Experiments with ChatGPT, Part I

I’ve been reading and listening a lot about AI the last few weeks; not remotely my area but obviously important. I decided to try out the current version of ChatGPT. This is the first of a couple posts where I ask ChatGPT questions relevant to my research or teaching and see what happens. Today: history.

I asked four historical/factual questions about the same general topic, at different levels of detail or demandingness. The first pair are about the history of Nepal’s Communist movement (something I am researching), and the second about the political economy of technology/development in East Asia (I am reading Chip War right now).

For these kinds of historical questions that have a decent amount of internet-available information, ChatGPT is getting at least to the level of generating quality Wikipedia-level synthetic content. That may sounds like damning with faint praise, but it’s actually a huge deal – if I was a college sophomore crashing on a paper the night before it was due, these answers would all at least offer a solid starting point, saving me real time wandering news articles and Wikipedia entries to get the big picture. Specialists can poke and prod at many aspects of the answers below, but they are not on-face ridiculous.

As we’ll see in the next post, things get way more complicated as we move into other kinds of questions that are not about facts per se, but for “general historical narrative and the rough beginnings of a gesture toward explanation” ChatGPT is already doing some serious things. I did notice lots of network errors and crashes, which I guess is to be expected with a free beta that tons of people are trying out, but would not make me want to rely on ChatGPT to fuel an all-nighter.


Easier question: what is the history of Nepal’s Communist movement?

Answer: “The history of Nepal’s Communist movement dates back to the early 1950s, when the country was ruled by a monarchy and was undergoing a process of political transformation. At that time, Nepal had a small and fragmented Communist movement, with several small Marxist-Leninist groups operating independently.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Nepal’s Communist movement underwent a period of rapid growth and transformation, driven by a number of factors including political repression, economic inequality, and the rise of leftist movements around the world. During this period, several Communist parties emerged, including the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist-Leninist (CPN-ML).

In 1996, a decade-long Maoist insurgency began in Nepal, led by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M). The Maoists aimed to overthrow the monarchy and establish a socialist republic in Nepal, and they gained significant support from marginalized and oppressed communities, particularly in rural areas.

The insurgency was marked by significant violence, with both the Maoists and government forces accused of committing human rights abuses. The conflict ended in 2006, with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Maoists and the government.

After the end of the conflict, Nepal’s Communist movement continued to evolve and transform. In 2018, two major Communist parties, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The NCP won a significant victory in Nepal’s parliamentary elections later that year, and formed a government with Communist leader KP Sharma Oli as prime minister.

However, in March 2021, the NCP split into two factions, with Oli leading one faction and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal leading the other. The split has led to significant political instability in Nepal, with ongoing protests and calls for new elections.”

My comment: as a Wikipedia-level answer, this is quite adequate, even if you can definitely have serious quibbles with some of the claims (the 1960s-70s certainly saw “transformation” in the Nepali Left, but “rapid growth” seems a a stretch given the continued dominance of the panchayat system and the crushing of 1970s ultra-left movements – but again, this is quibbling compared to the likely purposes of using ChatGPT to get this answer; same deal with the specific timing of the CPN unification (coalition vs. actual party merger) and the 2018 election).

Harder question: What were the factional politics within Nepal’s Communist movement during the 1990s, and what key issues divided the movement?

Answer: “During the 1990s, the Communist movement in Nepal was divided into several factions, each with its own distinct political ideology and agenda. The two main factions were the United Marxist-Leninist (UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) (CPN-M).

The UML was formed in 1991 after the merger of the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Marxist-Leninist). The UML believed in a gradualist approach to achieving socialism and advocated for democratic means to achieve its political goals.

On the other hand, the CPN-M was formed in 1994 after a split in the UML. The CPN-M was led by Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai and believed in a more radical approach to achieving socialism. They advocated for a “people’s war” to overthrow the existing government and establish a socialist state.

The key issues that divided the Communist movement in Nepal during the 1990s included the role of parliamentary democracy in achieving socialism, the nature of the revolution needed to bring about socialism, and the relationship between Nepal and its two powerful neighbors, India and China.

The UML believed in participating in parliamentary NETWORK ERROR

My comment: It had been slow-going to this point, and ChatGPT ran out of steam. I had it regenerate an answer but it had another error. I don’t know if this was an idiosyncratic general network problem, or specific to this question, but it was definitely making some progress and I could see it offering a pretty detailed answer in future iterations.

Taiwan/East Asia

Easier question: what are the geopolitical dynamics of semiconductor production in Taiwan?

“The geopolitical dynamics of semiconductor production in Taiwan are complex and multi-faceted. Taiwan is a major producer of semiconductors, which are critical components used in a wide range of electronic devices, including smartphones, computers, and automobiles. Given the strategic importance of semiconductors, their production and distribution have become key elements of global power politics.

One of the key geopolitical dynamics in the semiconductor industry in Taiwan is the role of China. China is a major consumer of semiconductors, and has been seeking to increase its domestic production of these components in order to reduce its reliance on imports. However, China’s semiconductor industry is still relatively underdeveloped, and it relies heavily on imports from Taiwan. This has created a complex dynamic between the two countries, with Taiwan seeking to protect its semiconductor industry while also trying to maintain positive relations with China.

Another key geopolitical dynamic in the semiconductor industry in Taiwan is the role of the United States. The US is a major consumer of semiconductors, and has been concerned about the potential impact of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry on national security. The US government has been seeking to promote domestic semiconductor production and has also been pressuring Taiwan to increase transparency and security measures in its semiconductor industry.

In recent years, tensions between the US and China have also added to the geopolitical complexities of the semiconductor industry in Taiwan. The US has been using its economic and political power to pressure Taiwan to limit its semiconductor exports to China, while China has been seeking to increase its control over Taiwan’s semiconductor industry through economic and political means.

Overall, the geopolitical dynamics of semiconductor production in Taiwan reflect the complex interplay between economic, political, and security considerations. The country’s strategic importance as a producer of semiconductors has made it a key player in global power politics, with the actions of Taiwan and other countries shaping NETWORK ERROR

There was an error generating a response”

My comment: Both times I asked I ended up with a network error. Still, even before ChatGPT crashed, this is a useful beginning of an answer.

Harder question: What explains the divergent developmental strategies of the “Asian Tigers”?

Answer “The “Asian Tigers” refer to a group of four countries in Asia: South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, that experienced rapid economic growth and development between the 1960s and 1990s. While these countries share some similarities in terms of their developmental strategies, there are also important differences in their approaches.

There are several factors that may help explain the divergent developmental strategies of the Asian Tigers:

  1. Historical context: Each of the Asian Tigers has a unique history that has influenced its developmental trajectory. For example, South Korea and Taiwan were both heavily influenced by Japan during the early 20th century, which may have influenced their focus on export-oriented manufacturing. Singapore, on the other hand, was a British colony until the 1960s and had to develop its own economy from scratch.
  2. Political institutions: The political institutions of each country may have also played a role in shaping their developmental strategies. For example, Singapore has a highly centralized government with strict rules and regulations, which may have facilitated its rapid industrialization. South Korea, in contrast, has had a more democratic system, which may have allowed for greater political participation and economic diversification.
  3. Human capital: The human capital of each country, including education levels, may also have played a role in shaping their developmental strategies. For example, South Korea and Taiwan both have highly educated populations, which may have facilitated their transition to high-tech manufacturing and service-based industries.
  4. Economic policies: Each country pursued different economic policies to promote growth and development. For example, Singapore pursued a policy of free trade and export-oriented growth, while South Korea pursued a policy of import substitution and government-led industrialization.
  5. Geography and natural resources: The geography and natural resources of each country may have also played a role in shaping their developmental strategies. For example, Hong Kong and Singapore are both small island economies with limited natural resources, which may have encouraged them to focus on developing service-based industries. South Korea and Taiwan, on the other hand, have more natural resources and may have been able to focus on developing heavy industry.

In summary, the divergent developmental strategies of the Asian Tigers can be explained by a combination of historical context, political institutions, human capital, economic policies, and geography and natural resources.”

My comment: there’s not a real argument here compared to a laundry list of stuff, and lots of kind of vague claims (“may have influenced”), but as a rough starting point it’s not useless at all in my opinion.

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