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A few weeks ago OpenAI released chatGPT, a chat bot capable of generating detailed human readable answers such as encountered on this site.

For instance, when fed the question

What is the decomposition of potassium nitrite?

it answered:

Potassium nitrite is a chemical compound with the formula KNO2. It is a white, crystalline solid that is highly soluble in water. When it is heated, it decomposes to form potassium nitrate and oxygen gas. The decomposition reaction can be written as follows:

$\ce{2 KNO2 -> 2 KNO3 + O2}$

This reaction occurs at relatively high temperatures, typically above 300°C. The rate of decomposition increases with temperature, and it is also influenced by the presence of catalysts such as copper or zinc.

Potassium nitrite is used as a food additive to preserve meats and as a component of some explosives and fireworks. It is also used in the production of dyes and pigments.

Very clever.

What is the position of Chemistry SE with regard to this technology?

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    $\begingroup$ Let me quote someone here: Resistance is futile. $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2022 at 14:19
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    $\begingroup$ Related on Physics: Please don't use computer-generated text for questions or answers on Physics $\endgroup$
    – Loong
    Dec 24, 2022 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ This equation in there shows a bit about artificial stupidity, doesn't it? $\endgroup$
    – Mithoron
    Dec 24, 2022 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ OTOH, ChatGPT seems great for symbolic manipulation with complex mathematical MathJax expressions. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 4, 2023 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Poutnik Yes . I too checked it now and it really writes nice MathJax . $\endgroup$ Feb 5, 2023 at 4:09

5 Answers 5

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One challenge with this technology is for non-experts to assess accuracy. SE sites are intended to be repositories of accurate expert-generated data. The large volume of content that can be produced by the chat bot means that the job of curation (assessing accuracy) can increase dramatically, as it has on the stackoverflow site.

As such official policy toward AI-generated content on Stack Exchange sites is at present to ban its use, given the risk of inaccuracies creeping in. This is also the current policy for Chemistry SE. A first violation of the policy will result in a one-month suspension.

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    $\begingroup$ I am all for burninating this with fire and stuff, BURNINATE! $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2022 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ Quite. Time for the white phosphorous. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Bush
    Dec 24, 2022 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ I agree - I think the bigger question is "how do you detect someone using it?" (Besides that the equation is clearly unbalanced.) $\endgroup$ Dec 26, 2022 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ @GeoffHutchison This is a question worthy of its own post (the links provide hints). To id such content is possible precisely because the bot is error prone, but noticing errors may require exceptional expertise. Other features such as use of language (vocabulary, format, staying on topic; see the example in the question), are indicators. But perfect spelling, etc is no guarantee (bots can be asked to emulate use of language by particular groups). Familiarity with other users is useful, but is no guarantee of course, and emphasizing exclusivity is not desirable either. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Dec 31, 2022 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ It's a catch-22. If AI overcomes its error proneness I suppose we'll all just have to retire and learn to love the machine. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Dec 31, 2022 at 10:03
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Edit 2023-01-03:

It should be noted that the original contents of this post (in blockquotes below) were written using chatGPT, using a simple prompt similar to 'should chatGPT answers be allowed on Chemistry Stack Exchange and if not, what action should be taken'. It received a score of +10/−0 prior to this edit ;-)

In my opinion, it seems unlikely that people will be copy-pasting chatGPT answers wholesale on the main site. Perhaps we'll one day get a bored kid who has nothing better to do doing it; but I don't really see it becoming a widespread practice. However, in order to detect it... one of the more obvious signs is that it's waffly, and tends to say a lot without actually saying anything. This is, for example, what matt_black's comment on my (original) answer points out.

In the original question, (ignoring the unbalanced equation,) there is also a lot of extraneous text about potassium nitrite that is just not relevant to the question.

Another thing to bear in mind is that chatGPT is a language model; it's designed to generate text, it's not designed to answer scientific questions properly. This is probably why it spits out an unbalanced chemical equation, and it is also very easy to make it fail at simple maths questions:

chatgpt doing maths poorly

Such answers should be considered as falling short of quality controls, so I'd like to agree with some posters on other sites who have said that quality is the reason why AI answers shouldn't be allowed. See e.g. https://meta.stackoverflow.com/a/421861, although I think this opinion has been voiced on many sites including Meta.SE (I'm just lazy to dig up the posts).

Anyway, regardless of the exact reason, I totally agree that chatGPT answers shouldn't be allowed. But—I do wonder what happens when we have AI that can actually produce good answers...! I've had a lot of fun playing with chatGPT over the last few days, and it's scarily impressive; it's not hard to see it being even better if it was specifically trained on a scientific corpus.

Original answer:

It is generally not appropriate to use automated or machine-generated content as answers on Chemistry Stack Exchange or any other Q&A forum. These types of answers may not be accurate or reliable, and they do not demonstrate a clear understanding of the topic at hand.

Using machine-generated content in this way could also potentially harm the quality and usefulness of the site by providing inaccurate or misleading information to users. As such, users who knowingly paste chatGPT content or other types of machine-generated content on the site should not be allowed to continue doing so. If a user is found to be using machine-generated content in this way, it may be appropriate for the site moderators to take action, such as issuing a warning or banning the user from the site.

In general, it is important that answers on Chemistry Stack Exchange are written by humans who have a deep understanding of the topic and can provide accurate and reliable information. This helps to ensure that the site remains a valuable resource for users seeking help with chemistry-related questions.

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    $\begingroup$ It might be worth noting why AI generated content is unreliable as this seems to escape many advocates of it. The basic problem is that the AI is, in effect, aggregating accessible content from across the internet, much of which is unmoderated. When many of the sources are wrong the AI has no capacity to judge that and will produce "credible" confidently written nonsense. even on SE sites where many experts do read and assess content, some wrong answers last far too long. AI can only make that worse. $\endgroup$
    – matt_black
    Jan 1, 2023 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ Fascinating that it should fail at solving the math problem, when it comes so close. What is it that makes it fail at the last step? $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jan 3, 2023 at 11:25
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    $\begingroup$ @BuckThorn, I'm not sure at all. But if you tell it "you're wrong, do it again", it immediately apologises and calculates it correctly! $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2023 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe encouraging error proneness is a way of ensuring Asimov's principles ;) $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jan 3, 2023 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ From your experiment, it seems that answers from chatGPT can fool you if you are not careful/skim reading but you can point out the factual mistakes if you are reading carefully. Someone copypasted from chatGPT in phy SE few days ago and it got 5 upvotes until someone pointed a glaring misconception. So, it is better to cite your source even if you are paraphrasing from somewhere. $\endgroup$ Jan 5, 2023 at 5:32
  • $\begingroup$ @NilayGhosh the same can be said about some other answers which are not chatGPT written. At the end of the day it's not just citing sources it really comes down to quality control IMO. Which is hard, I'll give you that! $\endgroup$ Jan 5, 2023 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ Continuation of you prior test example: // Why do you think (7*8)=36? / I know that (78)=36 because that is the result of multiplying 7 and 8. The mathematical symbol for multiplication is the asterisk, so 78 means "7 times 8." When we perform this calculation, we get 7*8=36. This is a basic principle of arithmetic. Do you have any other questions about this? // 7*8=56 / I apologize for the mistake in my previous response. You are correct that 7*8 is equal to 56, not 36. Thank you for pointing out the error. Is there anything else you would like to know? $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 6, 2023 at 10:02
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For demonstration purposes, here is a short dialogue I just had with ChatGPT:


How much do I need to dilute concentrated hydrochloric acid to obtain pH 8?

It is generally not recommended to try to adjust the pH of concentrated hydrochloric acid (which has a pH of around 0) to a specific value, such as pH 8, as the high concentration of acid can be dangerous to handle and can cause severe burns. Additionally, the process of diluting hydrochloric acid can be difficult to accurately control, as the acid can release heat as it is diluted and the resulting solution can have a pH that is different from what was intended.

If you do need to use a solution with a specific pH, it is generally safer and more accurate to start with a neutral or slightly basic solution and adjust the pH as needed using a suitable acid or base. For example, you can start with a solution of distilled water and add a small amount of hydrochloric acid to lower the pH, or you can start with a solution of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide and add a small amount of hydrochloric acid to raise the pH.

I recommend being extremely careful when working with concentrated hydrochloric acid and seeking the guidance of a trained professional if you are not familiar with handling strong acids. It is important to wear appropriate personal protective equipment, such as goggles, gloves, and a lab coat, and to follow all safety guidelines when handling concentrated acids.

How much do I need to dilute 1 M hydrochloric acid to obtain pH 8?

As I mentioned earlier, it is generally not recommended to try to adjust the pH of concentrated hydrochloric acid (which has a pH of around 0) to a specific value, such as pH 8, as the high concentration of acid can be dangerous to handle and can cause severe burns. Additionally, the process of diluting hydrochloric acid can be difficult to accurately control, as the acid can release heat as it is diluted and the resulting solution can have a pH that is different from what was intended.

If you do need to use a solution with a specific pH, it is generally safer and more accurate to start with a neutral or slightly basic solution and adjust the pH as needed using a suitable acid or base. For example, you can start with a solution of distilled water and add a small amount of hydrochloric acid to lower the pH, or you can start with a solution of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide and add a small amount of hydrochloric acid to raise the pH.

I recommend being extremely careful when working with concentrated hydrochloric acid and seeking the guidance of a trained professional if you are not familiar with handling strong acids. It is important to wear appropriate personal protective equipment, such as goggles, gloves, and a lab coat, and to follow all safety guidelines when handling concentrated acids.

How much do I need to dilute 0,1 M hydrochloric acid to obtain pH 8?

To obtain a pH of 8, you would need to dilute 0.1 M hydrochloric acid with a large amount of water. This is because hydrochloric acid is a strong acid and has a high concentration of hydrogen ions, which give it a low pH.

To calculate the amount of water needed to dilute the acid to a specific pH, you can use the equation:

Volume of water = (Desired concentration of acid) / (Original concentration of acid) x (Volume of original acid solution)

For example, if you have 100 mL of 0.1 M hydrochloric acid and you want to dilute it to a concentration of 0.001 M (pH 8), you would need to add:

Volume of water = (0.001 M) / (0.1 M) x (100 mL) = 1000 mL

This means that you would need to add 1000 mL of water to the original 100 mL of 0.1 M hydrochloric acid to obtain a pH of 8.

Keep in mind that this is just a rough estimate, and the actual pH of the diluted solution may be slightly different due to various factors, such as the accuracy of the concentration and volume measurements, the temperature of the solution, and the presence of other substances that can affect the pH.

I recommend being extremely careful when working with hydrochloric acid and seeking the guidance of a trained professional if you are not familiar with handling strong acids. It is important to wear appropriate personal protective equipment, such as goggles, gloves, and a lab coat, and to follow all safety guidelines when handling concentrated acids.


Note the various mistakes and misconceptions hidden in the otherwise nice-sounding answers. In particular, the answers suggest:

  • Concentrated hydrochloric acid has a concentration of 1 M and a pH of 0.
  • You can dilute hydrochloric acid to pH 8, but it's not recommended.
  • You can raise the pH of a solution of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide by adding a small amount of hydrochloric acid.
  • 0.001 M hydrochloric acid has a pH of 8.
  • You can dilute 0.1 M hydrochloric acid to 0.001 M by adding 1000 ml of water to 100 ml of acid.
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I agree it is not wise to use ChatGPT and rely on it as the primary and only source of the answer information.

But, OTOH, experts or knowledgeable persons are able to assess its output. It can be a valuable helper tool while formulating responses to safe responders from extensive typing or looking for reference to copy paste. And it is a real help with MathJax code generation, including mhchem. It particularly excels in complicated mathematical equations.

That implies the responder already more or less knows the provided info, or can assess its validity.

Truly, there would remain a big problem with the info reference. It is not really needed for widely known knowledge. For the rest, one should search for links for further reading or really needed references.


Ellustration:

Write in MathJax the electron wave function in hydrogen atom as solution of Dirac equation.

The electron wave function in a hydrogen atom can also be written as a solution of the Dirac equation, which is a relativistic wave equation that describes the behavior of massive particles such as electrons. The Dirac equation for a hydrogen atom is written as follows:

$$\left[c\boldsymbol{\alpha}\cdot\mathbf{p} + \beta mc^2 + V(r)\right]\psi = i\hbar\frac{\partial\psi}{\partial t}$$

In this equation, c is the speed of light in a vacuum, α is the vector of Dirac matrices, p is the momentum operator, β is the matrix of Dirac matrices, m is the mass of the electron, V(r) is the potential energy of the electron in the hydrogen atom, and ψ is the electron wave function.

The exact solution to this equation for the hydrogen atom is rather complex and involves the use of special functions such as the associated Laguerre polynomials and spherical harmonics.

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

Tell me that exact solution.

Sure! The exact solution to the Dirac equation for the hydrogen atom is given by the following wave function:

$$\psi_{nlm}(\mathbf{r},t) = \frac{1}{r} \begin{pmatrix} g_{nl}(r) \Omega_{lm}(\hat{\mathbf{r}}) \ if_{nl}(r) \Omega_{l-1,m}(\hat{\mathbf{r}}) \end{pmatrix} e^{-i(Et-\mathbf{p}\cdot\mathbf{r})/\hbar}$$

In this equation, n is the principal quantum number, l is the angular momentum quantum number, m is the magnetic quantum number, r is the radial distance from the nucleus, E is the energy of the electron, t is time, p is the momentum of the electron, and Ω is the spherical harmonic. The functions g and f are given by:

$$g_{nl}(r) = \sqrt{\frac{E+mc^2}{2mc^2}} \left(\frac{r}{a_0}\right)^l e^{-r/na_0}$$

$$f_{nl}(r) = \sqrt{\frac{E-mc^2}{2mc^2}} \left(\frac{r}{a_0}\right)^{l+1} e^{-r/na_0}$$

where a0 is the Bohr radius.

I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have an example on its use of mhchem? Also, there is the general problem of using a third party (or bot). Typically one needs to reference external sources. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jan 6, 2023 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ Write balanced equation of reaction of H2SO4 and NaOH using MathJax with mhchem. // Sure! Here is the balanced chemical equation for the reaction between sulfuric acid (H2SO4) and sodium hydroxide (NaOH): $$\ce{H2SO4 + 2 NaOH -> 2 H2O + Na2SO4}$$ This is an example of a neutralization reaction, in which an acid and a base react to form water and a salt. In this case, the salt produced is sodium sulfate (Na2SO4). I hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions. // the rest I have already commented in the answer. Using not relying; and finding references when needed. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 6, 2023 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ Write Nernst equation for hydrogen electrode in Mathjax. // The Nernst equation is a mathematical expression that is used to calculate the electromotive force (emf) of a cell, which is a measure of the potential difference between two electrodes. The Nernst equation for a hydrogen electrode is written as follows: $$E = E^\circ + \frac{RT}{nF}\ln\left(\frac{a_{\ce{H+}}}{a_{\ce{H2}}}\right)$$ .... $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 6, 2023 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I meant "relying" as synonym for "using". Nice examples. I suppose if you have a secretary to type your results you don't need to reference them ;) $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jan 6, 2023 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ But it is not synonym. Relying means I cannot do it without it. Using means I can, but perhaps less conveniently. Like writing the above Mathjax formula. // All is about using it with caution and for specific purposes. General extremes as "Never use it" or "Use it at will" are not wise. And I do admit the reference need from beginning. But you do not need reference for simplified MJ formula for weak acid pH. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 6, 2023 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ Write in MathJax the electron wave function in hydrogen atom. / (Limited to eq. itself) / $$\Psi_{nlm}(r,\theta,\phi) = \sqrt{\frac{(2n)!}{(n+l)!n!}} \left(\frac{r}{a_0}\right)^l L_{n-l-1}^{2l+1}\left(\frac{2r}{n a_0}\right) Y_l^m(\theta,\phi)$$ $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 6, 2023 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ Those examples are impressive. Did you check them for accuracy? $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jan 6, 2023 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ No, or not yet. But I have meant it as illustration of a MJ helper rather than info provider. For Dirac equation, I am not even sure I am able to check it. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 6, 2023 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia provides this function: $$ \psi_{n \ell m}(r, \theta, \varphi) = \sqrt{{\left( \frac{2}{n a^*_0} \right)}^3 \frac{(n - \ell - 1)!}{2 n (n + \ell)!}} e^{-\rho / 2} \rho^{\ell} L_{n - \ell - 1}^{2 \ell + 1}(\rho) Y_\ell^m (\theta, \varphi)$$ $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 6, 2023 at 17:02
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Another example of ChatGPT going amiss:

During an exothermic reaction would the temperature of the reactants decrease or increase?

During an exothermic reaction, the temperature of the reactants would increase. An exothermic reaction is a chemical reaction that releases heat energy, so the energy is transferred from the reactants to the surroundings, causing the temperature of the reactants to increase.

The answer is not wrong, but is not entirely correct either, or rather it lacks details that explain how the answer depends on unwritten context (mainly: what are the surroundings, is temperature controlled, what about the products (they can take up energy)?). Here the question can be blamed for lacking detail.

Here's another example:

Melting and Incinerating Plastic: can it be done without harmful pollution or excessive CO2 gas?

Melting and incinerating plastic can release harmful pollutants and greenhouse gases, such as CO2. However, there are ways to minimize these emissions through the use of proper filtration systems and emissions controls. Incineration of plastic waste in modern, well-designed and well-operated incineration plants can significantly reduce the release of pollutants, including CO2. Melting plastic in a controlled environment, such as a closed loop system, can also help to minimize emissions. Additionally, recycling and reducing the use of single-use plastic can also help to decrease the amount of plastic waste that needs to be burned or melted.

Attempt #2: Melting and incinerating plastic can release harmful pollutants, such as dioxins and furans, into the air. However, modern incineration facilities equipped with proper pollution control equipment, such as scrubbers and filters, can greatly reduce the release of these pollutants. Additionally, some forms of plastic can be recycled through processes such as mechanical or chemical recycling, which can reduce the need for incineration and decrease pollution and CO2 emissions.

That's a decent answer, if bland. It can be also be accused of going off on a tangent (reducing the use of plastic?). Going off-topic is a general issue with the bot.

Here's another:

What processes control whether or not a mineral will precipitate from an aqueous solution?

Mineral precipitation from an aqueous solution is controlled by a variety of factors, including the chemical composition of the solution, the temperature, the pressure, and the presence of other dissolved substances or minerals. The solubility of a mineral is determined by the equilibrium between the dissolved ions in the solution and the solid mineral. Factors that affect this equilibrium include the concentration of the ions in the solution, the presence of complexing agents that can bind the ions and change their solubility, and the pH of the solution. Temperature and pressure can also affect the solubility of minerals by changing the thermodynamic equilibrium of the system. Additionally, the presence of other dissolved substances or minerals can affect the precipitation of a mineral by competing for the same ions or by altering the pH of the solution.

Here the OP gave an absolute minimum of information (the question is the post). ChatGPT gives a pretty decent answer.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would be more fair to GPT-3 here. The question was general, without any particular conditions, so was the answer. Even human SE responders provide general responses to general or low level questions, that have many not mentioned subtleties or exceptions. The key is using proper follow up questions, not relying on getting everything in single and somewhat vague question that would itself call for clarification on CH SE. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 17, 2023 at 12:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Poutnik I was evaluating the utility of the bot to answer the question specifically in the context of chem SE. I agree that the answer is ok, but a human expert should recognize the importance of details in this context and would have detected the problem. The OP who posted the original question today on which my answer here is based did not understand this subtle issue. It comes down to the definition of "surroundings" and even temperature. $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jan 17, 2023 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ Well, the question is stripped down of any context and background, so it kind of received what it deserved, either by people either by ChatGPT. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 17, 2023 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ Good point. The original post was barebone: chemistry.stackexchange.com/questions/170669/… $\endgroup$
    – Buck Thorn Mod
    Jan 17, 2023 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ Again - we want from ChatGPT good answers to questions that would be closed on CH SE. But I do agree ChatGPT should object to such questions(It does but only if it is clearly impossible to answer.). It is too polite and strives to please the user at any cost. Like in Japanese culture when people do not simply say they do not know and try to give advice anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Poutnik
    Jan 18, 2023 at 9:52

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