Lesley Weidenbener: My own experiments with AI chatbots

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According to ChatGPT, the inaugural issue of IBJ hit newsstands on July 10, 1983. At least that’s what it wrote on July 10, when I put one of my first prompts into the publicly available chatbot, a generative artificial intelligence tool developed by Open AI.

It was wrong, although it warned me it might be. IBJ was founded in 1980.

In preparation for this week’s issue of IBJ, I had asked ChatGPT to “write a newspaper story about the history of the Indianapolis Business Journal.” The result—produced in seconds—was a flowery and verbose take on our news organization.

“As the Indianapolis Business Journal celebrates its fortieth anniversary, it is a moment to recognize the publication’s enduring legacy, honor the journalists who have contributed to its success, and acknowledge the vital role it plays in the city’s business ecosystem,” ChatGPT wrote.

Actually, IBJ celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2020. Our first issue was published on May 19, 1980, shortly after Indianapolis entrepreneur John Burkhart and St. Louis businessman Mark Vittert formed Business Journal Publications.

Interestingly, ChatGPT got the year right when I gave it a similar prompt a few weeks later. Nearly everything it wrote about IBJ was closer to factual each time I asked it to write a history of the paper.

For example, this week it told me that IBJ formed in 1980 (correct) by “enterprising journalists and entrepreneurs” (partially correct) led by Chris Katterjohn (Katterjohn was not an owner, although he was an editor in 1980 and became publisher in 1990).

It would be easy to read these examples and think they are evidence that chatbots and generative AI generally need not be taken seriously. But I came away from my experimentation—and everything I learned preparing this issue—with a much different take.

ChatGPT and chatbots like it are a tiny subset of what’s happening with artificial intelligence generally and specifically generative AI, which analyzes data to create text, images or other media. But they are powerful. And while they need to be used with caution, they can also be valuable tools, especially when the user provides the chatbot with information.

For example, if you’re trying to write social media posts to promote an event your company is hosting, try feeding the invitation or the press release announcing it into Bard or ChatGPT. The chatbot will use the information you provided, not rely on data it scraped from the web.

Didn’t get quite what you were looking for? Amend your prompt. You’ll get different results when you tell ChatGPT to write “promotional” posts than you will when you ask it to write “celebratory” posts. You have to do some experimenting to find the right combination of words to produce the result you’re looking for. And you’ll likely need to tweak the results before using them.

Think of ChatGPT and other chatbots as help for writer’s block or as a source of inspiration rather than as the producer of a final product. Use them to write the first draft of a cover letter, a letter of recommendation or a press release. But don’t let them produce the last draft.

Throughout today’s issue, you’ll see examples of text and images created using AI chatbots. And you’ll see how experts are using the technology that powers chatbots to do incredible things related to health care, marketing, the arts and more.

We’d love to hear how your company is using AI as well. Email us at AIsurvey@ibj.com.•

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Weidenbener is editor of IBJ. Email her at lweidenbener@ibj.com.

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