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Prompts to Try Asking ChatGPT

Welcome back to On Tech: A.I., a pop-up newsletter that teaches you about artificial intelligence, how it works and how to use it.

A few months ago, my colleagues Cade Metz and Kevin Roose explained the inner workings of A.I., including chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Microsoft’s Bing and Google’s Bard. Now we’re back with a new mission: to help you learn to use A.I. to its full potential.

People from all walks of life — students, coders, artists and accountants — are experimenting with how to use A.I. tools. Employers are posting jobs seeking people who are adept at using them. Pretty soon, if not already, you’ll have the chance to use A.I. to streamline and improve your work and personal life.

As The Times’s personal tech columnist, I’m here to help you figure out how to use these tools safely and responsibly to improve many parts of your life.

I’m going to spend today’s newsletter talking about two general approaches that will be useful in a number of situations.

Then, in the coming weeks, I’ll give you more specific tips for different aspects of your life, including parenting and family life, work, organizing in your personal life, learning/education, creativity, and shopping.

A few common-sense warnings to start:

ChatGPT, Bing and Bard are among the most popular A.I. chatbots. (To use ChatGPT, you’ll need to create an OpenAI account, and it requires a subscription for its most advanced version. Bing requires you to use Microsoft’s Edge web browser. Bard requires a Google account.)

Though they look simple to use — you type something in a box and get answers! — asking questions in the wrong way will produce generic, unhelpful and, sometimes, downright incorrect answers.

It turns out there’s an art to typing in the precise words and framing to generate the most helpful answers. I call these the golden prompts.

The people who are getting the most out of the chatbots have been using variants of these strategies:

“Act as if.” Beginning your prompt with these magic words will instruct the bot to emulate an expert. For example, typing “Act as if you are a tutor for the SATs” or “Act as if you are a personal trainer” will guide the bots to model themselves around people in those professions.

These prompts provide additional context for the A.I. to generate its response. The A.I. doesn’t actually understand what it means to be a tutor or a personal trainer. Instead, the prompt is helping the A.I. to draw on specific statistical patterns in its training data.

A weak prompt with no guidance will generate less helpful results. If all you type is “What should I eat this week?” the chatbot will come up with a generic list of meals for a balanced diet, such as turkey stir fry with a side of colorful veggies for dinner (which, to me, sounds very “meh”).

“Tell me what else you need to do this.” To get results that are more personalized — for example, health advice for your specific body type or medical conditions — invite the bot to request more information.

In the personal trainer example, a prompt could be: “Act as if you are my personal trainer. Create a weekly workout regimen and meal plan for me. Tell me what else you need to do this.” The bot might then ask you for your age, height, weight, dietary restrictions and health goals to tailor a weeklong meal plan and fitness routine for you.

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