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A close-up of a person’s hands typing on a laptop keyboard. The primary focus is on the hands and the keyboard, the background is blurred but it’s a well-lit indoor setting.

Introduction to Prompt Engineering

By: Eitel Houedakor
CNIB National Youth Council Executive Member

From voice assistants and recommendations to tools for work and education, artificial intelligence has become integral part of our daily lives. But despite its popularity, many people struggle to harness the full potential or AI. That’s where prompt engineering comes in. By mastering the art of communicating effectively with AI, you can unlock new opportunities, streamline tasks, and enhance your productivity. 

The basics

Prompt engineering is an emerging field focused on strategically designing and optimizing interactions with AI models to achieve accurate and effective results. It involves learning to communicate with artificial intelligence treating it as a collaborator to enhance various projects.

With prompt-based models (like ChatGPT) the user enters a text prompt, to which the model responds. While these models are extremely powerful, their behaviour is also very sensitive to the prompt. That’s why prompt engineering is an important skill to develop.  

What are AI models?

AI models are software systems that process vast amounts of data, generating relevant outputs based on given inputs. AI is not magical. If you provide flour, sugar, and eggs but don't specify that you want a cookie, it might make a cake, bread, or something else entirely.

How to communicate with AI

First, understand AI’s abilities – not all models are built the same. Just like knives, some are versatile for general use, while others are specialized for tasks like cutting meat or fish. That’s why, within ChatGPT (OpenAI), there are many models that specialize in different activities, like DALL-E for image generation, Codex for coding assistance, and Whisper for speech recognition. You can even ask an AI model to list its abilities for you!

The 3 Basic principles for prompt engineering 

  1. Direct: Be straightforward, simple, and clear. AI prefers precise instructions.
  2. Context: Always add context to your request. It’s like asking a child to draw a landscape without an example. Without context, you'll get unexpected results!
  3. Single Task: Focus on one task at a time. AI cannot multitask.

AI prompt writing checklist

  • Am I clear in my instructions?
  • Is there background information to what I asked?
  • Did I provide specific details?
  • Did I give examples or ideas?

Examples of good AI prompts

  • Suggest funny and catchy names for my clothing business.
  • Generate thoughtful replies to customers inquiring about our product.
  • Help me write an empathetic email to a customer regarding a delayed order.

Prompt engineering is essential for anyone looking to maximize AI potential. By understanding and leveraging different AI capabilities, you can achieve precise and effective results. Clear communication, context, and single-task focus are key. So, go ahead and talk to your AI—just don't expect it to bake cookies without a little guidance!