Consulting with LLMs – how to make ChatGPT say more than “it depends”

Fourth in a series featuring talks from our recent Geek 23 conference is Lyndsay Prewer, Technical Delivery Manager at Equal Experts, presenting, Consulting with LLMs – how to make ChatGPT say more than “it depends.”

The rise in the popularity and power of large language models (LLMs), such as ChatGPT, Bard and Bing, has led to growing consideration if they can be used to improve how we consult.

This workshop gives attendees a better understanding of the potential and considerations of using LLMs in consulting, as well as practical strategies for leveraging these tools to deliver more value to our clients.

The collective experience and insights of attendees was used to crowdsource answers to the following questions:

  • What should we be mindful of when using LLMs (e.g. privacy, bias, sustainability)?
  • What practical usages of LLMs have worked well?
  • What aspects of LLM usage need further research within EE?

The workshop starts by setting the scene, then describes the goal and approach.  A variety of liberating structures will then be used – such as Pecha Kucha, 1-2-4-all – to facilitate the distillation, culminating in a summary of the aggregated answers.

Geek 23 was a specific event for, and led by, our Equal Experts community.  Speakers gave talks on a range of topics including service design, developer experience, operability, leadership, distributed systems, testing, large language models, DevOps, mob programming and microservices.

In my first blog post on ChatGPT I noticed that, to get good results for most of the work I wanted, I needed to use the latest model, which is tuned for  instruction/chatgpt type tasks (text-davinci-003); the base models just didn’t seem to cut it.

I was intrigued by this, so I decided to have another go at fine-tuning ChatGPT, to see if I could find out more. Base models (e.g. davinci as opposed to text-davinci-003) use pure GPT-3. (Actually, I think they are GPT-3.5 but let’s not worry about that for now). They  generate completions based on input text; give them the start of a sentence and they will tell you what the next words will typically be. However, this is different from answering a question or following an instruction.

In the following example you can see the top 5 answers to the prompt “Tell me a story” when using the base GPT-3 model (which is davinci – currently the most powerful we have access to):

You can see from these answers how GPT-3 works; it has found completions based on examples in the training corpus. ‘Tell me a story , mama,” the youngster said. is likely a common completion in several novels. But this is not what I wanted! What I wanted was for ChatGPT to actually tell me a story.

If I give the same query to a different model – text-davinci-003 – I get the sort of results I was looking for. (The answers have been restricted to a short length, but it could carry on extensively.)

Clearly the text-* models have significantly enhanced functionality compared with the standard GPT-3 models. In fact, one of the important things that  ChatGPT has done is  focus explicitly on understanding the user’s intention when they create a prompt. And as well as allowing ChatGPT to understand the intention of the user, the approach also prevents it from responding in toxic ways. 

How they do this is fascinating; they use humans in the loop, and reinforcement learning. First, a group of people create the sort of training set you’d expect in a supervised learning approach. For a given prompt “Tell me a story”, a person  creates the response “Once, upon a time there was a …” These manually created prompt-response pairs are used to fine-tune ChatGPT’s base model. Then, people (presumably a different group of people) are used to evaluate the performance by ranking outputs from the model – this is used to create a separate reward model. Finally, the reward model is used in a reinforcement learning approach to update the fine-tuned model made in the first stage. (Reinforcement learning is an ML technique where you try lots of changes and see which ones do better against some reward function. It’s the approach that DeepMind used to train a computer to play video games.)

It’s worth noting the sort of investment required to do this. Using people to label and evaluate machine learning outputs is expensive, but it is a great way to improve the performance of a model. In recent LinkedIn posts I have seen people claiming to have been offered jobs to do this sort of work, so it looks like OpenAI are continuing to refine the model in this way. Reinforcement learning is usually a very expensive way of learning something; reinforcement learning on top of deep learning is even more expensive, so there has clearly been a lot of time, effort and money expended in developing the model. 

ChatGPT are open in their approach – here’s their take on how to use ChatGPT; I really applaud their openness. I’m aware there are a lot of negative reactions to the tool, but it’s worth pointing out that the developers are clearly aware that the model is not perfect. If you look at the limitations section of the document they note several things including: 

  • It can still generate toxic or biased outputs
  • It can be instructed to produce unsafe outputs
  • It is trained only in English, so will be culturally-biased to English-speaking people 

In my opinion, generative models are not deterministic in their outputs so these sorts of risks will always remain. But I think serious thought and expense has been applied in order to reduce the likelihood of problematic results.

I started this investigation into fine-tuning ChatGPT because I noticed that I wasn’t able  to fine-tune on the text-* versions of the model. In fact, it clearly states in the ChatGPT fine-tuning guide that  only the base models can be fine-tuned.  Now I understand why. Unfortunately, I also understand better that the text-* models are those which have been improved with the human in the loop process. And these are the ones that have a lot of the secret sauce for ChatGPT; it is the refinement using human guidance that gives it that fantastic human-like ability which seems so impressive.

The implication for the use-cases I had in mind – fine-tuning ChatGPT to specific contexts, such as question answering about Equal Experts – is that you cannot use the model which understands your intention. So you will not get the sort of natural-sounding responses we see in all the examples people have been posting on the internet. That’s a bit sad for me, but at least now I know.

Pretty much everyone by now has heard of – and  probably played with – ChatGPT (If you haven’t,  go to to see what all the fuss is about.); it’s a chatbot developed by OpenAI based on an extremely large natural language processing model, which automatically answers questions based on written prompts.

It’s user friendly, putting AI in the hands of the masses. There are loads of examples of people applying ChatGPT to their challenges and getting some great results. It can tell stories, write code, or summarise complex topics. I wanted to explore how to use ChatGTP to see if it would help with the sorts of technical business problems that we are often asked to help with. 

One obvious area to exploit is its ability to answer questions. With no special training I asked the online ChatGPT site “What is Continuous Delivery?”

That’s a pretty good description and, unlike traditional chatbots, it has not been made from curated answers. Instead, it uses the GPT-3 model which was trained on a large corpus of documents from CommonCrawl, WebText, Wikipedia articles, and a large corpus of books. GPT-3 is a generative model – if you give it some starter text it will complete it based on what it has encountered in its training corpus. Because the training corpus contains lots of facts and descriptions, ChatGPT is able to answer questions. (Health warning – because the corpus contains information that is not always correct, and because ChatGPT generates responses from different texts, in many cases the answers sound convincing but might not be 100% accurate.)

This is great for questions about generally known concepts and ideas. But what about a specific company. Can we use ChatGPT to tell us about what an individual company does? 

  • Can it immediately answer questions about a company, or does it need to be provided with more information? Can customers and clients use ChatGPT to find out more about an organisation?
  • If we give it specific texts about a company can it accurately answer questions about that company?

Let’s look at the first question. We’ll pretend I’m a potential customer who wants to find out about Equal Experts.

That’s disappointing. Let’s try rephrasing:

It’s still not the answer I was hoping for. Although I do now know that I need a diverse team with a range of skills! 

Clearly ChatGPT is great for general questions but won’t help potential customers find out about Equal Experts (or most other businesses.) So maybe I can improve things. ChatGPT has the ability to ‘fine-tune’ models. You can provide additional data – extra documents which contain the information you want – and then retrain the model so it also uses this new information.

So, can we fine-tune GPT to create a model which knows about Equal Experts? I found some available, good quality  text on Equal Experts – the case-studies on our website – and used it as training material. 

I wrote a small number of sample questions and answers for individual case-studies and submitted them for training. I used a simplified approach to the one given by OpenAI. (For those interested I didn’t use a discriminator because of the low training data volumes.) I then asked some questions for which I knew the answers were in the training data, and displayed the top 5 answers from our new model via the ChatGPT API:

I think we can agree that these are not great results. I should caveat with the fact that creating training examples takes a lot of time. (It is often the biggest activity in an AI or machine learning initiative.) The recommendation is to use 100s of training examples for ChatGPT and I only created 12 training prompts. So results could well be improved with a bigger training set. On the other hand, one of the big selling points of GPT-based models is that they facilitate one-shot or few-shot learning (only needing a few examples to train the model on a new concept – in this case Equal Experts). So I’m disappointed that training has made no difference and that the answers are poor compared to the web interface.

In fact the results are also affected by the training procedure. The training approach to using ChatGPT gives a context first (some text), then a question, then the answer. If I give context with the question (e.g. some relevant  text such as an EE case study) and then ask a question, ChatGPT responds much better.

These are much better answers (although far from perfect), but I have had to supply relevant text in the first place, which rather defeats the object of the exercise.

So, could I get ChatGPT to identify the relevant text to use as part of the prompt? You can, in fact, use ChatGPT to generate embeddings – a representation of the document as a mathematical vector – which can be used to find similar documents. So this suggests a slightly different approach:

  • For each case-study – generate embeddings
  • For a given question – find the case-studies which are most similar to the question (using the embeddings)
  • Use the similar case-studies as part of the prompt

This gives some pretty good responses; this image shows the top 5 responses for some questions about our case studies:

These look like pretty relevant responses but they’re a bit short, and they definitely don’t contain all the available information in the case-studies. It turned out that the default response size is 16 tokens (sort of related to word count). When I set it to 200 I get these results for what is a data health check:

Well that’s a much better summary, and it gave good results for other queries also:

Throughout this activity, I found a number of other notable points:

  • Using the right model in ChatGPT is really important. I ended up using the latest model, which is tuned for  instruction/chatgpt type tasks (text-davinci-003), and got good results for most of the work. Base models (e.g. davinci) just didn’t seem to cut it. This matters when you are thinking of fine-tuning a model because you cannot use the specialised models as the basis of a new one.

  • The davinci series models used a lot of human feedback as part of their training, so they give the best results compared to simpler models. (Although I accept the need to experiment more.)
  • Quite often the model would become unavailable and I would get the following message. If you want to use the API in a live service, be aware that this can happen quite regularly.

  • Each question cost about 5-6 cents.

I have noticed a wide range of reactions from people using ChatGPT, from ‘Wow- this will change the world!’ to ‘It’s all nonsense – it’s not intelligent at all.’ – even amongst people with AI backgrounds. Having played with it, I think there are lots of tasks it can help with; organisations that can figure out where it will help them and how to get the most out of it will really benefit. Watching how things play out with Chat GPT and its successors (hello GPT-4) is going to be a fascinating ride.