Bill Maurer

“When I was asked to write something about ChatGPT in relation to credit unions, naturally, I created an account with OpenAI, the company that developed this so-called generative AI tool, and entered the query: “Write me a 700 word essay on the use of ChatGPT for credit unions.” The results, which are reproduced on the right, were pretty uncanny, and pretty darn good.

ChatGPT, write me an essay
At the same time there were a few “tells” that got me wondering about the algorithms driving the system, and how the nature of my query (“write me an essay…”) led the system down a particular path. So I entered another query of the same form: “Write me a 500 word essay on alternative currencies in the style of Bill Maurer.” (Although the system generates a reply pretty instantaneously, I was too impatient for a lengthier response this time). Again, those tells. First, the identification of the subject or target with a clause separated by a comma explaining what or who that subject or target is (“credit unions, as non-profit financial institutions,…” “As a scholar in the field of anthropology and economics, I…”). Second, the classic essay format, with a thesis statement in an opening paragraph, a list of key benefits (six, in the credit union case), a “despite these” or “however” transition paragraph to a list of potential downsides or harms (three, as you’ll see below), and then a “we can overcome” paragraph before a rosy conclusion, opening with, of course, “In conclusion…”.

Just like Bart Simpson in that classic episode of The Simpsons, caught unprepared in class one day for an oral presentation on a foreign country, ChatGPT follows cookie-cutter conventions to produce good, but not stunning, results. Think of ChatGPT as a "blurry" image of the web, which meant it will get the general gist of a query right, but important details could well be wrong. Sometimes the algorithm simply makes things up entirely. Bart made up the content for his presentation, but the hilarity in that scene came from his near-perfect replication of the form. ChatGPT mostly relates perfectly plausible content, but, again, replicating a very unimaginative form. Which perhaps is just fine for an AI. But what about for credit unions?”

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