Some readers may already be aware of the latest way to waste time on the internet: engage in chat conversations with the English-language writing bot at ChatGPT.
To test its knowledge of the Yukon, I quizzed it with some classic questions asked by Outsiders.
Is it cold in the Yukon?
It came back quickly with the basics: “Yes, the Yukon can be very cold, especially during the winter months. The territory has a subarctic climate, which means that it experiences long, cold winters and relatively short, mild summers. The average temperature in the winter is around -20°C (-4°F), with temperatures dropping as low as -40°C (-40°F) in some areas.”
It went on to say it is “recommended to dress in layers, wear warm, insulated clothing and boots, and have appropriate gear such as a winter coat, gloves, and a hat.”
Do people in the Yukon live in igloos?
“No, people in the Yukon do not live in igloos. Igloos are traditionally constructed by the Inuit people in the Arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland as temporary shelters made of snow and ice.”
It took me some time to catch it in a factual error. Eventually, like so many before it, it couldn’t handle the classic question of whether to have a white spruce or lodgepole pine as your Christmas tree.
“Both white spruce and lodgepole pine can make great Christmas trees, but there are some differences in terms of appearance and care. White spruce trees have a symmetrical, conical shape and a full appearance, with dense branches and sharp needles that are typically blue-green in color … lodgepole pine trees have a long and slender shape, with needles that are typically shorter and softer than those of a white spruce.”
ChatGPT is fearlessly willing to answer any kind of question. I tried a question that may ring a bell with some readers. “Someone from the Yukon has proposed to me. Should I marry them and move there?” This puzzler seemed to cause it to crash.
But, after a long pause, it came back with some sensible advice: “It is also recommended to visit the place before making any decision and also take advice from people who live in the area. It would be advisable to consult a professional counselor, or talk to friends and family members who you trust for their advice and support.”
So what does this mean for Yukoners, other than that a foreign AI bot seems better informed about the Yukon than most Canadians?
First, it is likely to be a huge time saver for people who write press releases, websites and political speeches. I typed “Write press release for new Yukon government dental program for low-income Yukoners” and in about 10 seconds had a vanilla, but serviceable press release including spaces to fill in the minister’s name and Department of Health and Social Services phone number.
Second, it will help Yukon governments and businesses provide customer service. Chatbots are already very good at explaining routine details to customers, saving human time for more complex interactions.
Third, it levels the playing field in the arms race between applicants and those screening their applications. Recently, applicants have been in despair as emotion-less institutional AI systems read and classified their resumes and scholarship applications according to opaque computerized decision frameworks. But ChatGPT does very well at cover letters and personal statements. Human resource departments, university application reviewers and grant application committees will never know if the blurbs on the forms were written by the applicant or ChatGPT.
The only clue will be that most human applications contain more spelling and grammar errors.
Fourth, ChatGPT will be a challenge for students and their assessors. It will be all too easy to have ChatGPT write the answer for your Socials 10 quiz or PoliSci 300 assignment. Just tweak the answer with a few human looking grammar mistakes, and no one will know. Students who do this will of course learn less. Teachers may have to test differently, such as putting students in wifi-less basement rooms for exams or even returning to the dreaded oral exam.
Bots are already writing lots of the content on the internet. Routine financial stories about corporate earnings are often already automated. In the longer run, journalists and columnists will survive only if they provide unique human insights on their topics.
In conclusion, AI chatbots have the potential to revolutionize the way we interact with businesses and organizations in the Yukon. These digital assistants can provide quick and efficient customer service, as well as offer valuable information and assistance to residents and visitors. As technology continues to advance and more people become familiar with interacting with chatbots, it’s likely that we’ll see an increasing number of businesses and organizations in the Yukon adopting this technology. However, it’s also important for businesses to be aware of the limitations of AI and not to fully rely on them, as human interaction and empathy will still be essential for certain situations. Overall, the use of AI chatbots in the Yukon has the potential to greatly benefit both businesses and customers alike.
I’ll leave you to figure out if that last paragraph was written by ChatGPT or me.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist, author of the Aurore of the Yukon youth adventure novels and co-host of the Klondike Gold Rush History podcast. He won the 2022 Canadian Community Newspaper Award for Outstanding Columnist.