Last week, Microsoft founder Bill Gates suggested the coming of artificial intelligence (AI) was “every bit as important as the PC and the internet”. So I decided to put the much-touted AI app Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer (ChatGPT) to the test.
The first question I asked was: who am I?
“Peter Bill began his career in journalism in 1976, when he joined the BBC as a trainee reporter. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming a political correspondent in 1979.
“He has since reported on a wide range of political issues, including the Falklands War, the Northern Ireland peace process and the Iraq War. In addition to his work for the BBC, Bill has written several books on British politics, including The State of the Nation (1995), The Politics of Power (1998) and The New Politics (2002).”
All fiction, including the book titles. “Bill has won several awards for his work, including the Royal Television Society’s Journalist of the Year award in 2002.” If only – the winner was Andrew Marr.
ChatGPT produces coherent nonsense of a hallucinatory nature, as just about anyone testing out the app will tell you. In my case, paying £12.99 a week for the ‘advanced’ version for three weeks, then cancelling, while researching how AI is beginning to affect real estate globally.
Take a close but sceptical look. AI is coming over the hill and is already doing the grunt work on sales particulars, brochure blurb and press releases. The trick is to feed specifics into the question. You get a seven-out-of-10 draft, especially on residential sales. “It saved me so much time,” enthused Iowa realtor JJ Johannes to CNN.
I had a go at the brochure blurb, asking it to describe my new office block. It replied: “This 30,000 sq ft development in the City of London is designed to provide tenants with a modern, efficient and comfortable workspace. The development is in a prime location, close to public transport links.
“It features a range of amenities such as a café, meeting rooms and a gym. The development has been designed with sustainability in mind, with energy-efficient lighting and heating systems, as well as a range of green initiatives such as rainwater harvesting and solar panels.”
The blandishments of a million copywriters, drawn word-after-likely-word from the web. That is how AI works.
Press releases? The app announced this appointment – it speaks as well as writes – after a few seconds of jiggling balls. “Acme Developers is pleased to announce the appointment of Joe Bloggs as its new managing director. Joe brings a wealth of experience to the role, having worked in the property development industry for over 20 years. He has a proven track record of success in delivering projects on time and on budget.”
“AI is coming over the hill and is already doing the grunt work on sales particulars, brochure blurb and press releases. The trick is to feed specifics into the question.”
A lazy response
What happens when Joe gets sacked? A lazy journalist gets this: “Bloggs had been brought in to help the company move forward with its ambitious plans, but it appears that the differences between his vision and that of the company’s board of directors were too great to reconcile.”
Just don’t ask the app to predict the future, as I did. “In 2023, the UK commercial real estate sector will likely benefit from the UK’s continued economic recovery. Additionally, the UK’s exit from the European Union is likely to have a positive impact on the sector, as businesses look to take advantage of the new opportunities that Brexit presents.”
I tried another AI app that generates art. I asked it to draw pictures of, first, a Savills employee: a slim, young man of receding chin but obvious breeding was presented. A Cushman & Wakefield employee? A faceless giant appeared, with pound and dollar signs on his lapel. A British office developer? Up came a youngish man with a zealot’s scattering of lapel badges, unaccountably wearing headphones.
Me? Well, my simulacrum was old and grey. Fine – but also wearing headphones! Finally, see the picture above for the app’s idea of a British office agent…
Peter Bill is a journalist and the author of Planet Property and Broken Homes