The chatbots have arrived, and we are already keeping them busy.
There’s no end to the ways that people are using artificial intelligence systems like ChatGPT, Google’s Bard, and Bing’s new search engine in everyday life. Yes, this can include more outlandish uses — like suggesting messages to send matches on dating apps — but it can also mean outsourcing tedious tasks that require time but little brainpower. Following up on that pesky e-mail chain? Meal-planning for a family of four? Organizing meeting notes? Check, check, check.
There are risks to using artificial intelligence, of course: In one high-profile case, two New York lawyers found themselves in hot water after filing a legal brief filled with information that ChatGPT had invented out of whole cloth — an egregious example of the potential for these systems to “hallucinate,” or make up facts. Experts are concerned that AI could even pose a “risk for extinction,” and tech leaders have called for regulations and guardrails.
But for tasks with relatively low stakes — picking out a new car, writing real estate listings, or crafting a class syllabus — users are finding chatbots to be diligent assistants. The Globe talked with more than a dozen Massachusetts residents about how they’re using this technology in their day-to-day lives. Here’s what we found. (If you want to try any of these out for yourself but need some help getting started, check out our AI guide.)
AI might not be able to malt the barley or mill the grain — at least not yet — but Night Shift Brewery in Everett used ChatGPT to handle other parts of the beer-making process. Enlisted by cofounder Michael Oxton to create the “perfect beer,” ChatGPT concocted a recipe for a 7.5 percent hazy IPA with notes of mango, orange, and pine. Oxton then sent the recipe to Night Shift’s head brewer. “He was just like, ‘Damn, that’s a good recipe,’” said Oxton.
Night Shift’s team didn’t stop there: They asked ChatGPT to come up with a name for the brew (it offered up “AI-P-A”). They also used Midjourney, an AI service that generates images from text descriptions, to design the beer’s label — a graffiti-like illustration of a robot handling a pint. Night Shift released a limited supply of the beer in February, and plans to revive it at some point down the line.
In the meantime, they’re launching a new ad campaign: Midjourney-generated images depicting owls taking over Boston landmarks have been plastered on billboards along Interstate 93, Route 1, and Route 16, to ring in the release of a new “Owls in Boston” IPA.
Someone to talk to
When Chris Zombik was trying to kill some time, he typed a request into ChatGPT: I am dying of boredom and need someone to talk to.
“And it came up with a bunch of ideas of topics we could discuss,” said Zombik, an author who lives in Somerville. Soon, they were talking about a book he had recently read — “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson — and it became “quite a philosophical conversation,” he said, about generational dismay.
“The bot is a very careful listener, so to speak, and really engaged with what I was saying,” he said. “When your other friends aren’t responding to you and you’re looking for a distraction in the middle of the day, that’s pretty powerful.”
Zombik returned to this conversation multiple times, and within weeks he had crashed the “context window,” or the extent to which the chatbot is designed to “remember” previous interactions. “That was actually kind of despairing when that happened, because it was like my friend had kind of died,” he said.
As she was gearing up to run the Boston Marathon for the first time, Middleton resident Audrey Ellis enlisted a running coach — but it was ChatGPT that she tasked with building some pre-race meal plans. She input her allergies and her calorie intake goal, specifying that she is mostly vegetarian, and ChatGPT spit out recipes for quinoa salad, veggie burgers, and yogurt bowls. She then asked it to generate a grocery list.
Though she didn’t end up using all the robot-suggested recipes — and she had to prod it to exclude almond butter even after saying she was allergic — she did complete the Marathon, with a finishing time of 4:47:43.
Real estate listings
Arman Khachatryan, a data analyst, saw the labor involved in producing real estate listings from his friend, Shant Davidian, who is a co-owner and agent at Union Realty Group in Newton. So Khachatryan used ChatGPT’s API — which allows businesses to customize the model for specific purposes — to create a chatbot to scan Union’s database, generate short descriptions for properties, and post listings to Facebook, all in one fell swoop.
Davidian said that Union can now post over 100 Facebook listings in about an hour, leading to anywhere from 10 to 50-plus inquiries a day. Khachatryan is working on fleshing out the tool to interact with interested renters directly, show them other properties that may be a good fit, and schedule showings.
“All agents are now spending more time going and showing the apartments to their clients than just sitting in front of a computer,” said Khachatryan.
Scott Johnson, an Allston/Brighton resident, turned to Bing’s AI-powered search engine to help him decide on a car to buy for a drive to Bakersville, California. He asked Bing — which, unlike ChatGPT, can surf the web in real time for updates — to provide information on vehicle mileage, the amount of space in the back of various cars, and the differences between model years. Using Bing’s insights, he decided on a Subaru, and now has plans to purchase a 2023 Forester.
He noticed some discrepancies between the mileage figures listed on Bing and on Subaru’s website, but Bing was a good place to start research, Johnson said. “Instead of having, like, 10 [search] windows open, I have this device that can do all that for me,” he said.
When a friend was recovering from a trip to the hospital, Lexington resident Bill Rosenfeld charged ChatGPT with composing a poem as a get-well note. He typed in some of his friend’s personality traits, the reason he was in the hospital, and the get-better-soon sentiment. It spat out a seven-stanza poem, which Rosenfeld made some small edits to before sending it off to his friend, “who absolutely loved it,” he said.
He had never attempted being a rhymester before, but Rosenfeld has now used ChatGPT to write about 10 more poems for occasions like retirements and birthdays.
“My first thought was, Hallmark’s in big trouble,” he said. “It’s personalized, and it looks like much more work than it is, even if you completely attribute it to ChatGPT.”
After Caitlin Gillooly, a Brighton resident, was laid off from her job as a manager of merchandising compliance at Wayfair, she turned to ChatGPT to help craft cover letters for job applications. She plugged in details about her background and the sort of strategy consultancy and e-commerce operations jobs she was interested in, and ChatGPT spit out drafts for her to spice up — a cure for her self-described “blank page syndrome.”
“I think a personal touch in a job search is still super critical,” she said. AI, she added, “isn’t going to eliminate the importance of things like networking, personal connections, and letting a little of your own personality shine through.”
Gillooly got a few interviews from these AI-assisted applications, but she is now forgoing the job search to launch an AI consultancy to help others increase their productivity.
Meal-planning at Disney
As she was preparing for a trip to Disney World in March, Allston resident Taryn L’Hussier wanted to find the parks that would best accommodate her celiac disease. ChatGPT told her where in each park she could find gluten-free grub, and she asked it to devise a walking path to hit all of the eateries.
She ended up chowing down on everything from churros at Animal Kingdom to onion rings at Disney Springs to a macaron ice cream sandwich at Epcot. “I ate so good in Disney World,” she said.
Jennifer Abramson runs The Accent Helper, a small business that works with people who want to adopt an American intonation. Recently, the Somerville resident has asked ChatGPT to write practice material tailored to each client’s interests and needs.
For one soccer-obsessed client from South America, for instance, this meant supplying sentences about Lionel Messi chock-full of words with the “-TH” sound, which he was learning to pronounce. The ChatGPT-generated lines included phrases like “the epitome of breathtaking scale,” “thunderous brilliance,” and “athleticism in sync.”
“Could I write that? Of course,” she said. “But will it take me an hour to do what ChatGPT did in literally 20 seconds? Yes.”
Distilling complex concepts
Chris Feifer, an executive vice president of medical marketing agency FreshBlood Group, is often tasked with simplifying complex concepts from biotech and pharmaceutical clients for an audience of laypeople.
“Sometimes it’s a lot of work for a copywriter or for a medical director to distill that information and to find the key messages,” said Feifer, who is based in Sharon. So FreshBlood has started using ChatGPT to take a first pass. One client, Feifer said, asked FreshBlood to prepare a presentation on validating a specific kind of clinical trial study, and ChatGPT broke down the process into simple steps.
It’s not a silver bullet, though. “There are cases where something doesn’t seem quite right,” said Feifer, adding that any and all AI-generated information is carefully validated by a medical director and edited. “It’s obviously invaluable as a tool, but it’s not a crutch. You can’t rely on it completely.”
Crafting a syllabus
Beth Bailey runs pottery classes out of her home studio in Whitman, and also teaches at various art institutions, including Clay Lounge in the South End and Local Pottery in Norwell. To pitch to outside studios, she has to write a concise curriculum outlining what her class will cover, as well as a student syllabus.
She used to gin these up from scratch, but now, she plugs in information about the class to Bard or ChatGPT, which condenses and formats it to her specifications. It also simplifies some of the more advanced language — cutting words like “underglaze” and “sgraffito” — “so that it’s not insider’s baseball,” said Bailey.
“I’ve even said things like, ‘In this particular sentence, make it less cringey,’ — and it does,” said Bailey. “It’s a game changer for the little business I’m trying to build for myself here as an artist and an educator.”
Priya Sharma, who works as a risk consultant for the financial technology firm Empyrean Solutions in Woburn, has aspirations to become a data scientist. To that end, ChatGPT built her a five-month study schedule outlining broad topics she should learn, such as data structures, coding languages, and machine learning algorithms.
She didn’t end up following the schedule to a tee, because she wanted to dive deeper into some of the individual topics, like data structures. But the bot also pointed her to the online course platform Udemy, which offers a detailed class on the subject.
“Anytime I have a question or something that I think might be difficult to find on a search engine, ChatGPT is my first source of information,” said Sharma.
Getting class help
Manind Gera, who recently earned a master’s degree in computer science from Boston University, used AI to help him understand concepts in a graduate-level game theory class. One economic model, the Cournot duopoly, was giving him particular trouble, so he asked ChatGPT to explain it to him “like I’m five,” he said.
“That really helps sometimes,” he said. “Usually I would just go on office hours or spend hours on Google trying to find the right resource for it.”