When I started writing this article on this latest phenomenon, ChatGPT, I realised how much I was relying on hearsay to form an opinion, which in any context is not advisable, leave alone regarding a technological marvel that has wrested the world’s attention, generating curiosity and concern in equal measure.
Therefore, to arrive at a practical understanding of what ChatGPT is and what it represents, I decided to do my own research.
After going through the usual hoops of opening an account, I was presented with a screen that looked like a minimalist iteration of Yahoo Messenger on Windows 98, which induced a vague sense of familiarity, and a similar conundrum – What should I ask? What should I write? The interface, as simplistic as it is, has a serious look to it and makes it very clear that it is still a beta product. However, somehow this no-frills approach to interaction came across as more appealing, and a throwback to less gimmicky times. After years and years of habituating to digital solutions that present carefully curated experiences including predefined and often mimetic user journeys, and obdurate linearity that actively prevents any scope of injecting intuition or imagination, the single blinking cursor to which I could ask elaborate queries and getting answers to them in seconds felt cathartic as if a piece of technological future had arrived before time.
And so, I asked a lot of questions – some were basic and mundane, the type we put forward to the various digital assistants on our smartphones regarding weather and trivia.
Others, however, were more intricate, deriving from my own areas of specialisation as a career researcher in design. The results were surprisingly useful and delivered in an engagingly conversational tone, although there were a few key lacunas that I will discuss later.
Whoever told me that there were real people sitting somewhere and articulating these responses in real-time is sincerely mistaken because then this team of responders would have to include, among others, notable design thinkers, social scientists, thought leaders, and academicians, some of whom are critically… dead! Such a massive recruitment drive would itself be newsworthy.
For the purposes of this article, however, I would like to highlight two questions that are directly related to the tool’s use in the context of design, and especially, design research.
The questions and the corresponding answers are inscribed below in their original form:
- What are the benefits and disadvantages of ChatGPT?
“As an AI language model, ChatGPT has several benefits and disadvantages. Here are some of the most important ones:
- Availability: ChatGPT is available 24/7 and can respond to multiple users at the same time, making it a convenient and accessible resource.
- Wide range of knowledge: ChatGPT has been trained on a vast amount of data and can provide information on a wide range of topics.
- Impartiality: ChatGPT provides information in an impartial manner, without any bias or personal opinions.
- Efficiency: ChatGPT can process and analyse large amounts of information quickly and accurately, which can be helpful in time-sensitive situations.
- Learning and improvement: ChatGPT continually learns from its interactions with users, allowing it to improve its responses and knowledge over time.
- Lack of personal touch: ChatGPT is a machine and lacks the personal touch that human interaction can provide, which can be important in some situations.
- Limited understanding of context: ChatGPT may struggle to understand the context of a question or situation, which can lead to inaccurate or irrelevant responses.
- Errors and inaccuracies: ChatGPT can make errors and provide inaccurate information, especially on topics that are highly complex or where there is conflicting information.
- Limited emotional intelligence: ChatGPT lacks the emotional intelligence and empathy that humans possess, which can be important in certain situations.
- Limited ability to understand nuance and irony: ChatGPT may struggle to understand humour, sarcasm, and other forms of nuance and irony, which can lead to inappropriate or irrelevant responses.
In summary, ChatGPT has several benefits and disadvantages, and its usefulness depends on the specific context and user needs. While it can provide quick and accurate information on a wide range of topics, it may also struggle with understanding context, making errors, and lacking the personal touch and emotional intelligence of human interaction.”
The main intention of putting forward this above question was to evaluate the tool for its objectivity. The answers are strikingly honest and indicate a different approach to accessing information than competing solutions from Google or Microsoft that suppress perceivable weaknesses instead of embracing or contextualising them. There are a few gaps in the answer, though, for example, despite mentioning that the answers are informed by a vast body of data, there is no reference or indication provided to the source of the information, which makes quoting and acknowledging original authors and studies impossible. Therefore, it is a major disadvantage wherein indiscriminate use of the tool for research may potentially lead to unintended plagiarism – a serious matter for our design field where originality is cardinal. The next query inevitably was:
- How can designers use ChatGPT effectively?
“Designers can use ChatGPT effectively in several ways to support their design processes and projects:
- Research: Designers can use ChatGPT to conduct research and gather information on specific topics or trends related to their design project.
ChatGPT can provide quick and accurate answers to questions, saving time and effort in the research process.
- Inspiration: Designers can use ChatGPT to spark inspiration and generate ideas for their design projects. By asking open-ended questions or requesting suggestions on design elements, ChatGPT can provide a range of options and perspectives.
- Prototyping: Designers can use ChatGPT to test and refine their design prototypes. By asking users to interact with the chatbot and provide feedback, designers can identify areas for improvement and refine their designs.
- User testing: Designers can use ChatGPT to conduct user testing and gather feedback on their design projects. By creating a chatbot prototype that mimics the user experience of the actual design, designers can test user interactions and gather feedback to inform design decisions.
Accessibility: Designers can use ChatGPT to make their designs more accessible to people with disabilities or language barriers. By incorporating chatbots that can respond to users in their preferred language or using text-based communication, designers can make their designs more inclusive and accessible.
In summary, designers can use ChatGPT effectively by incorporating it into their design processes to conduct research, spark inspiration, prototype, conduct user testing, and improve accessibility. By leveraging the benefits of ChatGPT, designers can enhance their design projects and improve the user experience.”
In this case, the answer is more cohesive and perceivably aimed at UX/UI designers, but crucially, the ‘how to’ aspect is briefly summarised in each of the use-case scenarios. This leads to the inference that designers can use ChatGPT as a genuine research tool, however, the most important facet of leveraging this incredible resource is to ask the right questions, a skill that can be honed through practice. From this short experience of using the tool, it is clear that it can handle both overarching and granular queries, which, for example, can be interlaced towards informing a narrative. The concerns regarding citing information sources remain, due to which it is important to understand that the tool cannot become an absolute replacement for studying original peer-reviewed works by authors. ChatGPT, hence, can become an interesting addition to the design researcher’s toolkit, however, it doesn’t quite replace the more traditional sources of information, just yet. Thankfully, our gatekeeper of originality and acknowledgement, Turnitin, is employing its own AI smarts to ensure fair play😉
To conclude, ChatGPT presents astonishing possibilities for us to learn and work faster. It fully utilises the benefits of contemporary technology to provide a solution that can make interacting with our digitality more meaningful. The more we ask, the better we get at utilising the tool, and conversely, the tool gets better at answering our queries more accurately. From the perspective of design, this early exploratory phase itself presents a universe of possibilities – for creating solutions based on the underpinning technology that can correspondingly drive radical innovation in countless fields, including, healthcare, finance, education, and administration. However, it is important to remain mindful of the potential ethical and societal implications of these advancements and to continue to critically evaluate their impact on our world.
What do you think about ChatGPT and its AI-powered brethren?
Let us know in the comments down below!
Prof. Abhishek Chatterjee
PhD in Design
Researcher on Design Studies, Pedagogy and Entrepreneurship
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