June 14, 2024

Hello!we’re back with another version Technology: Artificial Intelligencea pop-up newsletter that introduces you to artificial intelligence, how it works, and how to use it.

Last week, I showed you how to use AI to prepare for dreaded office meetings. Now, let’s take that hard-earned money and move on to something more fun: shopping.

For many people, the most time-consuming part of shopping is the research process: perusing review sites and picking out what’s right for you, whether it’s coffee equipment or a hotel room that’s convenient and affordable.

I’ll describe what AI can do to help make informed buying decisions quickly and efficiently. In this exercise, I will focus on using chatbots including Microsoft’s Bing, Google’s Bard, and OpenAI’s ChatGPT for product research. I’ll also explore how to use the ChatGPT plugin, a newer development for creating shopping lists and planning trips.

Let’s say you like making your coffee in a French press, and you want to buy a grinder that costs less than $200. A typical research process is to do a web search and read tons of reviews.

AI chatbots can simplify this process. Microsoft’s Bing and Google’s Bard connect to search engines by default and are currently the best gear to get the latest product recommendations.

As always, the right hints yield the best results. For this example, you could type something like: “As a shopping assistant. I’m looking for a French press coffee bean grinder with good reviews. It shouldn’t cost more than $200.” In response, Bing and Bard would list Example of a standard-compliant grinder.

You can also ask the chatbot tougher questions, such as which household appliances will last. You could type something like, “As a shopping assistant. I’m looking for refrigerators. Which brands have the highest reliability ratings, and what are their well-reviewed refrigerators?”

These bots will tell you which appliances have the highest reliability ratings from publications like Consumer Reports and The New York Times’ own Wirecutter.

Whenever you use a chatbot, it’s a good idea to check the accuracy of the results. But doing a web search to double-check a robot’s recommendations is much faster than starting a manual search from scratch.

Now let’s talk about the future. OpenAI is developing a plugin platform, which is essentially a third-party app store that allows you to add functionality to ChatGPT. Add-ons, including those for web browsing and shopping, are currently only available to subscribers who pay $20 per month for ChatGPT Plus.

If you are a paid subscriber, to use the plugin, please visit ChatGPT Settings menu, click Beta Features, then turn on Plugins. Then, in the ChatGPT app or website, go to the GPT-4 tab and click “Plugins”. Then click the down arrow and select Plugins Store. You can search for apps here. Let’s start with the grocery delivery app Instacart.

Try typing in a prompt like, “I’m making spaghetti bolognese. What’s a good recipe and what are the ingredients?” The chatbot will list the ingredients in the dish and offer to generate a shopping list.

Another fun way to use the plugin is to shop around for dietary restrictions. For example, “I’m cooking dinner for a pescatarian. Give me a suggestion and ingredients.” The bot will suggest a meal — in my case, lemon garlic butter shrimp — and list the ingredients.

Clicking on the shopping list takes you to Instacart, where you can automatically load everything into your cart and choose a grocery store to make your purchases.

If you don’t want to pay for ChatGPT Plus, you can still use AI for grocery shopping. Try asking Bing for a recipe, then ask it for a shopping list of the ingredients you need. In one particularly neat trick, you can even ask it to organize your grocery list by grocery aisle.

There are also plugins from travel sites like Kayak and Expedia that can help with travel planning. For example, you might be looking for well-reviewed hotels within walking distance of tourist attractions for up to $500 a night—a process that often involves wading through reviews and poring over maps.

Let’s try the Expedia plugin as a shortcut.

“I will be traveling to Florence, Italy starting in July. Find hotels with great reviews within walking distance of tourist attractions. My budget is $500 per night.” The bot responded to the prompt, listing ratings on Expedia Rating 9 and above, these hotels are close to tourist attractions such as the Central Market and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

You can also search for flights using the Expedia plugin. For example, “I want to fly from San Francisco to Milan, Italy on July 28th. What’s the best option for a short layover?” ChatGPT will then load Expedia’s shortest flight results. It made three return flights from KLM, Delta and United, all with a single layover of no more than two hours. (I tried the same tips on Bard and Bing, which showed generic information and inaccurate fares – didn’t help!)

Next week, I’ll show you how to use AI to organize your life.

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