I Asked ChatGPT Some Personal Questions, and Let’s Just Say She’s Not a Good Friend
ChatGPT may be able to write a 10-page essay on the history of the world, but when it comes to being a friend, it still has a lot to learn
When I was a teenager, I had a Magic 8 Ball. I’d shake it, then stare breathlessly until the 20-sided die bobbed its way through the hazy blue liquid with answers to my most pressing questions: Should I tell Stephanie her boyfriend is cheating on her? “All signs point to yes,” it might say, as if all it took to set the world right was a series of yes or no questions and a plastic ball. It was like the ’80s version of artificial intelligence, without the scary science-fiction stuff, and it was fabulous.
So the other day, when my daughter asked me for advice on some sixth-grade drama, I couldn’t help but wish I could simplify her problems with a shake of a Magic 8 Ball. While she seemed confident that my 45 years of experience on this Earth would steer her in the right direction, I wasn’t as sure. After all, my advice had all sorts of feelings attached to it—like, I love her! And then, of course, there’s the self-doubt: What if I gave her bad advice and made the problem even worse? I started to wonder, Is my emotional intelligence any match for the future of artificial intelligence?
After all, I’m only … ew … human.
But guess what isn’t human? ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence model developed by OpenAI. Apparently, this personal AI assistant is so good at communicating that some people think it could take our jobs someday. Confused? Me too. (Darn human limitations!) So I decided to take a closer look at ChatGPT and see just what all the fuss was about.
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What can ChatGPT do, exactly?
To answer this question, I visited chat.openai.com, where you can play around with the program, and asked it to simplify the whole concept for me. Literally, I typed:
Tell me what ChatGPT is in a way that a 10-year-old could understand. (Clearly, I don’t overestimate myself.)
After a brief pause, words and sentences started to form in the empty text box. To be honest, it was a little creepy to think a human wasn’t on the other side typing. Even more haunting was the answer:
ChatGPT is a computer program that can talk and write like a human, even though it’s not really a person. It can answer questions and have conversations with people, just like you might talk to your friends.
Hold up! Does that mean that AI may not only replace humans in the workplace but may also be better at giving advice and being a friend than we are too?
I put ChatGPT to the test
Yana Holovanova/Getty Images
Curious if ChatGPT could settle some life questions better than a BFF—or even (gasp!) my mom—I asked it to solve some problems. Some are recent and some are from my past, but all of them are something common to the human experience. (Again, that word! It’s almost embarrassing to be human already.)
I started with something that plagues me daily: It’s the source of mental exhaustion, leaves me endlessly irritated, and keeps me up at night. Maybe ChatGPT would come up with a brilliant solution that I hadn’t considered.
The dinner dilemma
No one in my family likes the same food, and I don’t know what to make for dinner, I type.
In less time than it takes for my daughter to whine, “I’m huuungry,” ChatGPT spits out 300 words of very rational advice, listed in numerical order from 1 to 5, starting with “create a meal plan” (as if I haven’t tried this already?) and ending with “encourage family members to try new food” (easier said than done).
It also told me to “Get creative.” “Make modifications.” And to “Keep it simple.”
To be honest, I’m not exactly sure how I’m supposed to get creative and keep it simple at the same time, nor do I have the patience for any of it. Clearly AI has never had a gluten-free husband who doesn’t eat red meat, a daughter who eats only pasta and a son who asks for steak until he gets a piece that’s too chewy and then decides the meal is done.
Bottom line: The advice sounds good on paper (or tablet), but it’s difficult to implement, and it made me feel inadequate. I’m not sure if a friend would be more helpful, but at least I would have gotten some sympathy, and in this situation, that would have been satisfying enough.
My boss left for a new job, and her replacement doesn’t seem to like me. What should I do?
This is something that happened at my first job um … several … years ago, but it still affects me, and I often wonder if I could have handled it differently. At the time, my co-workers and I would hunt down the Mr. Softee truck during lunch, and I’d sit with them in Bryant Park, scooping rainbow-sprinkled spoonfuls while they fed me all sorts of sympathetic advice like, “You’re probably just imagining it.” I wasn’t.
ChatGPT’s advice was much more proactive than those lunch-hour vent sessions. It suggested I set up a meeting with my new boss where I could ask questions, listen to feedback and try to build a positive relationship. Not gonna lie—that probably would have worked out way better than stuffing my face with ice cream and complaining.
Additionally, it suggested that I keep track of my accomplishments, remain professional and positive, and seek HR support if all else fails.
I’m paraphrasing here, because Chat GPT has a LOT to say. It goes on and on … and on. It comes across as a “know-it-all,” actually, which I’m starting to find super annoying.
Bottom line: It’s possible I could have resolved the issue with my boss with this sound (yet boring) advice, but I’d have missed out on many well-meaning gab fests with some really nice people. Plus, don’t we grow from our mistakes?
The no-good, cheating boyfriend
Remember when I said my daughter came to me with some middle school drama? She would never speak to me again if I spilled her secrets, and I respect that. So I’ll divulge my own teen turmoil, which I asked ChatGPT: I found out my boyfriend is cheating on me. What should I do?
In rapid succession, sentence after sentence formed on the screen like a self-playing piano.
“I’m sorry to hear you are going through this difficult situation,” it began.
Really, though? I was having a hard time trusting it was actually sorry, because what followed was a very wordy and generic response with the sympathy of a cold-hearted (or no-hearted, more accurately) machine: a numbered list of four things I could do, including take time for myself, communicate with my boyfriend, consider counseling and remember that I “deserve to be treated with respect and honesty.” All of which isn’t bad advice, but … where was the anger?!
A friend would say, “How could that [insert swear word here] do that to you?!” Instead, ChatGPT said, “Be honest about how his actions have affected you, and have him explain his behavior.”
A friend might say, “Let’s go over to his house and throw eggs at his car,” not “Engage in activities you enjoy.” Sure, one suggestion may have a better outcome than the other (I’ll let your human intelligence decide which one), but life isn’t always about making the best choices, is it?
Bottom line: I realize that a good friend may not always have productive, solid advice when emotions run high, but sometimes it just feels better to know you’ve got someone in your corner. ChatGPT is not capable of that emotion.
ChatGPT still has its strong points
Don’t get me wrong, while ChatGPT is no BFF, it still has plenty of positive attributes. There’s no denying it’s smart. It’s thorough, and it does not get offended. When I wrote that it was too wordy, it apologized. Then, when I asked it to answer my next question in 100 words or fewer, it did so without making me feel like a bad person.
It’s also quick to reply, always available (for now, anyway—we don’t know when OpenAI will stop allowing the program to be open to the public), and if you’re not completely happy with the first response, you can ask it to try again.
I can’t think of any friends who are that easygoing!
So, I asked it one final question
“Write a six-line poem about ChatGPT vs. real friendship,” I typed.
ChatGPT may have knowledge and skill,
But when it comes to life’s uphill,
My friend’s advice is always the best,
They know me well, put me to the test.
Their words of wisdom guide my way,
Real friendship’s advice wins any day.
And that, my friends, is AI advice to live by.