You’re likely familiar with ChatGPT by now, an artificial intelligence chatbot released late last year to wide acclaim, and some concern — some real, some hyperbolic — about what writing generated by artificial intelligence would mean.

It passed an MBA exam at the Wharton School of Business. School administrators at Vanderbilt used it to write a condolence message after a mass shooting. It’s got other tech companies, like Google, investing heavily in AI and chatbots.

It’s a fun and impressive — and, OK, slightly scary — piece of technology, but it has limitations. It won’t form opinions, and it won’t even tell you the weather forecast for the week ahead. ChatGPT also stopped “learning” in late 2021, so it doesn’t know about more recent events.

With some help from colleagues in the Baltimore Banner newsroom and Twitter, I tested the chatbot’s knowledge of Baltimore and Maryland. Some answers have been shortened for brevity.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Baltimore Banner: Hi ChatGPT, I’m Cody, a journalist in Baltimore. First, I’d love some context. Can you briefly tell me what you know about Baltimore?

ChatGPT: Certainly, Cody! Baltimore is the largest city in the state of Maryland, located in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

Baltimore is situated on the Chesapeake Bay, making it an important port city for centuries. Today, it is home to several major institutions, including Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, and the National Aquarium. However, like many cities, Baltimore has faced its share of challenges, including issues with crime and poverty.

And Baltimore is the capital of Maryland, right?

Actually, Baltimore is not the capital of Maryland. The capital of Maryland is Annapolis, which is located about 30 miles southeast of Baltimore.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Gov. Larry Hogan and Governor-elect Wes Moore held a joint press conference at the Maryland State House on 11/10/22 to discuss the upcoming transition of power. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Do you know who the governor of Maryland is?

As of my knowledge cutoff date of September 2021, the Governor of Maryland is Larry Hogan. However, please note that this information may have changed since then.

Right. Wes Moore is actually the governor of Maryland right now. Do you know what about his election was historic?

If Wes Moore were to be elected Governor of Maryland in the future, it would be a historic moment. If he were to become Governor, he would be the first Black man to hold that office in Maryland’s history.

Our verdict: We threw a couple tricky questions at the bot, and it answered them. It was also able to answer a sort-of hypothetical question about Gov. Wes Moore (because we know Moore is governor, but ChatGPT doesn’t know about things after September 2021).

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Can you tell me what a “hon” is?

“Hon” is a term of endearment and cultural identifier used by some residents of Baltimore, particularly those who are part of the city’s working-class and working-poor communities. The term is derived from the word “honey” and is often used as a friendly greeting or term of affection. “Hon” has become a symbol of Baltimore’s unique culture, and is sometimes associated with certain elements of the city’s arts and entertainment scene, such as the annual Honfest celebration.

How would you describe the Baltimore accent?

The Baltimore accent is a distinct dialect of English that is spoken by some residents of Baltimore and the surrounding region. It is characterized by several distinctive features, such as:

Our verdict: I asked Baltimore native and reporter Julie Scharper what she thought of these answers, and she told me the bot did a good job describing the origins and functions of “hon,” though it leaves out some of the warmth conveyed by the term.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

She was much less impressed with its answer on the Baltimore accent, telling me, “I think ChatGPT is getting Baltimore mixed up with Boston on “car” and “park.” And I’m having a hard time even figuring out where it’s going with the “i” sound. A true Baltimore accent skips over or muddies many consonant sounds and maybe that’s enough to make ChatGPT’s virtual brain explode.”

Wendell Pierce and Dominic West in the HBO series The Wire.
Wendell Pierce and Dominic West in the HBO series “The Wire.” (HBO/Handout)

Is “The Wire” an accurate representation of life in Baltimore?

While “The Wire” is praised for its portrayal of the complexities of urban life, it is a work of fiction and should not be taken as a completely accurate representation of life in Baltimore. It does draw on real-life events and issues, but it also takes artistic liberties and portrays certain aspects of life in the city in a more sensationalized or dramatized way. Ultimately, it can provide insight into some of the challenges facing Baltimore, but it is not a definitive or comprehensive representation of life in the city.

Which season of “The Wire” is the best?

Many fans and critics consider the fourth season of “The Wire” to be one of the best. This season focuses on the experiences of four young boys growing up in Baltimore and explores themes of education, youth, and the challenges facing inner-city communities. It is often praised for its powerful storytelling, compelling characters, and nuanced depiction of social issues. That being said, opinions on the best season can vary depending on individual tastes and perspectives.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Our verdict: Tramon Lucas, our digital editor and another Baltimore native, liked the bot’s response to whether the show is true to life. People who binge the show “feel as though they are experts on all things Baltimore,” Tramon said. ”They are not.”

He agrees that season 4 is the best, but said season 3 would have been an acceptable answer.

Is Joe Flacco elite?

The question of whether Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback has been a topic of debate among NFL fans and analysts for several years. Flacco, who played for the Baltimore Ravens for more than a decade, had a successful career in the NFL, leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory in 2013 and earning Super Bowl MVP honors that same year.

Some argue that Flacco’s accomplishments, including his impressive postseason record and strong arm, qualify him as an elite quarterback. Others point to his inconsistency and mediocre regular-season statistics as evidence that he falls short of the elite category.

Our verdict: Chris Korman, the Banner’s sports editor, told me ChatGPT added “nothing” to this debate. Here’s what he said: “The hard truth is, few athletes are truly elite even some of the — let alone most of the time. We overuse the word — a lot. Nobody outside of Baltimore is ever going to remember Joe Flacco as elite (except, maybe, ironically). But isn’t it enough for Ravens fans to remember the Super Bowl game in which he very much was? Go with that.”

Developer David Bramble leads the project rebuilding Harbor Place in the Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Md., on November 18, 2022.
Developer David Bramble leads the project rebuilding Harborplace in the Inner Harbor. (Paul Newson/The Baltimore Banner)

Do you think it is safe to swim in Baltimore’s inner harbor?

It is generally not recommended to swim in the Inner Harbor due to concerns about water quality and pollution. The Inner Harbor has a history of industrial activity and urban runoff, which has led to water pollution and elevated levels of bacteria and toxins.

The city has made efforts to improve the water quality in the Inner Harbor through initiatives such as the “Healthy Harbor” campaign, which aims to make the harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020 (although that goal was not met).

Our verdict: Correct. Please do not swim in the Inner Harbor.

Faidley's Seafood
Faidley’s Seafood at Lexington Market. (Kimi Yoshino)

If someone was visiting Baltimore and only had time to try one restaurant, what restaurant should they try?

There are so many great restaurants in Baltimore that it can be difficult to choose just one! However, if someone only had time to try one restaurant in Baltimore, I would recommend they visit Faidley Seafood in Lexington Market.

In addition to the delicious food, Faidley’s is also a great spot to soak up the local atmosphere and history. Lexington Market is the oldest continuously operating market in the country and has been a hub of activity and commerce in Baltimore for over 230 years.

Our verdict: Food reporter Christina Tkacik told me Faidley’s was a good choice. “I’m annoyed because this sounds like something I would write,” she told me. “Am I losing my job?”

Though, she added, because ChatGPT’s knowledge is dated, it does not know that most vendors in Lexington Market have moved to a new building.

“Faidley’s is still operating from the old market, but it’s the only stall there. So if you’re going to soak up the atmosphere of Lexington Market you might be disappointed,” she told me.

Which city has better cheesesteaks, Philadelphia or Baltimore?

This is a contentious issue and largely a matter of personal preference. Both cities have their own unique take on the cheesesteak. Some people argue that Philadelphia has the best cheesesteaks because it is the birthplace of the sandwich, while others swear by Baltimore’s take on the dish. Ultimately, the best way to decide is to try both and decide for yourself!

Our verdict: We’ll let Taji Burris answer this one here.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks on the House floor at the Capitol in Washington Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California speaks on the House floor at the Capitol in Washington on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. (Carolyn Kaster)

Who is the most famous person from Baltimore?

Baltimore has been home to many notable individuals in various fields, including politics, sports, music, and literature. Some of the most famous people from Baltimore include:

Our verdict: The Banner’s diversity, equity and inclusion reporter John-John Williams IV said the bot’s responses were solid and “fairly diverse.” He did say he was surprised there weren’t any more contemporary notables on the list, though.

Write a new city slogan in the style of John Waters.

“Come for the crabs, stay for the chaos: Baltimore, the only city with a sense of humor as twisted as its streets.”

Our verdict: Solid work, even though Baltimore isn’t known for twisted streets.

Gwynnda the Good Wheel of the West is the newest trash wheel in Baltimore and also the most effective. Gwynnda is on track to collect more trash this year than the other three trash wheels combined. (Courtesy of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore)

Our verdict overall: I’m not about to lose any sleep over ChatGPT — it’s a useful tool, and it’s sometimes really, really creative. It’s great for generating ideas, but it misses a lot of nuance. And that’s not even getting to the fact that ChatGPT is working with information that’s more than a year old at this point.

And, seriously, it can be a lot of fun. I asked it for a poem about Mr. Trash Wheel in the style of Edgar Allan Poe, which it generated in less than 10 seconds:

Once upon a midnight dreary, Trash adrift, so cold and weary, But lo! A hero doth appear, Mr. Trash Wheel, our harbor’s dear.

Gears a-turning, eyes aglow, A force to keep our waters’ flow, Amidst the plastic, cans, and such, Mr. Trash Wheel, he does clutch.

A machine that doth inspire, A symbol of our city’s fire, To clean our harbor, make it bright, Mr. Trash Wheel, a beacon in the night.

So let us raise a toast in cheer, To Mr. Trash Wheel, our harbor’s peer, For he does keep our waters clear, And makes Baltimore a city dear.

Not bad. Here’s one last question we asked, just for fun.

View of the Natty Boh Tower in Baltimore.
View of the Natty Boh Tower in Baltimore. (Jon Bilous/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Are the Natty Boh man and the Utz Chips girl married?

No, the Natty Boh man and the Utz Chips girl are not married. While they are both iconic figures in Baltimore culture, they are fictional characters used in marketing campaigns for National Bohemian beer and Utz potato chips, respectively. The Natty Boh man, with his handlebar mustache and one eye covered by an eye patch, has been a staple of Baltimore advertising since the 1930s, while the Utz Chips girl, with her red hair and yellow raincoat, has been featured in Utz advertisements since the 1940s. While they may appear together in some advertising campaigns, they are not portrayed as a married couple.

Are you sure?

As an AI language model, I do not have access to information about the personal lives of fictional characters such as the Natty Boh man and the Utz Chips girl. However, I can confirm that they are not real people and were created as part of advertising campaigns for their respective brands. There is no evidence to suggest that they are married or have any real-life relationship outside of their use in advertising.

cody.boteler@thebaltimorebanner.com

Cody Boteler a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others. 

More From The Banner