The internet's smartest chatbot might never be OEM certified

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I'm not a tech-forward guy. 

I get a new iPhone only when my current one needs replacement, and CCJ's IT staff basically has to strong arm me into updating my laptop's operating system. It's really easy for me to miss major headlines in consumer technology simply because this is a field that doesn't interest me. 

Several weeks ago, a friend asked for my thoughts on ChatGPT. Of course I responded, "Is that some kind of Snapchat?" He explained the reality: it's an artificial intelligence chatbot and "if you ask it a question, it will give you an answer."

Isn't that what Google does?

Ask Chat GPT a question about puppiesNot wanting to be left further behind I thought I'd check it out. You quickly hit the ChatGPT registration wall. Something is unsettling about giving a self-learning AI platform your email address and cell phone number. I doubt John or Sarah Connor would approve. 

You can ask ChatGPT questions or you can tell it to do things; for example, write a haiku about puppies. 

ChatGPT “learns” by ingesting information that it’s been fed. In realtime, it regurgitates and paraphrases things written by someone else – after it cross references all the relevant information that it knows – to give you an answer (or to write your haiku). 

Upon further research (ironically, on Google) it seems a lot of people have high expectations for ChatGPT, especially in customer service and support, education and training, and as a personal assistant.

CCJ contributing columnist Bob Rutherford emailed me a few weeks ago after he apparently fell down the ChatGPT rabbit hole. Bob's enthusiasm for the platform was apparent. "In my humble opinion, ChatGPT is going to be the 'Assistant Director of Fleet Maintenance' in the future at every fleet," he wrote. 

Bob had asked the platform a couple good and basic questions about wheel balancing and he got two valid and reasonable answers. A win for Skynet, I guess. 

Wondering if the generic nature of his question was somehow an advantage for the AI, I tossed it a more specific (and loaded) question: How do you change a spark plug in a Cummins X15 engine? The answer was an eight-step generic "how to change a spark plug," but for obvious reasons it wasn't a relevant answer to my question. 

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So I asked it a follow up question: Do diesel engines have spark plugs? It got that right. "No, diesel engines do not have spark plugs. They use a different ignition system known as compression ignition, where the fuel is injected into the combustion chamber and is ignited by the high compression of the air in the cylinder. This process does not require spark plugs."

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So the platform knows a diesel engine doesn't have spark plugs but, I guess, it doesn't know a Cummins X15 is a diesel engine. Or maybe it assumes it's a gasoline engine because I specifically asked about spark plugs. 

In either case, I’m not sure Cummins would sign off on a maintenance manager using ChatGPT as a resource versus OEM manuals and Technology and Maintenance Council Recommended Practices. At least not right now. That ChatGPT doesn’t source its answers, you really just have to cross your fingers or be willing to roll the dice. I pasted its puppy haiku into Google and got no matches, so at least it doesn't plagiarize. 

Whereas Google says, “You asked me this question and here’s 100,000 sources that seem to have an answer. You can choose which one you think is correct (or one that you trust),” ChatGPT uses all the reference material it knows, generalizes it, and spits out a micro term paper based how it thinks all the information it has access to connects. There is no indication of where this information came from, or from where it was sourced. 

ChatGPT is still in beta; an Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator if you will rather than a Matt Smith Terminator. It will refine itself as more questions are asked, more answers are provided and it's fed more source material. If in a year I ask it how to change spark plugs in an engine that doesn't have any, I might get something like, "LOL. Dummy." 

Right now, I'm sure ChatGPT is a bonanza for middle school and high school kids in need a 1,000 word essay on the Franco-Prussian War. Will it ever become a viable middle manager-level resource for trucking maintenance? Not if it's standing at the parts counter asking for spark plugs. 

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]