Captain's log: the irreducible weirdness of prompting AIs


🔗 a linked post to oneusefulthing.org » — originally shared here on

There are still going to be situations where someone wants to write prompts that are used at scale, and, in those cases, structured prompting does matter. Yet we need to acknowledge that this sort of “prompt engineering” is far from an exact science, and not something that should necessarily be left to computer scientists and engineers.

At its best, it often feels more like teaching or managing, applying general principles along with an intuition for other people, to coach the AI to do what you want.

As I have written before, there is no instruction manual, but with good prompts, LLMs are often capable of far more than might be initially apparent.

If you had to guess before reading this article what prompt yields the best performance on mathematic problems, you would almost certainly be wrong.

I love the concept of prompt engineering because I feel like one of my key strengths is being able to articulate my needs to any number of receptive audiences.

I’ve often told people that programming computers is my least favorite part of being a computer engineer, and it’s because writing code is often a frustrating, demoralizing endeavor.

But with LLMs, we are quickly approaching a time where we can simply ask the computer to do something for us, and it will.

Which, I think, is something that gets to the core of my recent mental health struggles: if I’m not the guy who can get computers to do the thing you want them to do, who am I?

And maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe “normal people” will still hate dealing with technology in ten years, and there will still be a market for nerds like me who are willing to do the frustrating work of getting computers to be useful.

But today, I spent three hours rebuilding the backend of this blog from the bottom up using Next.JS, a JavaScript framework I’ve never used before.

In three hours, I was able to have a functioning system. Both front and backend. And it looked better than anything I’ve ever crafted myself.

I was able to do all that with a potent combination of a YouTube tutorial and ChatGPT+.

Soon enough, LLMs and other AGI tools will be able to infer all that from even rudimentary prompts.

So what good can I bring to the world?

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