by Larry Magid
This post first appeared in the Mercury News
This is the week when I typically write a column about how to shop for holiday gifts. I wrote previous holiday gift columns based on my personal experiences and a bit of online searching. This year, I’m getting a little help from ChatGPT, which is able to recommend gifts, create holiday cards and help you decide what products to buy.
My first use of ChatGPT to recommend a purchase was a Thanksgiving present for myself and my wife. Many years ago, we had a George Foreman grill. I wanted to see what was new in that type of appliance, so I asked ChatGPT to recommend indoor grills. It came up with a relatively long list, so I asked for a grill with a timer, which shortened the list. I kept asking for features I wanted until it narrowed it down to just a couple of options.
Then I asked both ChatGPT and Google Bard to give me professional reviews of my two top options and wound up with brief quotes from articles from sites like TechRadar, CNET, Good Housekeeping, Consumer Reports and The Spruce Eats. I specified “professional” to avoid the many dishonest reviews that flood the internet.
I picked one and then asked for help in buying it, I got a list of online retailers that carried it. I also asked for the retailer with the cheapest price. It gave me the lowest price it could find, along with a link to buy it.
A lesson in writing prompts
My indoor grill arrived two days later, and it was great, except for one thing. I asked ChatGPT to recommend one with a timer and naively assumed that a timer on a grill would also turn it off when the time was up. It turned out that the timer just displayed elapsed time or time left and beeped when it was time to check the food, but it didn’t turn off the power, which, for me, is important because I worry about forgetting. I temporarily installed a workaround: a Wi-Fi smart plug that I can control with Amazon Alexa by saying “Alexa, turn off the grill in 20 minutes.”
Knowing that I can return the product, I went back to ChatGPT and asked for one with auto-shutoff. It recommended some, including one that I ordered. I haven’t received it yet, so it remains to be seen whether I’ll like it.
This was a good lesson for me. The key to using generative AI is knowing how to ask the question. If you want specific information, you have to ask specific questions. ChatGPT, Bard and other generative AI products have an enormous amount of information, but they can’t (yet) read minds, and they don’t necessarily anticipate questions that you don’t ask. Knowing how to write a good prompt may turn out to be a marketable skill.
Picking out presents
I also used ChatGPT, Google Bard and Microsoft Bing to help a friend of mine pick out a Christmas present for her husband by typing “help me find a gift for my 55-year-old husband who lives in Colorado and likes to hike and golf.” ChatGPT came up with some pretty creative ideas – gifts that I would never think of – including the book “Fifty Places to Play Golf Before You Die” and FootJoy WeatherSof Golf Glove. Google Bard came up with a golf GPS watch and a hiking hammock among other suggestions.
Creating unique holiday cards
Many years ago, I wrote a column about printing holiday cards at home. It’s pretty easy to do, especially if you have Microsoft Word or another program that has templates designed for greeting cards. But the key to a good greeting card is artwork and what is written, so I turned to the paid version of ChatGPT ($20 a month) for help with both the art and the text.
The results were great. For families I know that celebrate both holidays, I asked it to “draw a combination Christmas and Hanukkah card and got a beautiful piece of unique art. At my wife’s suggestion, I then asked it to add peace symbols and got another beautiful and unique drawing.
Finally, I asked for some text for the card, which included the following: ‘As the candles of Hanukkah brighten the winter nights, and the lights of Christmas sparkle with joy and delight, may this season bring you warmth, happiness, and peace. A time of love and laughter, of memories that never cease.”
Neither I nor Hallmark could say it any better. ChatGPT gets the last word.
Disclosure: Larry Magid is CEO of ConnectSafely, a nonprofit internet safety organization that receives financial support from OpenAI and other tech companies. Contact him at [email protected].