A crowd of older adults packed a Marion Council on Aging program on artificial intelligence last month showing real appreciation for the possibilities of the new technology.

Presenter David Wheeler, president of Therapy Gardens, focused the program on one specific AI platform and what it can do. Called ChatGPT, the product was created by Open AI, an AI research and deployment company that exists to ensure artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity, according to the company’s website.

ChatGPT is used online in a chat-like format and is available free for anyone who signs up.

Wheeler showed participants how the AI can assist people with tasks in both expected and unexpected ways. Examples included translating content into many languages, writing business letters, and producing information, all done within seconds of being asked.

But the function can do so much more too. AI has stumped chess masters and can spot anomalies in x-rays no human eye could see, he said.“People are using this to make stock picks and making money.”

Showing his laptop screen to the group as he worked, Wheeler asked ChatGPT to write a letter thanking a teacher for a present. ChatGPT complied in seconds, showing the nicely written letter on the screen.

Then Wheeler asked it to write the same letter again, this time like Charles Dickens would. Again, within seconds ChatGPT offered up a letter that sounded like it was taken straight out of “Great Expectations.”

Not yet satisfied, Wheeler asked ChatGPT to write the letter like Ernest Hemingway would and it did. This time the letter communicated the message using only a handful of words.

Of all the uses, the biggest oohs and aahs in the room came when Wheeler asked ChatGPT to plan a low sodium, low sugar dinner party for four people with two sides and a dessert and to include recipes and a shopping list.

Within seconds ChatGPT responded with all the requested information.

Then he asked it to put the shopping list in alphabetical order, which it did, again within seconds.

The next possibility, Wheeler said, will be to ask it to put the list in order according to the grocery store layout to make shopping easier and eventually there will be a button to hit to have everything delivered to your doorstep.

It isn’t quite there yet, he said, but “It’s going to happen.”

Once the possibilities were clearer, those in the room discussed the pros and cons of having a machine think, write, and communicate for us. Several retired educators, Wheeler included, wondered how it would impact learning environments.

Wheeler acknowledged the changes that will come from having this ability in the hands of youth, but also thought children will still have to think for themselves and education with shift to meet the new possibilities.

Wrapping up, Wheeler suggested people sign up for ChatGPT if they’re interested and play around with it.

“Don’t be afraid of this stuff,” he advised. “You can tell it, ‘I live in Marion and I’m lonely’ and it will tell you where you can go to meet people and what you can do.”

“What you want is here, you just have to chip away at it,” he added, referring to the back-and-forth interactions with ChatGPT, finetuning what you are asking for to get the best response.

Then he said smiling, “Always say please in case the machines take over.”

ChatGPT 3.5 is available free at OpenAI.com. Click on ‘Log in’ where you’ll get an option to sign up. A more powerful version is available for a monthly fee.