Almost Timely News, January 7, 2024: Should You Buy a Custom GPT?

Almost Timely News: Should You Buy a Custom GPT? (2024-01-07) :: View in Browser

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What’s On My Mind: Should You Buy a Custom GPT?

Let’s talk more about Custom GPTs this week, because something big is coming: the ability for Custom GPT authors to sell access to their Custom GPTs beginning this coming week.

The GPT Store Announcement

First, if you haven’t been following along, a Custom GPT is a service from OpenAI that allows paying ChatGPT users to create a customized version of ChatGPT. These customized versions contain three major types of functionality that allow for fairly extensive, mostly non-technical customization: custom instructions, knowledge, and actions.

Custom instructions are system prompts that run behind the scenes in a Custom GPT. They define what the Custom GPT is supposed to do, what rules it should follow, what it shouldn’t do, what outputs it has, etc. These instructions can be extensive, several pages long.

Knowledge is a form of retrieval augmented generation, a technique for increasing what ChatGPT knows about, especially for information that hasn’t been seen before. A Custom GPT can have up to 20 different databases in a variety of file formats, such as CSV files, plain text, JSON, etc. These knowledge databases give additional context to the Custom GPT; for example, you could upload a book you wrote, and the Custom GPT would be able to reference it when it’s answering questions.

The third type of customization are actions. These allow a Custom GPT to call out to an API based on the conversation. For example, if you enabled the weather action, and then had a conversation with the Custom GPT asking about the weather, it would call whatever API you provided and return the weather results. It’s vitally important to note that when an action is triggered, a part of your conversation is being sent to a third party provider of some kind.

Here’s a screen grab of my Custom GPT that I built:


You’ll note the custom instructions at (1), the knowledge at (2), and the actions at (3).

When you interact with a Custom GPT, it behaves like ChatGPT, and may have different ChatGPT capabilities enabled, shown at (4). Custom GPTs can have web browsing enabled that allow a Custom GPT to access the web via Bing, image generation with the DALL-E image generator, and advanced data analysis using Code Interpreter. These capabilities are parsed internally within the ChatGPT application itself; neither the GPT creator nor the user has to explicitly tell a Custom GPT what to do.

Okay, so that’s more or less what’s in the box of any Custom GPT. Why would you buy one of these things? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First, a Custom GPT may have knowledge that simply isn’t available elsewhere, or is curated in such a way that it would be more time and labor intensive to recreate than it would be to simply buy it.

Second, a Custom GPT may perform tasks in a way that are better than what you can develop on your own. A Custom GPT programmed with the latest in advanced prompt engineering techniques like priming representations and tree of thought may outperform what your prompts can do, making it a better use of your time to use a Custom GPT than doing it yourself.

That leaves the one big question we need to answer: how do you know what to buy? There will be no shortage of people selling access to Custom GPTs, and you can expect a significant amount of redundancy in them. There will be dozens, if not hundreds of marketing and content creation Custom GPTs, each claiming to do wondrous things that ChatGPT cannot (which is inherently untrue since they’re literally based on ChatGPT).

So let’s talk about how we would evaluate a Custom GPT as to whether or not we should buy it, or how to tell the difference from one to the next. There are five considerations I’m looking for that you might want to look for, and unsurprising to anyone, they mirror the Trust Insights 5P framework: purpose, people, proces, platform, and performance.

First, purpose. Does the Custom GPT specifically align with a purpose in such a way that it’s worth my money instead of my time to build myself? This is critical – like any software purchase, do requirements gathering to ascertain what’s important and what isn’t. If your requirements gathering shows that you’re looking to write blogs in a specific way, there’s a good chance you could build your own Custom GPT instead of buying one. If your requirements gathering shows that you want to write blog posts exactly matching a specific author’s style, and that author has a Custom GPT for that purpose, then the ethical thing to do is buy that author’s Custom GPT.

Second, people. Who made the Custom GPT? Are they trustworthy? There are at least two obvious ways data can leak from a Custom GPT. One is marked on the screenshot above at (5) – a Custom GPT author who allows a Custom GPT’s data to leak to OpenAI will inherently be sharing your information with OpenAI. Second is in actions at (3) – any time a Custom GPT is sending out data to a third party API, that’s data going somewhere else. Where that data goes is important, so using Custom GPTs made by trustworthy people and companies is a vital box to check.

Third, process. How was the Custom GPT made? What processes were used in its creation? This is all about asking what the ingredients are inside the Custom GPT – like a nutrition label on a food product, the best Custom GPTs will disclose what they’re made of. Ideally, you get a screenshot of the configuration screen like the one above that doesn’t give away any secret sauce, but you can at least see how it’s wired.

Equally important, how will it be maintained? Part of the reason to even buy a Custom GPT rather than build your own should be the task of maintaining the Custom GPT. How fresh is its knowledge, and how frequently will that knowledge be refreshed? How tuned in is the creator, so that when OpenAI changes the underlying model, the Custom GPT seller can provide evidence they’ve tested to show their software will continue to work as intended?

Here’s a key ethical question: does a Custom GPT use data that the creator has a right to use? It’s trivial to download, say, a book written by someone else and put it in a Custom GPT. That Custom GPT then has an expanded context based on the book. It will soon be illegal to use copyrighted data without permission in the EU, and ethically it’s pretty clear that using someone else’s data without their permission doesn’t feel great. If your own work were being incorporated AND SOLD by someone else with you receiving no benefit, you’d probably not be real happy (this, by the way, is the primary argument against generative AI model makers). This is part of process – evaluating what works are part of a Custom GPT. You definitely don’t want to be financially supporting an author who is using others’ works without permission or compensation. (and this will require Custom GPT makers to understand copyright law in their jurisdiction)

Fourth, platform. As mentioned above, data can leak out of Custom GPTs. Prompt jailbreaks can force language models to spit up source information. A key question to ask of a Custom GPT maker is how much red teaming – the process of trying to break into your own software – was done. How tested was it? When you buy an electrical appliance, it’s customary to look for the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) certification that certifies it’s probably not going to randomly burst into flames. When you buy a food that’s certified halal, you know the processor has been inspected and tested to ensure they’re compliant. There’s no equivalent standard yet in AI (though there are many efforts to come up with one), but at the very least, a software vendor – because that’s what a Custom GPT author is – can provide documentation about how they tested their software.

Equally important, a Custom GPT author should be precise in explaining how your data is used. Are there actions that use your data? If so, how is that data handled? OpenAI requires the absolute bare minimum from builders – a privacy policy with a working URL – but that’s it. The best Custom GPTs will be like the best food certifications with rigorous documentation about how they use third party platforms.

And any Custom GPT claiming that it is totally secure or unbiased is flat out lying, because the underlying foundational model is still ChatGPT’s GPT-4 family of models. Custom GPTs inherit all of the benefits and flaws of the foundation they’re built on.

Finally, performance. Does the Custom GPT actually do what it says it does? How would you know? The burden of proof is on the Custom GPT builder to provide information about how their Custom GPT outperforms stock ChatGPT or a novice effort at building your own. This can be as simple as side-by-side comparisons of outputs so you can see the prompts and the outputs that make a Custom GPT worth the money.

If you are considering putting one of your Custom GPTs in the GPT Store (or even just sharing it publicly), be sure you’ve done your homework to provide users with the 5Ps I’ve outlined above. Doing so right now is a best practice; when the EU AI Act becomes law, parts of the above process will be mandatory – and any Custom GPT author making money from their Custom GPTs will absolutely have to comply with it, because there’s no geographic restrictions on Custom GPTs.

If you are considering buying a Custom GPT, take into account each of the 5Ps and ask the provider for their documentation. If you have two Custom GPTs that purport to do the same thing and one of them lacks documentation, it should be pretty clear which one you should buy. Just as you wouldn’t blindly eat a food without a nutrition label (especially if you have allergies), nor should you blindly trust someone else’s AI-led software. And remember they are still built on ChatGPT, so the same rules apply to Custom GPTs as with ChatGPT itself – don’t put in data you don’t want other people to see.

Will I be putting up any Custom GPTs? I have a couple of candidates that I might put up for free in the GPT Store, just so that I can see how the store functions (apparently, free to use Custom GPTs will be an option), but I don’t see myself offering them for sale. I’d rather have you spend your money on the Generative AI for Marketers course, frankly. It’ll give you more benefit.

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