Making a splash: ChatGPT as my new rubber duck

Exploring ChatGPT as a tool for my data work struggles

By Millie O. Symns in R SQL ChatGPT

March 31, 2023

Guess who’s back?!

Hey there! Missed me? We are back at the end of the first quarter. πŸ˜…

I wanted to take a little break to figure out what approach I want to take with my blogging this year. Last year was about creating the website and getting into the practice of building and maintaining my blog and website. This year, I want to get into more data and culture and dig deeper into projects when possible. So at first, I thought I would post every other month, but then it got to once a quarter with the occasional spontaneous one here and there throughout the year, which would be nice β€”trying to be better at not having much of a “perfection or nothing” approach to things. Work in progress! Haha!πŸ˜…

Brave new world with AI

The world has been a crazy place to be in the post-pandemic life we have been living, but the tech world has experienced another explosion with the introduction of ChatGPT. Quickly as it came out, I could see my Twitter feed filled with screenshots of responses. Like human nature, many people were on a spectrum between having fun and making it say silly things to looking for the limits to the technology to point out the flaws (as there needs to be with AI tech like this).

I was not quick on the bandwagon to try it out because, for years, AI/machine learning technology has been this bit of a black box that people have a hard time explaining or putting safety rails around it. Once it becomes a money-making tool, companies are quick to let things ride, and then it can fall apart. Examples include Google images incorrectly classifying Black people as gorillas, facial recognition software making incorrect identification leading to mistaken arrests, and Mircosoft’s chat box on Twitter spurring racial slurs. Before Google’s former CEO, Eric Schmidt, came out sharing his thoughts about how we need to be more careful about AI with the rise of this technology now people place in so many tools post ChatGPT release, there have been plenty of Black women, including Timit Gebru who fired from Google for pointing out the AI ethics issues with the harms to Black and brown people.

Alas, despite the buzzword frenzy of “AI” and “large language models,” reading more about ChatGPT and seeing what people were doing with it, I found it impressive and hopeful that since the technology is coming from the research arm of OpenAI that maybe (just maybe) humanity can be alright here). I proceeded cautiously, but I understand why this tool feels so revolutionary to society right now - because it kind of is.

ChatGPT became my new rubber duck!

I always liked the concept of rubber-ducking to work through code you are having trouble debugging, but being at the point of needing help means my brain is stuck in a loop, and I need something or someone to interpret a new perspective to get out of it. You can apply this concept with a colleague, but the point of rubber-ducking is to work it out yourself. For me to not bother my data friends and colleagues so much, that meant me taking to the internet and taking a while to find a solution. This is especially true when I am solo on a project. I have a good imagination for someone who used to work with preschoolers. Still, that rubber duck is not talking back to me with any reasonable solutions, which is why ChatGPT is so revolutionary for me because it will talk back. Even if I receive responses that are only partially what I am looking for, it is enough to get to my next steps.

Here are some examples of ways I have used ChatGPT as an assistant and rubber duck (I’ll spare you the screenshots because I think we have all seen enough of those on the internet):

πŸ“– Writing an email template or explaining stat test results - Sometimes, it has been a long day, and you just can’t be creative in how you want to message a group of people to complete a survey. For a task like this, the generic text ChatGPT gives is just fine and is often expected from folks anyway when being asked to fill out a survey, so I was able to get a solid template that I asked the chatbot to make short and friendly and just edit a sentence or two and done. ChatGPT is also great when I don’t have the energy to write up the results of a test like a regression or ANOVA. I can quickly get sample text together to explain the results to both technical and non-technical audiences. Such a game-changer there!

πŸ“¦ Finding alternative ways to write a SQL query or block of code - There are so many times when I want to do something, and I can only think of the simplest, most repetitive, and most tedious way to write the query or code. I have asked ChatGPT to take my code (that I would change some column names to absurd dummy variables like “rainbow_turtles,” just to be safe) and simplify it or make it more efficient. It works about 80% of the time, but that is okay for me because it is enough to help me get better at writing code. After all, I would ask follow-up questions on why it makes those choices. Another way I use it is when I write something that does not work as expected. I will tell ChatGPT to help rewrite it or explain why my thought process didn’t work. My rubber duck is not doing all of this.

πŸ“ Remind me of some stat basics - Since I am not doing research as much in my day-to-day as I have done i the past, when I try to work on some stats work in my own personal projects, I feel pretty rusty since I have not been working those muscles. I have had ChatGPT remind me of what stats to use to answer specific questions to checklists for survival analysis. I can’t imagine how great a study-buddy and assistant ChatGPT would have been for me in grad school or when I was learning R for the first time. However, if you don’t entirely know the subject, it can still steer you very wrong. ChatGPT should have warned me that using independent and dependent variables that depend on bleed into each other is a bad idea. I had to prompt it with the topic to correct itself in what it was suggesting I do. I would have been making erroneous claims if I did not know that. Nonetheless, still pretty helpful for what it is right now.

There are so many more uses for ChatGPT, but these are some of my favorites. And don’t worry; I am not using it to write any blog posts. That takes away all the fun and creativity - ChatGPT does not have this spice! HAHA!

Large language models aren’t taking over the world yet, so I think we can continue working with the technology with as much care as possible. Here are some general safety tips for using ChatGPT for when you go about exploring (if you haven’t already).

Honorable mention

I want to give an honorable mention to Phind as another AI tool that could be a replacement for a rubber duck. Another friend put me on to this! When ChatGPT isn’t working how I want, I go to Phind for my coding needs.

Catch you in the next quarter!

Posted on:
March 31, 2023
6 minute read, 1269 words
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