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How to Use AI to Do Stuff: An Opinionated Guide

Covering the state of play as of Summer, 2023


Increasingly powerful AI systems are being released at an increasingly rapid pace. This week saw the debut of Claude 2, likely the second most capable AI system available to the public. The week before, Open AI released Code Interpreter, the most sophisticated mode of AI yet available. The week before that, some AIs got the ability to see images.

And yet not a single AI lab seems to have provided any user documentation. Instead, the only user guides out there appear to be Twitter influencer threads. Documentation-by-rumor is a weird choice for organizations claiming to be concerned about proper use of their technologies, but here we are.

I can’t claim that this is going to be a complete user guide, but it will serve as a bit of orientation to the current state of AI. I have been putting together a Getting Started Guide to AI for my students (and interested readers) every few months, and each time, it requires major modifications. The last couple of months have been particularly insane.

This guide is opinionated, based on my experience, and focused on how to pick the right tool to do things. I have written separately about the kinds of tasks you may want AI to do, which might be useful to read first.

The Major Large Language Models

When we talk about AI right now, we are usually talking about Large Language Models, or LLMs. Most AI applications are powered by LLMs, of which there are just a few Foundation Models, created by a handful of organizations. Each company gives direct access to their models via a Chatbot: OpenAI makes GPT-3.5 and GPT-4, which power ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing (access it on an Edge browser). Google has a variety of models under the label of Bard. And Anthropic makes Claude and Claude 2.

There are other LLMs I won’t be discussing. The first is Pi, a chatbot built by Inflection. Pi is optimized for conversation, and really, really wants to be your friend (seriously, try it to see what I mean). It does not like to do much besides chat, and trying to get it to do work for you is an exercise in frustration. We also won’t cover the variety of open source models that anyone can use and modify. They are generally not accessible or useful for the casual user today, but have real promise. Future guides may include them.

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