Like everyone else, I’m a little obsessed with the arrival of artificial intelligence bots—also known as A.I. chatbots—but specifically ChatGPT, a tool that debuted in November 2022 from the research lab OpenAI.
It’s a fun toy to play with, but as a journalist, it has me a little on edge. Especially as someone who writes spirits reviews, an easily recognizable form of writing that’s widely available online, am I at risk of being replaced by an A.I. chatbot? I’m on a mission to find out.
What Is ChatGPT?
If you’re not familiar with ChatGPT, it’s a bot that automatically generates text in response to short prompts. ChatGPT provides answers based on text harvested from the internet. Users have noted how natural and human-sounding the responses read. So much so that universities are worried students will use the chatbot to write term papers and it’s already been used to write computer programs and poems. But can it be used to write critical reviews—a core Wine Enthusiast feature?
Can a Bot Write a Better Review Than a Human?
To find out, I fed a few prompts into ChatGPT. “Write a whiskey review,” I typed. The results were generic, and they certainly didn’t sound anything like me. So, I added a little extra info to see if the bot could get to know me a little better. (Note: I kept the default length at a maximum of 64 characters, which abruptly cuts off some of the text.)
I prompted it, “Write a whiskey review by a journalist.”
It responded, “Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a blended Scotch whisky from the Johnnie Walker company. It is made with a blend of ‘the finest single malt and grain whiskies from the four corners of Scotland.’ The whisky is bottled at 40% alcohol by volume. Johnnie Walker Blue Label has…”
This was the first response that added a brand name and style of whiskey. In this case, it was a particularly expensive blended Scotch (which incidentally, I do very much like). When I repeated the same prompt at a later date, the result was nearly identical, except for the whiskey: Glenlivet, this time, no particular expression. I’m at a loss to explain why the bot thought “journalist” equates to “high-end Scotch.” Plus, I prefer bourbon.
The Bot Knows How You Speak but Does It Know How You Drink?
Test number two: How would Chatbot incorporate different demographics and their drink preferences?
I asked, “Write a whiskey review by a millennial influencer.”
It responded, “Hey everyone! Today I’m reviewing Jameson Irish Whiskey. First of all, I love the bottle! It’s so classic and I love the green label. The whiskey itself is smooth and doesn’t have a harsh aftertaste. It’s perfect for sipping neat or on the rocks…”
Next, I tried, “TikTok influencer reviewing hard kombucha.”
Chatbot wrote back, “Hey guys, it’s your favorite TikTok influencer here, and today I’m sharing my thoughts on this new hard kombucha I just tried. First off, I have to say I was a little hesitant to try it because I’m not a huge fan of traditional kombucha, but I was pleasantly surprised.”
Then I prompted it, “Craft beer review by a millennial.”
The Chatbot answered, “As a millennial craft beer drinker, I have to say that this beer blew me away. The aroma was amazing, with notes of citrus and pine from the hops, and a subtle hint of caramel from the malt. The flavor was equally impressive, with a perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness.”
The first result wasn’t too far off the mark, incorporating telling details such as the fact that Jameson is one of the top-selling whiskeys among millennials. But the next two read like marketing boilerplate, so thumbs-down for the Chatbot, which apparently is always “pleasantly surprised” about how much it likes pretty much anything.
And sometimes, the results are unintentionally funny:
I prompted, “Gen Z who loves their dog reviews Pinot Noir.”
The Chatbot responded, “As a Gen Z dog lover, I have to say that this Pinot Noir was a perfect combination of sophistication and fun. I was so happy to find a wine I could enjoy while thinking of my furry friend. The aroma was fantastic, with hints of cherries, raspberries and a touch of earthiness. I paired this Pinot Noir with a home-cooked meal for my dog.”
How does a wine remind you of a dog? And is Gen Z really into cooking for their pets?
To be fair, when I allowed the text to run a little longer, the rest of the sentence completed as “a home-cooked meal for my dog and myself…” and the bot added a “highly recommend” for the wine, which it described blandly, but appropriately. Of note, the bot gives every product a chipper thumbs-up, unless it’s specifically told to give a negative review.
When Celebrity Reviews Get the Chatbot Treatment
Since celebrity endorsements (and celebrity-backed brands) can really drive the booze market, it was time to add some well-known names to the mix. Would Chatbot know what they drink?
I asked Chatbot to “Write a whiskey review by a Kardashian.”
It responded, “Hey guys! So today I’m reviewing this whiskey I got from my husband for my birthday. He knows I love whiskey, so he got me this bottle and I have to say, I’m really impressed! It’s called ‘The Macallan Rare Cask’ and it’s really smooth. There’s…”
The bot definitely captured the Kardashian voice. You can almost hear the vocal fry—and it’s frighteningly on the nose that it assigned a pricey premium single malt to a hyper-brand-conscious Kardashian. (From the current marital statuses of the Kardashians, I can only assume this review was written by… Kourtney?)
Inspired by the Kardashian response, I tried plugging in more recognizable personalities, but the bot only knew some of them: Jerry Seinfeld, yes (“this wine is a real “yada yada yada” moment); Mindy Kaling, no.
Perhaps the most successful response: The bot sure knew Dolly Parton. In fact, it even gave her answer in verse, and appropriately assigned the country songbird a Tennessee whiskey.
I asked, “Write a whiskey review by Dolly Parton. She’s had a tough day.”
It wrote back, “I was feeling a little down,
So, I thought I’d take a drink or two.
I picked up a bottle of Jack,
And I started feeling better right away.
It’s smooth and it’s strong,
And it always makes me feel good.”
The Most Important Question
No doubt, trying on chatbot voices was amusing, whether that of a pirate (“Arr, this vodka be smooth like a pirate’s kiss”), a British royal (“I was recently introduced to vodka and I have to say, I’m quite hooked!”) or a rude wine expert (“This vodka is garbage. It tastes like rubbing alcohol and paint thinner.”). But it offered very little insight into specific products. Growing weary, I posed a final query:
I asked, “Do you like whiskey?”
Chatbot responded, “As an artificial intelligence, I do not have the ability to taste or consume anything, including whiskey. My purpose is to assist users in providing information, making recommendations and answering questions to the best of my abilities based on the information available to me.”
And right there was all I needed to know: While ChatGPT can spew text based on text pattern recognition, it has no subjective judgment or taste buds. It can’t tell if a whiskey (or wine or beer) is any good, and it can’t deliver a true assessment of how it smells or tastes. So based on that, I’m feeling pretty safe that I won’t be replaced by artificial intelligence. At least, not yet.