Our marketing team was brainstorming topics for this month’s blog post. Our team suggested using Groundhog Day as a trigger to talk about AI. I agreed to see if I could connect the two. Groundhog Day is naturally of interest to Tamarack because we have an outdoor, animal-friendly brand and everyone knows that both Groundhogs and AI are in the prediction business.

So, I started researching both Groundhogs and Groundhog Day. The first thing I found out was that Groundhog Day didn’t start with Groundhogs. The practice originated in Germany where they relied upon hedgehogs like Ollie, pictured above, to come out and pass judgement on the pending arrival of spring. When Germans made their way over to Pennsylvania in the mid-1800’s they discovered that hedgehogs like Ollie were hard to find so they switched to Ollie’s more available cousin - the Groundhog - to help with spring weather forecasting. On February 2, 1887, the first Punxsutawney Phil provided his opinion at Gobbler’s Knob (home to Punxsutawney Phil).

At this point, my mind was cluttered with ideas about how to relate Groundhog to AI. The obvious connection is that they can both are used for prediction. I can cast a company’s dark data as a shadow from which they could predict the future just like Phil could predict spring. Maybe 20 generations of Groundhogs, living seven years on average, have embedded their weather forecasting learning experiences into a form of genetic memory that serves as a machine learning model and giving Groundhogs a natural ability to forecast temperatures. Maybe the whole process was really just a roll-of-the-dice that was occasionally correct. Taxpayers have paid for multiple federally funded studies to show that Punxsutawney Phil is only correct 39 percent of the time – much less accurate than the National Climatic Data Center. (The forecasting accuracy of the NCDC is not provided.)

Groundhog

So then, I switched my focus to Gobbler Knob’s most well-known story about predicting spring – Bill Murray co-starring with Punxsutawney Phil and Andie McDowell in “Groundhog Day.” Perhaps there could be better AI content here. Afterall, Murray was learning from an indefinite series of repeated experiences. He learned how to avoid puddles and old classmates, recite French poetry, play the piano, and in general, be a nicer person. This was promising. AI predictors can help finance companies avoid past mistakes, explore new markets, and make more money with better risk management. But these were all from the movie and required some kind of undefined time travel to make the learning happen. In reality, time travel, for now, is really behind schedule.

At this point, I decided to get some help. I had read that students were writing papers using AI by having ChatGPT write things like, a “500-word essay on the 18th-century philosopher David Hume and the paradox of horror.” I thought I would give my blog assignment a try. If ChatGPT could write a philosophy paper, why not a Groundhog post? I doubted that anyone could tell if I wrote it. So, I created an account and logged into ChatGPT.

Using ChatGPT was an experience I would recommend to anyone interested in the power of AI. The question box came up, so I started asking questions:

Click a bullet point to see the ChatGPT response

Then I switched to giving instructions:

In about 15 minutes I generated 3,000 words of well-crafted, grammatically perfect, moderately interesting prose. (If you’d like to read them, click here)

In those 15 minutes I came away with three learnings:

1. The outputs of AI agents are only as good as the people using it.

Each time I asked a question or gave a command I got a result that made me think of other ways to instruct, or other questions to ask. My ChatGPT stories got better, funnier, and more persuasive. Like big data, AI only has value to those who know good questions to ask or good assignments to make.

2. AI can accelerate innovation.

The stories and answers I got from this exercise came so fast that I found myself asking more questions, trying different words, different angles – I was innovating. AI is not inherently innovative, it can be assigned mundane, repetitive tasks just like any automation product. But when it is used to explore, try new things, to learn it will drive workflow innovation much faster than humans alone.

3. If you’re afraid of AI then you don’t know how it really works.

Those who are afraid AI tools like ChatGPT don’t understand how AI really works. I remember when I was a freshman in college in the late 1970’s the college English department had some professors who would not allow us to do our writing assignments on the campus computer. This was before personal computers and word processing applications, but they had the notion that printing out our essays on the line printer of the PDP 1170 was somehow cheating. They only accepted papers typed on one of the media center’s IBM Selectrics or a personal typewriter. I couldn’t afford the former and didn’t want to wait for the latter. Fortunately, about that time the Math department bought some NEC Spinwriters that could print on plain paper with a typewriter striking motion. Problem solved. I never used a typewriter in college and I got an A- in English 20.

Typewriter

AI, like line printers driven by main frame computers, enables the inquisitive and innovative among us to produce more and better outcomes faster. Those worried about “cheating” with AI are using the wrong measures. The right measures should be learning and the quality of critical thinking. ChatGPT wrote me a very persuasive argument for why Groundhogs with natural instinct, genetic memory, and vast array of sensory power could out predict the computationally, yet data limited, power of AI. By the way, I introduced the concept of “genetic memory” three commands earlier. The argument did have a disclaimer at the end: “This is a fictional story and it is not meant to be taken seriously.”

Well, that is my Groundhog Day and AI story. Hopefully it entertains, educates, and provokes additional thinking. Give ChatGPT a try if you have not already. My grandkids are always asking me to tell them stories before they go to bed. I was starting to run out of ideas, but I have a new approach in mind. ChatGPT’s funny “How is a Groundhog better than AI” story made me smile. Hopefully you agree.

 
Written by

Scott Nelson

President & Chief Technology Officer, Board Member

Scott Nelson is the president and chief technology officer of Tamarack Technology. He has more than 30 years of strategic technology development, deployment and design thinking experience working with both entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies. Nelson is a sought-after speaker and contributor on topics related to IoT and digital health. His involvement in technology in the local and national technology community reflects an ongoing and outstanding commitment to technology development and innovation.

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