ChatGPT is the new hot thing in the tech industry with companies like Microsoft and Google jumping into the AI chatbot craze. At its core, the technology exists to make searching the web feel more intuitive and personal. Instead of simply getting a list of links, you’re able to converse with the chatbot to gain more insight into what you’re searching for.
When it works as intended, the technology is rather impressive. But not when you find out a chatbot says you're deceased.
While search engine-fueled chatbots are promising, they're not infallible. For example, we asked Bing with ChatGPT to review the Galaxy S23 Ultra — and it got a ton wrong. The same thing happened when we asked Bing what the chances were that the New York Giants would make it to the Super Bowl next year. Of course, these mistakes were benign compared to the flub seen during the Google Bard reveal — a mistake that ended up costing the company $100 billion.
At this early stage, we should expect this technology to make mistakes. It’s best to consider things like Bing with ChatGPT more as entertainment than as serious research. This is something I had to keep in mind when ChatGPT said I had been dead for almost two years.
According to ChatGPT, I'm dead
Over the long President’s Day weekend, a friend and colleague used ChatGPT to look up prominent gaming and tech journalists. When he searched my name, he got a response that was a tangle of correct and incorrect information. But of course, the biggest mistake is the reason why we're here. According to ChatGPT, I’m dead, which is certainly surprising.
Let’s dissect ChatGPT’s response. (Note that the screenshot above was taken by my editor as a follow-up so the text is not exactly the same.)
“Tony Polanco was a video game journalist and content creator who passed away on April 2021. He was a long-time writer and editor at the gaming website, The Koalition, and contributed to several other publications in the gaming industry. He was also the co-host of the Throwdown Show, a popular video game podcast.”
This is what my friend saw when he asked who I was. Let’s ignore the part where ChatGPT said I passed away and parse out what it got right.
I’m a Computing Writer now, which technically means I’m no longer a dedicated games journalist. I did indeed contribute to The Koalition for a little over a year, so that part is also accurate. Throwdown Show is the gaming podcast I’ve hosted since 2012 and continue hosting twice a week.
Aside from me being dead, this paragraph is mostly correct.
A bit of an exaggeration
“Polanco was known for his passionate and insightful coverage of the gaming industry, as well as his love for gaming history and culture."
It’s true that I’m passionate about gaming, and discussing its history and culture is something I particularly enjoy. I’m shocked that a lot of hardcore gaming enthusiasts know so little about the industry’s past. Because of that, I take any chance I get to teach people about how gaming got to its current state.
"He was particularly interested in issues of representation and diversity in gaming, and was a strong advocate for the inclusion of underrepresented voices in the industry.”
This part is somewhat true.
I wouldn’t call myself an advocate, but there have been times when I’ve tweeted about some of the things minorities in the industry such as myself have to grapple with. I’ve also written about how video game accessibility will improve on the Xbox Series X and PS5 for sibling site, Laptop Mag.
While this paragraph is somewhat exaggerated, I wouldn’t call it entirely inaccurate.
“Polanco's contributions to the gaming community were widely recognized and he was a beloved figure among his peers and fans. His passing was a great loss to the gaming industry, and he will be remembered for his passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to the medium.”
Though I’m not as well known as folks like Geoff Keighley, Greg Miller, Danny Peña or Parris Lily, I’m consistently recognized when I attend gaming events and am generally well-regarded by those who know me in the industry. And while it has sometimes caused headaches, such as when I said that I'm unsubscribing from Xbox Game Pass, my sizable number of Twitter followers also makes me a fairly well-known figure in gaming.
I’d like to believe that, when I actually do pass away, I’ll be remembered fondly by my peers and followers.
Wait, how did I die?
To follow up, we once again asked ChatGPT: "Who is Tony Polanco?" The response? I'm still dead.
This is mostly the same information as before. The main difference is that it references IGN. I reviewed a gaming keyboard for IGN many years ago, so that part is accurate.
We then asked ChatGTP how I died.
ChatGPT says the cause of my death was never disclosed. I'm not surprised by that, seeing as how I'm still alive. The other interesting tidbit is that I died on September 13, 2021, at the age of 38. I was 41 years old at that time.
We told ChatGPT that I was alive. Thankfully, it didn't get belligerent like Bing did on some users last week, as I detailed in my piece titled: How can ChatGPT be the next big thing if it's this broken? The AI chatbot acknowledged its error.
ChatGPT says it relies on a database of information to answer questions and that its information cutoff is September 2021. Apparently, there were reports circulating about my death at that time.
That's news to me. Maybe something happened on Twitter that I don't recall, but there was never an instance I'm aware of where people thought I was dead. I'm sure my phone would have gone haywire with people checking up on me.
But at least the AI chatbot apologized for its mistake and admitted that I'm still indeed very much alive.
At least Bing knows I'm alive
What about Bing? Microsoft's AI chatbot came under fire last week for, among other things, hitting on happily married reporters and threatening its perceived enemies. Things have calmed down now as Microsoft has seemingly put in safeguards to prevent the chatbot from saying anything overly outlandish.
As for what Bing says about me, I'm happy to say it doesn't think I'm dead.
Everything Bing with ChatGPT says here is correct. That's not too surprising seeing how it effectively copied my Twitter and MuckRack bios.
The only slight mistake is that it says (or at least insinuates) I still write for PCMag, Laptop Mag, and DualShockers. I currently only write for Tom's Guide. But these mistakes are forgivable. At least Microsoft's chatbot doesn't think I've passed away.
Final thoughts (no pun intended)
This experience has been pretty amusing. However, it makes me wonder who else has met an untimely demise according to ChatGPT and similar AI search bots. In my case, it provided me and my Twitter followers some entertainment over the long holiday weekend. But I can’t help but wonder if misinformation like this could be harmful, especially if it involves the mistaken death of an actual prominent person.
The phrase “don’t believe everything you see on the internet” is especially pertinent when it comes to AI search bots. As we said up top and will continue saying, it’s best to treat this technology as entertainment. Otherwise, you might end up believing that someone is no longer among the world of the living.