iStock-ai-generated-cab9190f-c44f-4705-ae19-6cb375634876

Learning the Language of AI

Learning the Language of AI

In our previous blog, we discussed how to effectively chat with a chatbot. This blog will explore additional ways to improve how you can communicate with an AI chatbot. As we discussed before, the two main ways to troubleshoot communication issues with a chatbot are to add more restrictions and add more context. This blog will delve further into troubleshooting chatting with a bot such as ChatGPT-4. For this blog, we will ask the chatbot for help with planning a vegetable garden for our location because this is a sufficiently complex topic that could be approached in different ways. Our goal is to train the AI with relevant data, so it gives us the best possible answers.

Prompting the AI

How do we get the best answers out of chatbot? First, it’s important to define what the best answer is and to plan our approach ahead of time. The best answer is the most relevant solution to the problem we pose. Instead of starting with the obvious question, “How do I grow a vegetable garden?” we are going to refine our initial prompt. We decided that we want to grow carrots, so let’s begin with a clear question and defined parameters:

“Please explain how best to grow carrots in my zip code in Colorado Springs, CO. When do I start and what problems should I be aware of?”

In our prompt above, we really asked three separate questions, with the context of an exact location. By providing the exact location, we have refined the possible answers the AI could give us. This is the response I received:

“Growing carrots in Colorado Springs, CO requires attention to the unique climate and soil conditions of the area. Here’s a guide to help you grow carrots successfully: Colorado Springs has a semi-arid climate with cold winters and warm summers. Carrots are cool-season vegetables, so it’s best to plant them in early spring or late summer for a fall harvest. In your area, you can start planting carrots as early as March or April for a spring crop, or in late July or early August for a fall crop.”

 The response is decent, but it isn’t entirely helpful. First, the chatbot only answered two of my three questions and provided an overview of the basics of growing carrots in this area. But this response does not provide enough detail for a gardener to successfully grow carrots in Colorado Springs, CO. To get a better answer, we must feed it more specific requirements.

Refine Through Restrictions

             We need to give the AI more information, but what is the right question to ask? When in doubt, break down your question, so I asked: “What variety of carrot grows best in Colorado Springs, CO?”

This was the reply:

“In Colorado Springs, CO, you’ll want to choose carrot varieties that are well-suited to the cooler temperatures and shorter growing seasons of the area. Here are a few carrot varieties that tend to perform well in similar climates: 1. Nantes: Nantes carrots are known for their sweet flavor and cylindrical shape. They mature relatively quickly, making them a good choice for cooler climates with shorter growing seasons. 2. Chantenay: Chantenay carrots have a shorter, broader shape compared to other varieties. They are well-adapted to heavy or rocky soils, which can be common in some parts of Colorado. 3. Danvers: Danver’s carrots are known for their excellent storage qualities and resistance to cracking. They have a tapered shape and are suitable for a wide range of soil types. 4. Scarlet Nantes …”

This is the start of a usable answer for us. Now, we have specific carrot varieties to shop for while also understanding why we want these varieties. The chatbot also answered my third question from the original prompt: “What problems should I be aware of?” The AI identified the difficult climate of Colorado and provided a variety of solutions to that problem. Now that we know what seeds we want to buy, we need to learn more about planting and growing our carrots.

Refine Through Context

Next, we are going to provide the AI with more context to further our understanding. Context in this example is adding more relevant details so the answer will be more helpful. We started by breaking down our prompt and asking a specific and relevant question: “What type of soil do I have in Colorado Springs, CO?”

“In Colorado Springs, CO the soil type can vary depending on the specific location within the city. However, the general soil type in the area is often described as sandy loam or loamy sand. Sandy loam soil is characterized by its relatively equal proportions of sand, silt, and clay particles. This type of soil provides good drainage while still retaining some moisture and nutrients, making it suitable for a wide range of plants, including carrots.”

Notice here that the chatbot applies the context of soil to the overall conversation of growing carrots. The AI has ‘learned’ through our chat and extrapolated that the reason I am asking about soil is because I want to grow carrots. The response continues:

“However, it’s worth noting that soil composition can vary even within the same zip code, so it’s a good idea to assess your specific soil conditions before planting. You can do this by conducting a soil test, which will provide information about the pH level, nutrient content, and texture of your soil. This information can help you make informed decisions about soil amendments and fertilization to optimize carrot growth. In general, carrots prefer well-drained soil with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil test indicates any deficiencies or imbalances, you can amend the soil as needed with organic matter, compost, or specific fertilizers to create an optimal growing environment for your carrots.”

This is the response I was looking for in my original question. The AI has provided a clear and easy answer because of the restrictions and context we put in place. With regard to my three specific questions, the AI is now giving consistent and satisfactory answers. Let’s keep refining and adding context to our prompt to learn how to grow an entire vegetable garden.

Dig a Little Deeper

Since we have a handle on how to grow carrots and which carrots to grow, let’s expand our prompt to growing a vegetable garden. Part of effectively chatting with a chatbot is being able to understand the components of our question and break them down further to get even more relevant answers. To grow a vegetable garden, we know that companion plants are important because they help support the growth of other vegetables. This is a good starting point to guide the AI into giving us a detailed plan for an entire vegetable garden. We asked:

“What would you suggest as a companion vegetable to carrots?”

“Companion planting is a gardening strategy where different plants are grown near each other to benefit one another in various ways, such as pest control, nutrient uptake, and space utilization. When choosing companion vegetables for carrots in Colorado Springs, CO consider plants that complement carrots’ growth habits and help deter pests. Here are some suggestions: 1. Onions and Garlic: …. 2. Lettuce and Leafy Greens: …. 3. Radishes: …. 4. Beans and Peas: …. 5. Herbs: Herbs like dill, parsley, and cilantro can attract beneficial insects to your garden, such as ladybugs and lacewings, which prey on aphids and other pests that might attack carrots.”

This is a great answer that helps to plan the vegetable garden of our dreams. We not only know what other vegetables to plant, but we also know why we should plant them with our carrots. The AI extrapolated our overall intention of growing a vegetable garden and preemptively gave the following response:

“When planning your garden layout, consider interplanting these companion vegetables with your carrots while also paying attention to spacing requirements and the specific needs of each plant. This approach can help create a diverse and harmonious garden ecosystem that supports healthy carrot growth.”

The AI has learned what answers we value because of the specific questions we have asked. It gives consistent and relevant answers and has started to answer questions we haven’t asked yet. We almost have all the pieces we need to grow our vegetable garden, so the next prompt will tie all our previous prompts into one and ask what we originally wanted to ask at the beginning of this article: “How do I grow a vegetable garden?”

Bringing it All Together

We almost have the answer we want, but we aren’t done adding restrictions and context. When we say we want to grow a vegetable garden, we really mean we want a successful plan that will result in fresh produce. Our next question is, “Can you create a gardening plan for a 10 X 8-foot plot for my location?”

“Certainly! Here’s a gardening plan for a 10 x 8-foot plot in Colorado Springs, CO, incorporating companion planting principles and suitable crops for your area:

Layout:

– Divide the plot into four 5 x 4-foot sections for ease of management.

– Utilize the square foot gardening method to maximize space efficiency.

Planting Plan:

Section 1 (5 x 4 feet):

– Carrots: Plant rows of carrots spaced 3 inches apart. Choose a variety like Nantes or Scarlet Nantes.

– Radishes: Interplant radishes between carrot rows to help break up the soil and deter pests. Sow radish seeds thinly and evenly throughout the section.

Section 2 (5 x 4 feet):

– Onions: Plant onion sets or seedlings in rows spaced 6 inches apart. Consider varieties like ‘Sweet Spanish’ or ‘Walla Walla’.

– Lettuce: Sow lettuce seeds or transplant seedlings in rows spaced 6 inches apart. Choose varieties suited for your climate, such as ‘Butterhead’ or ‘Romaine’.

Section 3 (5 x 4 feet):

– Peas: Plant pea seeds along a trellis or support structure on one side of the section. Choose bush or dwarf varieties suited for small spaces.

– Beans: Sow bush bean seeds on the opposite side of the section. Choose varieties like ‘Provider’ or ‘Bush Blue Lake’ that don’t require trellising.

Section 4 (5 x 4 feet):

– Herbs: Plant a variety of herbs such as dill, parsley, cilantro, and basil in this section. Space plants according to their mature size and growth habits, leaving room for harvesting and airflow.

Additional Tips:

– Install trellises or supports for climbing plants like peas to maximize vertical space.

– Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

– Water regularly, especially during dry periods, ensuring the soil remains consistently moist but not waterlogged.

– Monitor for pests and diseases, and take appropriate measures such as handpicking, companion planting, or applying organic pest controls as needed.

By following this gardening plan, you can efficiently utilize your 10 x 8-foot plot to grow a variety of vegetables and herbs while promoting a healthy and productive garden ecosystem.”

Congratulations, we now we have a clear guide to growing a vegetable garden. By providing context and restrictions, the AI was able to provide relevant answers. In five questions and a total of ten minutes, we have a logical plan for how to grow a vegetable garden. But is there a simpler way of getting high-quality answers?

Seeds of Doubt

A common misconception when using AI is the belief that the AI will think for us. We assume that the AI will understand what we want and forget that it is only a program and is incapable of reading our minds. This is why it’s incredibly important that we provide context and restrictions to the AI. But in contrast, look what happens if the AI is simply asked, “How do I grow a vegetable garden?” without any of the preceding context.

“Growing a vegetable garden is a rewarding and enjoyable process. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started:

1. Planning Your Garden

– Choose the Location: Select a spot that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. Ensure it has good drainage and is near a water source.

– Decide What to Grow: Consider the vegetables you like to eat and their growing requirements. Start with easy-to-grow vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, and herbs if you’re a beginner.

– Plan the Layout: Draw a garden plan to organize where each vegetable will go. Use crop rotation principles to avoid planting the same family of plants in the same spot year after year.

2. Preparing the Soil

– Test the Soil: Check the pH level and nutrient content. Most vegetables prefer a slightly acidic to neutral pH (6.0-7.0).

– Improve the Soil: Add organic matter such as compost, aged manure, or leaf mold to improve soil structure, fertility, and drainage.

– Till or No-Till: Till the soil to a depth of 8-12 inches or use no-till methods by adding a thick layer of mulch and compost on top of the soil.

3. Planting

– Choose the Right Time: Plant cool-season crops (e.g., lettuce, peas) in early spring and fall. Warm-season crops (e.g., tomatoes, peppers) should be planted after the last frost date.

– Planting Techniques:

  – Seeds: Follow the seed packet instructions for depth and spacing.

  – Transplants: Dig a hole deep enough to cover the root ball. Water well after planting.

– Spacing: Give plants enough space to grow. Overcrowded plants compete for nutrients and light.

4. Watering and Mulching

– Watering: Water deeply and consistently. Aim for about 1 inch of water per week. Avoid overhead watering to reduce the risk of disease.

– Mulching: Apply mulch (e.g., straw, wood chips) around plants to retain moisture, regulate soil temperature, and reduce weeds.

5. Fertilizing

– Organic Fertilizers: Use compost, compost tea, fish emulsion, or well-balanced organic fertilizers to provide nutrients.

– Timing: Fertilize at planting and throughout the growing season as needed. Follow recommendations based on the specific needs of each vegetable.

6. Pest and Disease Management

– Prevention: Use row covers, companion planting, and crop rotation to prevent pests and diseases.

– Natural Remedies: Introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs and use organic sprays such as neem oil or insecticidal soap.

– Regular Monitoring: Check plants regularly for signs of pests or disease and take action early to prevent spread.

7. Harvesting

– Know When to Harvest: Harvest vegetables at their peak for best flavor and nutrition. Refer to seed packets or gardening guides for specific timing.

– Harvest Techniques: Use clean, sharp tools to cut or pick vegetables to avoid damaging plants.

8. Maintenance and Succession Planting

– Regular Care: Weed regularly, water consistently, and remove any diseased plants promptly.

-Succession Planting: Plant new crops as space becomes available to ensure a continuous harvest throughout the growing season.

Additional Tips

– Keep a Garden Journal: Track planting dates, weather conditions, and harvest times to learn from your experiences.

– Start Small: Don’t overwhelm yourself with a large garden. Start with a manageable size and expand as you gain confidence.

By following these steps and paying attention to the specific needs of your plants, you’ll be on your way to growing a successful and bountiful vegetable garden. Happy gardening!”

This answer is a great starting point, but not as detailed as the answer we built up to during the chat sessions described above. This demonstrates that to effectively chat with a chatbot, we need context and restrictions to get a relevant answer. By understanding what you want in an answer, you will be able to effectively guide the chatbot. It is also important to remember that the AI only knows what it has been trained on, which means the information it gives to not always narrowed in focus.

Learning the Language of AI