ChatGPT is not a search engine, but rather a ‘glider’ that can improve your results, according to an engineer with a Harvard PhD in neuroscience.

ChatGPT is not a search engine, but rather a 'glider' that can improve your results, according to an engineer with a Harvard PhD in neuroscience.

Flying with ChatGPT: Exploring Knowledge and Possibilities


Have you ever found yourself frustrated by the limitations of search engines? You’re not alone. As a human factors engineer, I understand the importance of never blaming the user. However, the ChatGPT search-box interface can lead users to have unrealistic expectations. It’s essential to understand how ChatGPT works to use it effectively.

Unlike a search engine that retrieves information from existing sources, ChatGPT generates every word from scratch. It’s like a glider, taking you on a journey through knowledge and possibilities. When you prompt ChatGPT, it creates an original answer based on its training on vast amounts of text. But here’s the critical distinction: each chat retains context during a conversation. Previous questions and answers influence later responses, making the answers malleable.

To unlock the full potential of ChatGPT, you need to learn how to fly the glider effectively. Let’s dive into the dimensions of knowledge and understand how to shape productive sessions with ChatGPT.

Dimensions of Knowledge: Exploring Topics

When using ChatGPT, you can begin by thinking about a specific dimension or space within a topic that intrigues you. For instance, if you’re fascinated by chocolate, you could ask ChatGPT to write a tragic love story about Hershey’s Kisses. The glider has been trained on everything ever written about Kisses and possesses knowledge about different story spaces. You can explore these spaces and have the glider produce the desired story.

Alternatively, you can ask ChatGPT to explain five ways in which chocolate is healthy, but with a twist: request the response in the style of Dr. Seuss. By launching the glider through different dimensions like chocolate and health, you can have the response tailored to a distinct style.

However, to unleash ChatGPT’s true potential, you need to fly the glider through “transversal” spaces that cross multiple domains of knowledge. By guiding ChatGPT through these domains, you allow it to learn the scope and angle of your interests, resulting in better answers.

For instance, instead of asking a generic question like “Can you give me advice on getting healthy?” which lacks context, try this prompt: “Pretend you are a medical doctor, a nutritionist, and a personal coach. Prepare a two-week food and exercise plan for a 56-year-old man to increase heart health.” By adding specificity and activating multiple dimensions simultaneously, you guide ChatGPT to provide a more accurate and comprehensive response.

You can further refine your prompts by activating additional dimensions. For example, if you want to lose weight, build muscle, spend limited time on exercise, and dislike certain foods, mention those specific details within your prompt. ChatGPT will consider all the activated dimensions, allowing you to receive tailored output.

Flight Plan: Guiding ChatGPT’s Direction

As you interact with ChatGPT, the dimensions you add through prompts can be informed by its previous answers. Suppose you receive eight behavior-change interventions from ChatGPT for cancer prevention in rural communities. If three ideas seem promising, you can follow up with a prompt that encourages more details and put the interventions into a format suitable for public messaging. This iterative process allows you to refine and improve the insights provided by ChatGPT.

To ensure ChatGPT focuses on specific dimensions you deem important, you can prompt it to add more weight and depth to those dimensions. Let’s say you care deeply about the behavior-change aspect of reducing rural cancer rates. You can first activate that dimension with a prompt like: “Classify behavior-change techniques into 6 named categories. Within each, describe three approaches and name two important researchers in the category.” This added specificity ensures ChatGPT incorporates your preferences into subsequent explorations.

Besides domains and expertise, you can also specify output style and audience to fine-tune ChatGPT’s responses. For instance, you could prompt it to “write as an essay for The Economist” or to “create and describe 5 clusters of customer types and write a product description for each.” These prompt elements further enhance your control over the glider’s journey.

Explorations, Not Answers: Navigating with ChatGPT

To fully appreciate ChatGPT’s capabilities, it’s crucial to reject the search engine metaphor and embrace the transdimensional glider metaphor. ChatGPT is not a tool for simple question-and-answer sessions; it is an interactive conversation that builds knowledge for both the user and the chatbot.

Remember, the facts and details provided by ChatGPT are not taken from verified sources or expert opinions. They are imaginative conjectures generated based on ChatGPT’s training on vast but non-curated data. Therefore, it’s essential to critically evaluate the information it presents, treating it as explorations and suggestions rather than hard facts.

ChatGPT excels when you actively participate in shaping its responses. The more information you provide, and the more feedback you give, the better it becomes at delivering relevant and valuable insights. Think of ChatGPT as your co-pilot, suggesting possible routes for exploration, but ultimately it’s up to you, the human pilot, to verify, analyze, and filter the content it provides.

So, strap in and let ChatGPT take you on a rich journey through knowledge and possibilities. With the right prompts and a willingness to explore, you will uncover new insights and have the opportunity to shape ChatGPT’s responses to meet your needs.

James Intriligator is a Professor of the Practice at Tufts University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.