, Two weeks ago I took my first, presumptive look at #ChatGPT for testing. The app has real potential, and seems to have some ability to learn. It’s tempting to run ChatGPT through a few exercises and come to a conclusion. Really the software needs a bit of a deep dive to come to any significant conclusion.
If you’re not going to do, but you want to outsource it, well, real on.
But first, I digress.(It’s worth it.)
The Bluffer’s Guide
When I was in high school my mother purchased a series of books called something like “The bluffer’s guide.” Each would have a title worded “The bluffer’s guide to X”, where X might be golf. wine, the stock market, computer programming, or skiing. Each book was very thin, perhaps 30 pages, and very small – perhaps three inches by five inches in size. A quick reader could digest one of these books in about an hour. Each book would teach you how to convey the idea that you had much more expertise in the subject than you actually did. The computer programming book, for example, suggested that you find out what programming language the other person knew. If they knew C++, you could say you were a Fortran Programmer, and if they said Fortran, you could say C++. The finance book said that if you were ever pressed on a recommendation, you could say “I’m holding off a bit to see what the Fed does next”, as the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meets about every six weeks, and higher interest rates will be bad for the stock market, while lower interest rates will hurt the economy.
As I read I remember coming to the slow realization that the books were actually teaching you about the subject. Not a great deal; I didn’t know why rising interest rates make the market go down. But a little. I particularly remember the Bluffer’s guide to golf suggesting that you wake up early in the morning and walk a famous course, enough that you could make up an inventive story about a few holes, along with the hole number. Anyone in your listening group hearing the story who played that course would be inclined to believe you. It struck me at the time that that was a lot of work to go to for a lie. A reader might be more likely to actually try golf instead. Perhaps that was the point.
The point of bluffing was to create the illusion of mastery. With an hour, a good bluffer could appear to mere civilians as an expert. JB Rainsberger told me that among practitioners, all that it takes to have expertise in a specific subject is to read three books. I’m not sure I agree, but perhaps JB was speaking of real tutorials, while doing exercises and ffollowing along.
All this reminds me of bullshit. And by bullshit, believe it or not, I mean something specific. Harry Frankffort’s wonderful little book defines Bullshit and something between the truth and a lie. Or, perhaps, in a direction. Where truth and lies are left to right, Bullshit might be up and down. I will explain.
Frankfort says that bullshit is speech designed to convince without regard for truth. The bullshitter has an agenda – to get you to do something. Words come out of their mouth. The words might be true, they might be a lie – the bullshitter does not care. Asked why a practicing political philosopher would focus on such a lowly task, Frankfort replied “Respect for the truth and a concern for the truth are among the foundations for civilization. I was for a long time disturbed by the lack of respect for the truth that I observed… bullshit is one of the deformities of these values.”
As a software tester and journalist, I understand that statement. Often I have explained the value of testing is that it has the least incentive to lie. Project Managers can ignore problems; analysts can say that the analysis is done because a deadline has arrived. Architects can wave their arms and draw boxes. Programmers can shrug and say “it compiles” It is the tester who wills uh “I can’t log in”, “search is failing”, or “I cannot check out with a credit card.” In the other roles, you can get in trouble for speaking truth to power. In testing, when I have asked respectfully “You want I should lie to you? I can do that if you’d like”, the answer has always been no.
Combine bluffing and bullshit and you get ChatGPT.
That sounds overly critical, so let me explain. Bluffing Bullshit is different than full of sh*t. It implies the reader at least did read one book on the topic. Think of it as a college freshman or sophomore, in a class outside their major, trying to get at least a C minus on an essay. There won’t be any real insight into the topic, but our college student will put the effort in to go to wikipedia, plus doing keyword searches, to come up with the right buzzwords to use. They will also have conversational English. Words will have proper tense. I asked #ChatGPT to create a sales script for outsourced and offshore testing services. This is what it came up with: