Why ChatGPT may be the most human form of A.I. yet: It produces informed BS

January 9, 2023, 10:38 AM UTC
Updated January 9, 2023, 8:13 PM UTC
ChatGPT’s ability to synthesize lots of information—even incorrectly—comes closest to how people actually think.
Jonathan Raa—NurPhoto/Getty Images

Good morning.

I wrote last month that the development of ChatGPT may turn out to be the most significant news event of 2022. If I’m right, then kudos to marketing mavens Richard Bowman and David Boyle for producing the first book on the topic: Prompt: A Practical Guide to AI-Powered Brand Growth With ChatGPT. I read it over a long airplane ride this weekend, and it crystallized my thinking about what makes this technology revolutionary: It produces informed bullshit.

I mean that in the best way. Like many, I had tended to view A.I. as a tool for calculating reliable, data-based predictions, point solutions, or probabilities. But of course, that’s not what the human mind does. There’s ample research showing human beings are exceptionally bad at data-driven predictions and probabilistic thinking. What we are good at is synthesizing information to quickly detect interesting patterns and insights that may—or may not—survive more rigorous scrutiny. In short, we are good bullshitters. Which makes ChatGPT the most human form of A.I. yet. As Bowman and Boyle put it:

“ChatGPT is very convincing. Even when it is wrong. And it is often wrong. You need to be careful to use it as inspiration, but not take everything it says as gospel.”

The same, of course, could be said about much of what the marketing industry produces, or what high-end consulting firms do for their clients, or even what CEOs do for their own companies. Their job isn’t to be always right, but rather to use their knowledge and experience and maybe some modicum of data to make informed guesses. To say, “Hey, how does this sound as a marketing strategy for your new product?” Or, “Here are three possible ways we can grow this company over the next decade…Let’s test them.” For even the best, much of what follows is rubbish—witness Elon Musk’s Twitter feed. But some may prove genius.

More from Bowman and Boyle:

“Having used ChatGPT extensively since its release, we believe it is about as capable as someone with two or three years experience. Is it always right and perfectly insightful? Certainly not. But for some tasks, using the right prompts, it’s pretty damn good. ChatGPT is able to perform certain tasks for free that are currently requiring a person earning £50,000. And it can do in five minutes what would take someone at least a day to do. That’s remarkable…and that’s just a start!”

The book, by the way, is an exploration of what ChatGPT can do, particularly in a marketing context, and not an explanation of how it does it. Large portions of the book were actually written by ChatGPT itself. If you are looking for an education in the technology behind it, go elsewhere.

More news below. And by the way, as the above suggests, I’m totally on board with the notion that ChatGPT’s creator, OpenAI, deserves a market value of nearly $30 billion—if not more.

Alan Murray



An end to the crackdown?

Tech shares in Hong Kong jumped Monday after Guo Shuqing, party secretary for the People’s Bank of China, indicated to state media over the weekend that Beijing’s campaign against major tech companies might be coming to a close. The statements follow several moves by regulators to ease up on controls, such as growth-focused messages from policymakers and approving new video game releases from Tencent and NetEase. Also over the weekend: Ant Group founder Jack Ma gave up controlling rights to his fintech company to keep regulators happy. Bloomberg

Goldman layoffs

Goldman Sachs is expected to cut thousands of jobs this week, following a plunge in revenue from its investment bank unit and an expensive foray into consumer banking. Mergers and acquisitions activity slowed sharply in 2022, owing to the war in Ukraine and fears about a looming recession, leading to a 57% year-on-year drop in investment bank revenue in the third quarter. The head of Marcus, Goldman Sachs’s digital bank, is also expected to leave the company. Fortune

House rules

The U.S. House of Representatives, after 15 votes for speaker of the House, has a new task today: voting in a new rules package. Newly elected Speaker Kevin McCarthy made several promises to members of his caucus to secure their votes, including a minimum of 72 hours to consider legislation, required spending cuts to offset new spending, and a three-fifths supermajority needed to pass tax increases. Yet some House Republicans are wary of voting for the package, and are worried about “backroom deals” McCarthy may have made to secure his election. The New York Times


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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by Nicholas Gordon. 

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