Hello! We return with another edition of In technology: AIa pop-up newsletter that teaches you about artificial intelligence, how it works, and how to use it.

Last week, I showed you how to use AI to prepare for that dreaded office meeting. Now let’s take the money you’ve earned from all that hard work and move on to something more fun: shopping.

For many, the most time-consuming part of shopping is the research process: perusing review sites and selecting the right item for you, whether it’s coffee equipment or a hotel room that’s convenient and affordable.

I’ll cover what AI can do to help make informed buying decisions quickly and efficiently. For this exercise, I’ll focus on using chatbots, including Microsoft’s Bing, Google’s Bard, and OpenAI’s ChatGPT to conduct product research. I will also explore how to use the ChatGPT plugins, a more recent development, to create shopping lists and plan trips.

Let’s say you like to brew your coffee in a French press and you want to buy a grinder that costs no more than $200. The typical research process is to do a web search and read a bunch of reviews.

AI chatbots can streamline this process. Connected to search engines by default, Microsoft’s Bing and Google’s Bard are currently best equipped for up-to-date product recommendations.

As is always the case, the right indicator will get the best results. For this example, you would write something like: “Acts as a shopping assistant. I am looking for a well reviewed French press coffee bean grinder. It shouldn’t cost more than $200.” In response, Bing and Bard will list examples of pinwheels that fit the criteria.

You can also ask the chatbots tougher questions, like which appliances will last the longest. You could write something like “Act as a shopping assistant. I’m looking for a refrigerator. What brands have the highest reliability rating, and what are some well-reviewed refrigerators from them?

The bots will tell you which appliances have the highest reliability ratings from publications like Consumer Reports and The Times’s Wirecutter.

Whenever you’re using a chatbot, it’s a good idea to check the accuracy of the results. But doing a web search to check bot recommendations is much faster than manually searching from scratch.

Now let’s talk about the future. OpenAI is developing a plugin platform, which is essentially a third-party app store that allows you to add capabilities to ChatGPT. Currently, only subscribers who pay $20 a month for ChatGPT Plus can use plugins, including those for web browsing and shopping.

To use plugins if you are a paid subscriber, go to ChatGPT settings menu, click on “beta features” and activate “add-ons”. Then, in the ChatGPT app or website, go to the GPT-4 tab and click on “plugins”. Then click the down arrow and select the plugin store. This is where you can search for apps. Let’s start with one for the grocery delivery app, Instacart.

Try typing a message like “I’m making pasta bolognese.” What is a good recipe and what are the ingredients? The chatbot will list the ingredients that go in the dish and offer to generate a shopping list.

Another interesting way to use the plugin is to shop around for dietary restrictions. For example, “I am making dinner for a pescatarian. Give me a suggestion and the ingredients.” The bot will suggest a meal, in my case Lemon Garlic Butter Shrimp, and list the ingredients.

Clicking on the shopping list will take you to Instacart, where you can automatically load all the items in your cart and choose a grocery store to shop for them.

If you don’t want to pay for ChatGPT Plus, you can still use AI to buy groceries. Try asking Bing for a recipe, then ask him for the shopping list of the ingredients needed. In a particularly neat trick, you can even ask him to organize his shopping list by grocery store aisle.

There are also plugins from travel sites like Kayak and Expedia that help with trip planning. For example, you may be looking for a well-rated hotel within walking distance of tourist sites for up to $500 per night, a process that would normally require reading reviews and reading maps.

Let’s try the Expedia plugin as a shortcut.

“I am traveling to Florence, Italy starting in July. Find me well-rated hotels that are within walking distance of tourist attractions. My budget is $500 a night.” The bot responded to this message with a list of the top-rated hotels with a 9 or higher rating on Expedia near tourist attractions like the Central Market and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore.

You can also use the Expedia plugin to search for flights. For example, “I’m trying to fly to Milan, Italy from San Francisco on July 28. What are my best options with short layovers?” ChatGPT will then load the results from Expedia for the shortest flights. It returned three KLM, Delta and United flights, all with individual layovers of no more than two hours. (Tried the same prompts with Bard and Bing, which showed generic information and inaccurate ticket prices, not helpful!)

Next week, I’ll cover how to use AI to organize your life.

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