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A ChatGPT prompt

Looking for work in AI? Brush up on your language skills.

What’s new: Employers are hiring prompt engineers to write natural-language prompts for AI models, The Washington Post reported. They include Anthropic, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the London law firm Mischon de Reya.

How they work: The report illuminates a few tricks of the trade.

  • When prompting GPT-3, Riley Goodside of Scale AI uses a conversational approach. He starts by guiding the model to adopt a persona that is capable of solving a given problem. (One of his gambits appears in the illustration above.) When the model makes an error, he asks it to explain its reasoning over a series of conversational turns.
  • Ben Stokes, the founder of the online prompt marketplace PromptBase, suggests that prompting image-generation models effectively requires a deep knowledge of art history, graphic design, and other creative fields.
  • Image-generation prompts often consist of words or phrases rather than complete sentences. Successful prompts may include an artist’s name, a website that features a certain art style, a technique like “oil painting,” an aesthetic style like “Persian architecture,” or equipment like “35mm camera.”
  • The field nurtures a thriving freelance market as well. Over 700 prompt engineers sell their text strings on PromptBase. The freelance-task bulletin board Fiverr lists more than 9,000 AI artists who work with models like Stable Diffusion and Midjourney.

What they’re saying: “The hottest new programming language is English,” Andrej Karpathy, the former Tesla Senior Director of AI who now works at OpenAI, tweeted.

Behind the news: Bloggers and social media users documented early experiments in prompt engineering, such as using analogies to teach GPT-3 how to invent its own fantasy worlds and constructive feedback to prod GPT-3 into performing arithmetic. Researchers have also explored the practice. For example, a 2022 paper identified six classes of modifiers for image-generation prompts.

Yes, but: Prompt engineering can’t produce reliable results due to the black-box nature of generative AI models based on neural networks, said Shane Steinert-Threlkeld, a linguist who studies natural language processing. To wit: A 2021 study found that some prompt instructions that contained nonsense phrases were as effective as those that were worded with care.

Why it matters: Text- and image-generation models have fueled a rush of investment. The professionalization of prompt engineering followed as companies began to harness the technology.

We’re thinking: New technology often creates new professions that fizzle out as things advance. For instance, early elevators required human operators until automation made that profession obsolete. Prompt engineers may experience the same fate as generative AI models continue to advance and become easier to direct. Professionals who are banking on this job title can hedge their bets by learning to code, tune algorithms, and implement models.


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