’s ask some questions about literature and history….

My question:  Summarize fiction and nonfiction books about social impact of first world war

GPT’s response:  The First World War had a profound impact on society, both during and after the conflict. In fiction, many books have explored the effects of the war on individuals and communities. For example, “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque tells the story of a group of young German soldiers who are sent to fight in the war and the devastating effects it has on their lives. Other fiction books that explore the social impact of the war include “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway and “Parade’s End” by Ford Madox Ford.

In nonfiction, there are many books that delve into the broader social impact of the war. For instance, “The Great War and Modern Memory” by Paul Fussell examines how the war affected the way people think and remember the conflict. “The Guns of August” by Barbara Tuchman is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book that looks at the origins of the war and how it quickly escalated. “The First World War” by John Keegan is a comprehensive overview of the conflict, including its causes and consequences.

My evaluation:  Not bad…maybe a B- for a high school senior (in a non-honors class).

My question:  Review some novels about WWI

I’m sorry, but I am not able to browse the internet, so I cannot provide a list of novels about World War I. However, some well-known novels about World War I include “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway, and “The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane. These novels are known for their realistic depiction of the war and the impact it had on the soldiers who fought in it.

My evaluation: Obviously it doesn’t need to browse the current Internet to deal with historical events and books written about them prior to its cutoff date of 2021, not clear why it begged off on this one whereas it answered the last one.  It did go ahead and list three novels, but one of them had nothing to do with WWI.  A grade of D- at best.

Question:  Is Remarque’s The Road Back similar to his All Quiet on the Western Front?

Yes, both of these novels were written by Erich Maria Remarque and they both deal with the experiences of soldiers in World War I. The Road Back is a sequel to All Quiet on the Western Front and continues the story of the main character, Paul Bäumer, as he struggles to adjust to civilian life after the war. Like its predecessor, The Road Back is a powerful and moving exploration of the psychological effects of war on the human spirit.

My evaluation: Correctly identified the theme of the book, but got the name of the main character wrong.  D+.



My question: Social effects of inflation, with historical and literary examples?

GPT’s Response:

Inflation is a general increase in prices and fall in the purchasing power of money. This can have a number of social effects, some of which can be negative. For example, inflation can lead to a decrease in people’s standard of living, as their money is worth less and they are able to buy fewer goods and services. This can lead to an increase in poverty, as people are unable to afford basic necessities.

Inflation can also lead to an increase in inequality, as those with fixed incomes, such as pensioners, may see their purchasing power decline, while those with variable incomes, such as those who own businesses, may be able to adjust their prices to compensate for the increase in costs.

Historically, high levels of inflation have been associated with economic instability and social unrest. For example, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, high levels of inflation in the United States were accompanied by widespread protests and social upheaval. Similarly, in the Weimar Republic of Germany, hyperinflation in the 1920s led to widespread economic hardship and social disruption.

In literature, inflation and its effects have been a common theme, with many authors using it as a backdrop for their stories. For example, in George Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm,” the inflation of the animals’ currency, known as “Squealers,” is used to symbolize the erosion of their wealth and the eventual collapse of their society. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the character of Gatsby is able to amass great wealth through illicit means, but is ultimately unable to protect it from the ravages of inflation.

Pretty decent, again about a B- for a high school senior.

Now let’s try some technology questions:

My question:  Who invented the jet engine?

The jet engine was invented by Sir Frank Whittle, an English pilot and engineer. Whittle was the first person to develop the concept of the jet engine, and he is credited with designing and building the first practical jet engine in the early 1940s. He was awarded a patent for his jet engine in 1930, and he continued to work on refining and improving the design over the next several years. His work paved the way for the development of modern jet aircraft, which have become an essential form of transportation all around the world.


My  evaluation:  True as far as it goes, but leaves out the fact that there was also a German invention of the jet engine at roughly the same time.  Grade: C.
I gave GPT3 a thumbs-down on this answer yesterday, explaining where it failed, and, interestingly, when I asked it the same question today, I got:
The invention of the jet engine is usually credited to Sir Frank Whittle, an English Royal Air Force officer and engineer who is credited with developing the concept of the jet engine in the early 1930s. Whittle patented his idea for a jet engine in 1930, and he and a team of engineers built and tested the first practical jet engine in 1941. However, the first successful jet-powered aircraft, the German Heinkel He 178, took flight several years earlier in 1939.
My evaluation:  Better, though the name of the German inventor (Hans von Ohain) should have also been mentioned, given that the questions was ‘WHO invented the jet engine?’  Grade: B-.
My question:  How do automatic elevators work?


Automatic elevators use sensors and computer algorithms to move people or goods between floors in a building. The sensors help the elevator detect where it is in the shaft and where it needs to go, and the computer algorithms help it move efficiently and safely. When a person enters the elevator and selects a floor, the computer receives this information and uses it to determine the best route to that floor. The elevator then moves along its track, using motors and pulleys to lift or lower itself, until it reaches the desired floor. Once the elevator arrives at the destination, the doors open and the passengers can exit.

My evaluation: OK, although the response doesn’t really contain much information.  Grade: B.  Let’s try a follow-on question….

Can you make an automatic elevator without computers?

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to make an automatic elevator without the use of computers. The complex algorithms and calculations that are used to control the movement of the elevator would be too difficult for a person to perform manually. Additionally, the sensors and other equipment that are used to detect the elevator’s position and movement would be difficult to operate without the use of computers. In short, while it might be possible to make an elevator without computers, it would not be an automatic elevator in the traditional sense.

This gets an F, because the answer is just wrong.  I so informed it, and asked the same question again today.  The response:

It is possible to design and build an elevator system without using computers, but it would likely be a very basic and limited system. Modern elevators use computers to control and coordinate their movements, monitor their operation, and provide a range of safety features and conveniences for users. Without computers, an elevator system would likely be much slower and less efficient, and would not be able to offer the same level of safety or comfort. It is also worth noting that many building codes and safety regulations now require the use of computers in elevator systems, so building a non-computerized elevator may not be allowed in some places.

Better, but “very basic and limited system” would have to include the multiple elevators installed in the Empire State Building beginning in the 1930s. I also wonder about the assertion re building codes…could this really be true?  I’ll say a C-.

Back to literature and history:

My question:  Write a detailed review of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon

Darkness at Noon is a novel written by Arthur Koestler, first published in 1941. It is a powerful and thought-provoking work that explores the consequences of totalitarianism and the effects of government-controlled thought on individuals.

The novel is set in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist purges of the late 1930s. It centers on the character of Rubashov, a former high-ranking Communist Party official who has been arrested and imprisoned for crimes against the state. Throughout the novel, Rubashov is subjected to various forms of psychological torture and interrogation as he struggles to maintain his integrity and hold on to his beliefs in the face of overwhelming pressure from his interrogators.

One of the key themes of the novel is the tension between individual conscience and the demands of the state. Rubashov, like many of the other characters in the novel, is a true believer in the ideals of communism, but he is forced to confront the reality of the corrupt and oppressive regime that has taken over the country. As he grapples with his own personal dilemma, he must also confront the fact that his own actions have contributed to the suffering of others.

Another important theme of the novel is the idea of the “show trial,” in which individuals are falsely accused and convicted of crimes in order to maintain the appearance of justice and to reinforce the government’s power. Through the character of Rubashov, Koestler illustrates the devastating effects of such trials on the individuals involved and on society as a whole.

Overall, Darkness at Noon is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that serves as a warning about the dangers of totalitarianism and the need for individuals to maintain their integrity and stand up for their beliefs. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the Soviet Union and the consequences of government-controlled thought.

Pretty decent…Grade:A-.

So far, I’d say it’s a pretty impressive system, but don’t think I’d want to trust it at this point for anything important.  While it’s true that the responses are generally more on-point and understandable than Google Search, the price you pay for that is that you only get one answer, so you can miss important perspectives…and sometimes, it’s just wrong, as the example of the automated elevators makes clear.  (At one point, it confused Erich Maria Remarque with Ernst Junger)

GPT Chat is only one application of GPT-3…it is available as an API (an application programming interface), and is being imbedded into a wide range of applications.  One interesting application that was mentioned at Twitter:

I mentor a young lad with poor literacy skills who is starting a landscaping business. He struggles to communicate with clients in a professional manner. I created a GPT3-powered Gmail account to which he sends a message. It responds with the text to send to the client.

It turned””Sally I am starts works at yours monday from dave”


I hope this email finds you well.  I am writing to let you know that I will be starting work with you on Monday.  I am really looking forward to getting started.  

If you have any questions or need any help with anything, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Another guy said he used ChatGPT to help with writing code, and that he’d easily pay $1k/month for it, and probably more.  He mentioned a 2X productivity improvement, though I think this was ChatGPT in conjunction with some other tool.

My sense is that this technology is going to indeed be quite significant, though maybe not to the level or with the timing that some advocates are expecting.  And, of course, there are some dangers.  Here’s Marc Andreessen:

The level of censorship pressure that’s coming for AI and the resulting backlash will define the next century of civilization. Search and social media were the opening skirmishes. This is the big one. World War Orwell.

Who is OpenAI?  OpenAI LLP is a for-profit corporation whose parent is the non-profit OpenAI Inc…it is considered a competitor of Alphabet’s Deepmind.  Founders of OpenAI were Elon Musk and Sam Altman.  Musk resigned his board seat in 2018, citing potential conflicts of interest re self-driving cars.  Investors include Microsoft.

15 thoughts on “Fun with GPT-3”

  1. I’ve been reading the novels of Andrew Wareham. A number of them deal with WWI. One series concerns the Royal Flying Corps, later to be called the RAF. There is quite a bit of detail and everything I have checked is correct. For example, I was not aware of rotary engines on WWI fighters. He subsequently wrote another series about the trench war. He just published the last of the series #7. It includes the Navy story with alternate chapters on the four characters.

  2. Oddly enough, I just heard today that Admiral Jacky Fisher, Churchill’s First Sea Lord (think Chief of Naval Operations) at the beginning of WWI. He conceived of powering ships with oil fueled turbines (not oil fired steam turbines) around 1910, also diesel powered large ships. That’s a long way from inventing but shows that those sorts of ideas generally float around for a long while until the conditions, in this case mostly high temperature alloys, make it possible to realize them. The short supply of those same high temperature alloys hamstrung Germany’s rocketry, jet engine, their conventional piston driven aviation and things like tank engines.

    More on topic; I ran the first paragraph of the response on “Darkness At Noon” through a plagiarism detector:
    It said the second sentence was cribbed.

    I then ran the whole thing and it came back as stolen from Chicagoboyz. Back to the drawing board.

  3. It came back to this post three ways and a Bing search. I tried it on this one:
    And it came back OK with no issues.

    I haven’t used these detectors before and I don’t know just what the threshold for a positive is, I assume some number of words in succession or more probably something more clever.

    Reading the AI closer, I notice that the first and last paragraph repeat phrases and individual words. The more times I read it, the less real content seems to be there. With good grammar and syntax it doesn’t read like machine generated text but it’s awfully bland and cliched. It misses the obvious point that as a high official, Rubashov would have been involved in other show trials as an instigator probably, or at least a witness. I’d send it back to do over with a notation that it looked like the student just skimmed the Cliff’s Notes.

    Never having read the book, I don’t know how much Koestler indulged in the fantasy that Stalin’s victims were innocent victims of the perversion of true Communist ideals. A very common affectation of the literary fellow traveler set at that time.

    The email is also subtly wrong where he says; “work with you on Monday” which just sounds odd in the context of a contractor starting a job. Still much better than the input.

    It will be interesting to see if this amounts to more than the last few dozen chat bots. Any bets on how long it will be until somebody starts using it for spam and phishing? Someday your Nigerian prince will come.

  4. Correctly identified the theme of the book, but got the name of the main character wrong.

    But did it pick the correct gender?

  5. I hadn’t thought of that exact angle. My understanding is that congressmen and senators already discount email about 100%, snail mail forever. The regulators are compelled to consider all input and this will be a problem for them. It will probably just give them a reason to ignore comments which will be fine with them.

    I tried to setup an account but for some reason can never get past the login. I had intended to ask some more politically loaded questions. I’ll keep trying.

  6. ChatGPT was released at the end of the month and appears to be a significantly more capable AI engine, GPT-3 is outdated. Both will be seen eventually like green screen text programs and early video games, amusing and primitive. Fasten your seatbelts…

  7. Paul Graham, re ChatGPT & its cousins:

    “For me one of the biggest surprises about current generative AI research is that it yields artificial pseudo-intellectuals: programs that, given sufficient examples to copy, can do a plausible imitation of talking about something they understand.”

    Just what we needed, artificial pseudo-intellectuals!

    But Paul G also said:

    “I don’t mean this as an attack on this form of AI. The imitations continue to improve. If they get good enough, we’re splitting hairs talking about whether they “actually” understand what they’re saying. I just didn’t expect this to be the way in.”

    and also:

    “The striking thing about the reaction to ChatGPT is not just the number of people who are blown away by it, but who they are. These are not people who get excited by every shiny new thing. Clearly something big is happening.”

  8. More questions for ChatGPT…

    Q: Who was Walter Duranty?

    A: Walter Duranty was a British-born journalist who worked for the New York Times. He is best known for his reporting on the Soviet Union during the Stalin era, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932.

    However, Duranty has also been criticized for his role in covering up the Holodomor, a man-made famine in Ukraine that resulted in the deaths of millions of people. He denied the existence of the famine and even praised Stalin’s policies, which contributed to the international community’s lack of response to the crisis.

    Duranty’s reporting has been described as biased and dishonest, and many have called for his Pulitzer Prize to be revoked. Despite this, he remains a controversial figure in the history of journalism.

    Q:How was the Holodomor reported in western media?

    A:The Holodomor, a man-made famine in Ukraine that resulted in the deaths of millions of people, was not widely reported in Western media at the time it occurred. This was in part due to the Soviet Union’s efforts to censor information about the famine and prevent it from being reported.

    One of the most prominent Western journalists to cover the Holodomor was Walter Duranty, a correspondent for the New York Times. However, Duranty’s reporting was criticized for being biased and dishonest, as he denied the existence of the famine and praised Stalin’s policies. This contributed to the international community’s lack of response to the crisis.

    In summary, the Holodomor was not widely reported in Western media at the time it occurred, due in part to Soviet censorship and biased reporting.

  9. It just seems weird to me that one could believe they have any knowledge of WWI fighter craft and be unaware of the common use of rotary engines. I’m honestly not aware of any other application for the things.

    Mind, my introduction to WWI aircraft was Avalon Hill’s Richtofen’s War, and I was immediately curious as to why many of the planes were able to make such tight right turns compared to their lefts.

    Note: not to be confused with the more conventional radial engines, which look very similar at rest; technically, most rotary engines are radial designs. A conventional radial is mounted to the air frame, while the propeller was mounted the driveshaft; a rotary is distinguished by mounting the driveshaft to the air frame, while the propeller is mounted to the engine.

  10. Gary jones who was from the guardian, did cover the story, malcolm muggeridge did as well, sometime later, I think robert conquest who was on the left then ended up working for ird, did do the big expose, what was that 30 years later,

  11. MCS: Never having read the book, I don’t know how much Koestler indulged in the fantasy that Stalin’s victims were innocent victims of the perversion of true Communist ideals.

    Not at all, IIRC. (I read it in high school 50 years ago.) There are two themes in it. One is that totalitarian government, such as Communism, leads inevitably to oppression. IOW, while Communism may have benevolent intentions, it always goes bad. The other is the cost of allegiance to a cause which demands complete submission. Rubashov is told that as a loyal Party member, it is his duty to confess to whatever crimes he is accused of. He is no innocent: as a Party operative, he betrayed German Communists to the Nazis during the Hitler-Stalin alliance. Earlier, he transmitted orders for dockworkers in various countries to cease boycotting cargo to or from Fascist Italy in response to Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia. This was to insure that Italy would deliver some warships built for the Soviet Navy.

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