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ChatGPT Launches Custom Instructions Feature, but It Comes at a Cost

BY Andrew Rossow

July 21, 2023

OpenAI, the pioneering artificial intelligence research organization, announced on Thursday a significant enhancement to its ChatGPT platform. Users will soon be able to tailor the responses of the AI chatbot to better align with their preferences without having to repeat those needs each time.

This new feature, termed “custom instructions,” encourages users to more clearly define the parameters for ChatGPT’s replies. While currently exclusive to Plus subscribers, OpenAI’s CEO, Sam Altman, hinted in a tweet that a broader rollout is imminent.

The introduction of custom instructions is a stride towards a more individualized AI experience, but it does come at a cost — users will need to choose between convenience and maintaining their privacy.

Simplifying your conversations

OpenAI has provided “thought starters” to guide users in optimizing this feature. These prompts, for example, encompass aspects like the user’s location, professional background, hobbies, and aspirations. Once this data is inputted, users can further refine parameters, such as the desired formality level of the response, the manner in which ChatGPT addresses the user, and the degree of subjectivity in its replies.

In its tweet, OpenAI shared some use cases from early adopters who tested out the new feature:

  • Users can share their level of expertise in a specific field to avoid unnecessary explanations.
  • Users interested in learning a new language or enhancing their existing knowledge can practice their conversations with grammar correction.
  • Users seeking more legal context can receive responses governed by their country’s specific laws.
  • Users can enhance their novel writing by using “character sheets” to help ChatGPT maintain a consistent understanding of story characters in ongoing interactions.
  • Users can instruct ChatGPT to consistently output code updates in a unified format.
  • Users who want to maintain a consistent voice can apply the same voice and writing style as provided in emails to all future email writing requests.

Once set, ChatGPT will consistently factor in these guidelines in all subsequent interactions, eliminating the need for users to reiterate their preferences in every conversation.

Convenience will always trump privacy

With these innovative features, there are still challenges with respect to the potential for sensitive information to be integrated into ChatGPT for training purposes. Tech behemoths like Apple and Samsung have already instituted restrictions on ChatGPT usage among their employees, citing apprehensions about privacy and potential intellectual property breaches.

Furthermore, an advisory memo directed U.S. House of Representative staff to exercise caution while using ChatGPT. It recommended the exclusive use of the Plus version and emphasized the importance of not inputting private data blocks into the chatbot.

In response to these concerns, OpenAI unveiled a suite of privacy enhancements for ChatGPT in April. These updates provided users with the option to decline the use of their chat history for training OpenAI’s AI models, but that automatically disables a user’s ability to use the “custom instructions” feature.

With most of today’s consumer tech, there is always that question of how much of your personal information you’re willing to provide just so you can use that new gadget (or smart home assistant).

As the realm of artificial intelligence continues to evolve, the balance between customization and privacy remains a focal point of discussion. With OpenAI’s latest update, the conversation around user-centric AI experiences and the associated challenges is set to intensify.

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