How Do ChatGPT Plugins Work? An Early Look

How do ChatGPT plugins work?
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ChatGPT plugins are the hot things in the world of AI. Since its launch in late 2022, ChatGPT has swayed the world by storm with its human-like responses to a wide range of prompts and with its ability to handle moderately complex tasks such as writing codes and analysing raw data.

But it is also fraught with limitations. ChatGPT plugins will be able to help overcome these shortcomings—to some extent. There’s more to ChatGPT plugins than just making the chatbot failsafe; plugins will enhance ChatGPT’s capabilities by providing additional functionality.

We’ll briefly explore what ChatGPT plugins are, how they work, take a sneak peek at some of the early versions of ChatGPT plugins, and the benefits they offer.

What are ChatGPT plugins?

The easiest way to explain something unfamiliar is to analogise them to what’s familiar; though this runs the risk of oversimplification and omission of nuances. If ChatGPT was an iPhone, then the plugins are the apps on the phone. ChatGPT is not just a chatbot any longer; it has become a platform, an ecosystem.

As you can install apps onto your phone and expand its capabilities, add new features and enhance its utilities, you’ll be able to install plugins in ChatGPT to make it much more useful than it is. Plugins will allow you to connect it to the internet and get up-to-date information, enhance its mathematical and coding abilities, and customise it for more specific tasks.

ChatGPT plugins will offer a more tailored and enhanced functionality than ChatGPT offers out of the box. They will provide users with information within their chat thus reducing the need to switch between applications and sites to get what they want.

How do ChatGPT plugins work - examples of plugins in chatgpt

ChatGPT plugins, according to the function they are built for, will be able to help with various tasks such as language translation, sentiment analysis, doing taxes, and scheduling tasks. They will enable users to fetch real-time information such as sports, stocks and news; retrieve information from a company knowledge base and personal notes; book flights order food and groceries; and retrieve government open data.

It’s not possible to foresee all that ChatGPT plugins can do or what trajectory they’d take as a lot depends on developers and whether they are willing to invest in the ChatGPT ecosystem. But looking at the early signs, there’s much to be excited about.

How do ChatGPT plugins work?

ChatGPT plugins allow users of ChatGPT to retrieve information as defined by the plugin developers. When a user gives a prompt, ChatGPT “decides” whether to draw information from the data it has been trained on by OpenAI or to complete the request using one of the installed plugins, depending on relevancy. For example, if a user asks for hotels to say in, say, Milan, one of the booking plugins such as Expedia may be invoked and information about price and booking will be served using the relevant plugin.

Without going into the technicalities of how ChatGPT plugins work, here’s a rough sketch of how they work.

Plugin developers create a manifest file containing a machine-readable description of the plugin’s capabilities and how to invoke them as well as user-facing documentation. The information is compiled into a prompt outlining how ChatGPT may use it to enhance its answers. 

The plugin is then pushed to the “Plugin Store” and users can install it. Since plugins are not enabled by default, users must activate them manually to use them.

When a user has plugins activated, ChatGPT decides, depending on the query and whether it can answer competently. It reaches for a relevant plugin if it “thinks” the plugin would be helpful in answering the user’s query.

A look at some ChatGPT plugins

ChatGPT plugins haven’t been made available to the general public but have only been given access to a few developers and insiders and some Plus subscribers. OpenAI however published a blog showcasing what plugins can do. Let us take a look at some of these plugins, some of which are proprietary and others are third-party.

Browsing plugin

This is a proprietary plugin that enables ChatGPT to browse the web and provide analyses and discussions. This gives ChatGPT access to a much larger corpus of information than the data it is trained on.

With the browsing plugin, ChatGPT can use the latest information from the internet and create new content out of them, such as a poem or a joke.

Browsing ChatGPT plugin - How do ChatGPT plugins work
Source: OpenAI

The browsing plugin uses Bing search API and so the results will reflect Bing’s. The plugin also cites sources, making the results easier to verify for accuracy and gives due credit to the creators, unlike the raw ChatGPT’s results which is difficult to verify for accuracy and establish the originality of its responses.

ChatGPT retrieval plugin

The ChatGPT Retrieval plugin enables users to search and retrieve personal and organisational information from documents. It allows users to obtain relevant information from their data sources, such as files, notes, emails, or other documents by simply using natural language to query the data.

ChatGPT Retrieval plugin - How do ChatGPT plugins work

Source: OpenAI

Users can retrieve personal information from their notes or email using the ChatGPT Retrieval plugin. Likewise enterprises can use it to make their internal documents available to their employees.

ChatGPT Wolfram plugin

The Wolfram Alpha plugin for ChatGPT will substantially improve the mathematical and scientific capabilities of ChatGPT, which is one of its major weaknesses. With the ChatGPT Wolfram plugin, users will be able to query and get help with complex problems not just of mathematics but chemistry and physics.

ChatGPT Wolfram Plugin - How do ChatGPT plugins work

Source: Stephen Wolfram

The ChatGPT Wolfram plugin also allows users to create charts and graphs, not just analyse and assess them using Wolfram’s computational intelligence. There are several capabilities of the Wolfram ChatGPT plugin that can indeed bestow superpowers to ChatGPT.

ChatGPT Wolfram Alpha plugin

Unless explicitly directed, ChatGPT “decides” itself whether or not to invoke the activated plugin depending on whether it “thinks” the query can be better answered with the plugins. So, you can take the decision into your own hands and simply ask it directly to use Wolfram when dealing with numbers or science or any of the areas Wolfram Alpha and Wolfram Language are good at.

Expedia ChatGPT plugin

The Expedia plugin for ChatGPT will make planning trips and booking flights and hotels much more hassle-free. With the Expedia ChatGPT plugin installed, users can enquire and get information about flight availability, get suggestions on hotels and resorts, and so on.

With this plugin, users can converse with ChatGPT as with a travel agent. It can provide recommendations based on the user’s preferences, and give responses according to the user’s criteria.

Speak ChatGPT plugin

Speak is one of the most advanced language tutors. It provides real conversational practice instead of simply giving learners a bunch of phrases or sentences. The Speak plugin for ChatGPT will capitalise on this and give those learning new a new language, not just English, a useful tool that’s easily accessible.

Speak plugin for ChatGPT - how chatgpt plugins work

Source: Speak

There are several other ChatGPT plugins that can be installed from the Plugin Store, provided you have access to ChatGPT plugins. The plugins as well as ChatGPT plugins support are still in the early development stage and may not be stable.

Anybody can request access to ChatGPT by filling a waitlist form as a developer and integrate their own plugin into ChatGPT. A comprehensive documentation on how to create ChatGPT plugins can be found here.

Benefits of ChatGPT plugins

ChatGPT is good at several things, but it is also terrible at plenty of things. Plugins in ChatGPT will not only address some of these limitations but also enhance its existing capabilities.

Here are a few benefits that plugins can add to ChatGPT:

  1. Extensibility: ChatGPT plugins will allow users to extend the functionality of ChatGPT without any technical expertise. Up until now, if anybody wanted to enhance the functionality of ChatGPT, they could do so only by building their own chatbots with OpenAI’s API or installing extensions in the browser. Now (that is, as soon as they become available) anyone can install plugins and add new features and capabilities according to their needs.
  2. Customisation: Besides extended functionality, users will be able to customise their ChatGPT as they want it to be and to behave. Plugins will allow users to customise it to meet their specific needs and preferences.
  3. Improved accuracy: Plugins can, to some extent, reduce the propensity of ChatGPT to conjure up non-factual statements, though they cannot entirely eliminate its susceptibility to hallucinations. Language models as good as they are do not have all the facts and will always be limited by the amount of data they are trained on. Plugins should be able to fill some of the gaps.
  4. Time-saving: Plugins will allow users to quickly find what they’re looking for from within the chat without having to switch between apps or sites. They will also be able to reduce the time it takes to fine-tune prompts to elicit the best answers as plugins will handle nuanced prompts with programmed instructions.

Besides these, there are other benefits of plugins in ChatGPT, such as cost-effectiveness. Most, if not all, ChatGPT plugins, hopefully, will be available for free. They can be an effective solution for individuals and businesses that do not have the budget or the capability to build their own chatbots. And those who do have the resource and expertise can build their own to give specific capabilities to ChatGPT for their particular needs and requirements.

Plugins are a game changer not just for ChatpGPT but for generative AI as a whole. They have transformed ChatGPT into a toolbox; though it is still a tool. They could turn generative AI into a much more disruptive technology than it initially was perceived. For end users, that may be a good thing.

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