ChatGPT: The AI chatbot that will change the way marine surveyors work and live

ChatGPT is set to change the digital landscape for good
ChatGPT is set to change the digital landscape for good

Article by Mike Schwarz, IIMS Chief Executive Officer

ChatGPT is in our midst. The one thing we know for sure is that in this modern digital world, things never stand still for long and there is always something bright, shiny and new coming along to challenge us, threatening to change the digital landscape and the way we operate for good.

ChatGPT is one such innovation. Perhaps you have already heard about this phenomenon, or maybe it is completely new to you. As a business acquaintance said to me when I asked her about it, “No idea Mike what you are talking about, can I phone a friend?” she asked. So, don’t be too harsh on yourself if ChatGPT has passed you by thus far!

Although ChatGPT was only launched to the big wide world in November 2022, in the first few weeks it was said to have gained 100 million users. Indeed, so busy were their servers that getting on to the platform proved difficult for me and I had to try repeatedly, (such was the interest), although that has eased now. A couple of friends and marine surveyors drew my attention to the platform initially.

So what exactly is ChatGPT, what’s the buzz and where do the concerns lie?
(Content in italics adapted from Wikipedia)

ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI. It is built on top of OpenAI’s GPT-3 family of large language models and has been fine-tuned using both supervised and reinforcement learning techniques. ChatGPT has quickly garnered attention for its detailed responses and articulate answers across many domains of knowledge. Its uneven factual accuracy, however, has been identified as a significant drawback. GPT-4, the newest OpenAI model, was released on March 14, 2023.

Features and limitations
Although the core function of a chatbot is to mimic a human conversationalist, ChatGPT is versatile. For example, it can write and debug computer programs, compose music, teleplays, fairy tales, and student essays; answer test questions (sometimes, depending on the test, at a level above the average human test-taker); write poetry and song lyrics; emulate a Linux system; simulate an entire chat room and play games like tic-tac-toe.

ChatGPT suffers from multiple limitations (for now). OpenAI acknowledged that ChatGPT “sometimes writes plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers”. This behavior is common to large language models and is called artificial intelligence hallucination.

ChatGPT has limited knowledge of events that occurred after 2021. According to the BBC, as of December 2022, ChatGPT is not allowed to “express political opinions or engage in political activism”. Yet, research suggests that ChatGPT exhibits a pro-environmental, left-libertarian orientation when prompted to take a stance on political statements from two established voting advice applications.

Assuming I have not completely lost you at this point, there are a couple of clues in the above text that might help you to understand the concerns. The Professional Qualifications that IIMS delivers through distance learning are assignment based. Let’s assume an unscrupulous student uses ChatGPT to cheat and create the content for his/her assignment. We then run it through our internal IIMS plagiarism checker and, lo and behold, it says the content is original material; and indeed it is original material generated by ChatGPT. How can we be sure the assignment is the student’s own original work? And how much, if anything, has the student learned about the topic if his/her assignment has been generated by a chatbot? I and two colleagues asked ChatGPT the same question and it came back with three different answers generating original content each time and factually correct in each case.

Of course, this is not just a concern for IIMS. Think of the potential consequences for teachers marking students’ homework, or academics and University Professors assessing a detailed degree thesis. Has it been produced by the student or by artificial intelligence? At this time these are major concerns for educators across the globe.

In February 2023, these mounting concerns prompted the University of Hong Kong to send a campus-wide email to instructors and students stating that the use of ChatGPT, or other AI tools, is strictly prohibited in all classes, assignments, and assessments at the university. Any violations will be treated as plagiarism by the university unless the student obtains prior written consent from the course instructor. An interesting development.

And others have weighed in with their comments too. Here’s just a small selection
– Kevin Roose of The New York Times labelled ChatGPT “the best artificial intelligence chatbot ever released to the general public”.
-Samantha Lock of The Guardian newspaper noted that it was able to generate “impressively detailed” and “human-like” text.
– Technology writer Dan Gillmor used ChatGPT on a student assignment, and found its generated text was on par with what a good student would deliver and opined that “academia has some very serious issues to confront”.
– Kelsey Piper of the Vox website wrote that “ChatGPT is the general public’s first hands-on introduction to how powerful modern AI has gotten, and as a result, many of us are stunned” and that ChatGPT is “smart enough to be useful despite its flaws”.
– Stuart Cobbe, a chartered accountant in the UK, decided to test ChatGPT by entering questions from a sample exam paper on the ICAEW website and then entering its answers back into the online test. ChatGPT scored 42 percent, which, while below the 55 percent pass mark, was considered a reasonable attempt.

Before considering what direct impact this might have on the marine surveying and maritime world at large, let’s consider the upsides and downsides of ChatGPT.

The positives

Here are the potential benefits of ChatGpt:
– ChatGPT provides specific responses to user queries and questions.
– Follow-up questions and prompts. ChatGPT can answer follow-up questions and prompts as you continue an ongoing dialogue with it, giving you more understanding on the original question you asked.
– Admits its mistakes. If something goes wrong, ChatGPT seems to recognise that, will admit its mistakes, and helps you get to the right answer.
– Reject inappropriate requests. ChatGPT is designed to filter out inappropriate language and requests.
– User-friendly. Chatting with ChatGPT seems no different from speaking with another human and provides fluid and accurate replies. It is user-friendly, composes its replies the way a human might, and has an intuitive interface.
– ChatGPT is multilingual. The software can detect dialogue in 73 different languages and can provide intelligent answers in the language of the user.

The negatives

The drawbacks and disadvantages of ChatGPT:
– ChatGPT is designed to generate plausible conversations based on what it’s learned from training data, but sometimes it can return answers that don’t make any sense or are totally inaccurate.
– Monitoring for misuse. The use of natural language processing could be considered a double-edged sword. While it allows the system to follow instructions, it can also be convenient for misusing it too. If users give instructions to generate unsafe responses, ChatGPT may not be able to identify those instructions and could process them.
– Lack of knowledge and making up facts. At this time ChatGPT has no data beyond September 2021 so cannot deal with topical questions. ChatGPT is only as accurate as the data it’s fed. If the data is outdated or insufficient, it can lead to inaccurate responses and even complete falsehoods.
– Lack of quality control. Quality control is difficult to implement when using ChatGPT. Since it is simply generating text based on what it is told, it is unable to understand any nuances or levels of quality.
– ChatGPT cannot be used in all situations. For complex tasks involving reasoning or explanation, it is not suitable.
– Since ChatGPT is modelled on natural language processing, the AI is not sophisticated enough to understand the user’s moods or facial expressions. Similarly, its accuracy in detecting and responding to the user’s intent is relatively low.

Despite the drawbacks to the platform, it will almost certainly improve and change rapidly as the system is further developed and improved.

So how does this play out in the world of marine surveying and the wider maritime world? Let me start by quoting from a frankly staggering and frightening article entitled “Ship captain believes ChatGPT told him to change course” written by John Konrad that was published on the gCaptain website.

Here’s an extract from the article:
“gCaptain has obtained a troubling report from an American captain, who claims that a shipowner utilized an AI bot, potentially ChatGPT, to suggest modifications to the ship’s voyage plan. While the captain chose not to adhere to the recommendations, they are concerned that others may not exercise the same caution.

“The captain composed a message with his concerns and emailed it to the shipowner for guidance. The captain received a quick reply. He informed gCaptain that the first and final paragraphs of the message contained pleasantries and appears to be written by a human, but the advice on how to mitigate risk “sounds like an AI wrote it”. This message included advice that would have required a course change during the voyage.

“At this point, it’s difficult to prove the message was created by an AI, but it’s certainly in a style similar to that produced by AI.”

You can read this disturbing article in full by clicking here and I recommend you do.

It will not surprise you to learn that I have personally tested ChatGPT partly for business use, but also for fun by asking it to write poems and indeed it delivered beautifully crafted and linguistically impressive verse which I could never have managed.

I’d like to share with you some of the recent conversations I have had with ChatGPT.

Mike asked:
Please tell me something about the marine surveying profession.

ChatGPT replied:
Marine surveying is the profession of inspecting, assessing, and evaluating marine vessels, cargoes, and equipment for a variety of purposes, including safety, compliance with regulations, and insurance coverage. Marine surveyors are typically employed by shipowners, insurance companies, government agencies, and other maritime entities.

The primary goal of a marine surveyor is to ensure that a vessel or piece of equipment is safe and seaworthy for its intended use. They conduct inspections and tests to verify that the vessel or equipment meets the relevant standards and regulations. They may also investigate accidents and incidents to determine the cause and recommend preventive measures.

Marine surveyors can specialize in a particular area of expertise, such as cargo, hull and machinery, or yacht surveying. They may also work in different types of environments, including shipyards, ports, offshore installations, and marine insurance offices.

To become a marine surveyor, one typically needs a degree in naval architecture, marine engineering, or a related field, as well as several years of experience in the maritime industry. Professional certifications and licenses may also be required.

Overall, the marine surveying profession plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of the maritime industry.

Mike asked:
Who can practice as a marine surveyor?

ChatGPT replied:
Marine surveyors are professionals who inspect and evaluate boats, ships, and other watercraft to assess their condition, safety, and compliance with applicable regulations and standards. The qualifications and requirements to practice as a marine surveyor can vary depending on the specific type of surveying being performed and the jurisdiction in which the work is taking place.

In general, however, marine surveyors typically need to have a strong background in marine engineering, naval architecture, or a related field, as well as relevant work experience in the maritime industry. They may also need to obtain specialized training and certification in areas such as cargo, hull and machinery, yacht and small craft, or offshore energy.

In addition to technical knowledge and experience, marine surveyors should possess good communication skills, attention to detail, and an ability to work independently and manage their own workload. They should also have a thorough understanding of the regulations and standards that apply to the type of surveying they are performing, as well as the ability to stay up-to-date with changes and updates in these areas.

Mike asked:
I’d like to know what yacht masts are made of.

ChatGPT replied:
Yacht masts can be made from a variety of materials, including:
Aluminum: This is the most common material for yacht masts. Aluminum is lightweight, durable, and relatively inexpensive. It’s also easy to work with, which makes it a popular choice for custom masts. However, aluminum masts can corrode over time and require regular maintenance to prevent this.

Carbon Fiber: Carbon fiber masts are becoming increasingly popular for high-performance racing yachts. They are lighter and stiffer than aluminum masts, which can improve the boat’s speed and handling. Carbon fiber masts are also corrosion-resistant and require less maintenance than aluminum masts. However, they are more expensive and can be more difficult to repair if damaged.

Wood: Wooden masts are traditional and aesthetically pleasing, but they are less common than they used to be due to their weight and maintenance requirements. Wooden masts can be made from a variety of woods, such as Sitka spruce or Douglas fir, and require regular varnishing and upkeep to prevent rot and decay.

Steel: Steel masts are strong and durable, but they are also heavy and can be prone to corrosion. They are more common on larger, commercial vessels than on yachts.

Overall, the material used for a yacht mast depends on factors such as the size of the boat, its intended use, and the owner’s preferences and budget. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages, and the choice of material will affect the performance, maintenance, and longevity of the yacht mast.

From what I can judge these are plausible, well thought out replies and there is nothing incorrect with the answers provided by ChatGPT to my three questions. My only minor quibble is that it responds in American English, but otherwise the language is good with no grammatical or punctuation mistakes. It is impressive.

If I have a fear it is that a marine surveyor could use ChatGPT to advise on a technical aspect which he/she then inserts into his/her survey report. Whilst you will certainly get an answer to your question, how accurate is it and how can you fact-check it? Tread carefully is my best advice and use the platform with caution. But it could be a useful tool to further your knowledge in technical areas.

A friend recently told me he had asked ChatGPT to write a fantasy film script based on a James Bond theme to include espionage, gold smuggling and inter-government conspiracies. I have read ChatGPT’s output and it was most impressive indeed and if my friend chose to, there is nothing seemingly to stop him from passing it off as his own work.

I will leave you with a few additional quotes to ponder.
“ChatGPT is a chatbot that can write essays with advanced language skills, reply to questions similar to human conversation, write code, and reminds us all that artificial intelligence is changing the world as we speak.” Dave Waters

“ChatGPT is one of those rare moments in technology where you see a glimmer of how everything is going to be different going forward.” Aaron Levie

“ChatGPT will be brutal in classrooms where writing is assigned rather than taught.” Brett Vogelsinger

“As more boneheads use ChatGPT to cheat, the worth of excellence will skyrocket globally.” Abhijit Naskar

“ChatGPT is like the Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution, many people lost their jobs but machines helped to produce things faster. Similarly, if ChatGPT is free forever, many people will lose jobs but productivity will be manifold!” Md. Ziaul Haque

So in conclusion, you may be wondering if I actually wrote this article myself, or was it written by ChatGPT, the AI chatbot that is here to stay and change our lives forever? You will never know!

Instagram Posts from the IIMS @iimsmarine