COS 109 Lab 7: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Fri Nov 10 13:53:37 EST 2023

Due midnight Sunday November 12


Steadily increasing computing power and memory plus a huge amount of data has made it possible for computers to do a decent job on tasks that normally would require a human. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and natural language processing (AI, ML, NLP) have been very successful for games (computer chess and Go programs are better than the best humans), speech recognition (think Alexa and Siri), machine translation, and self-driving cars. And in the past year, large language models like ChatGPT have shown remarkable abilities in "understanding" language, answering questions, carrying on conversations, and generating a great deal of well-written text, some of which is accurate.

There are zillions of books, articles, blogs and tutorials on machine learning, and it's hard to keep up. This overview, Machine Learning for Everyone, is an easy informal introduction with no mathematics, just good illustrations. It predates large language models like ChatGPT, however, so it's missing an important topic. But it's worth a quick look.

This lab is an open-ended exploration of a few basic topics in ML. The hope is to give you at least some superficial experience, and as you experiment, you should also start to see how well these systems work, or don't. Your job along the way is to answer the questions that we pose, based on your experiments. Include images that you have captured from your screen as appropriate. Submit the result as a web page, using the mechanisms that you learned in the first two or three labs. No need for fancy displays or esthetics; just include text and images, suitably labeled. Use the template below so we can easily see what you've done.

This lab has been almost completely reworked from last year so it still has rough edges. Don't worry about details, but if you encounter something that seems seriously wrong, please let us know. Otherwise, have fun and see what you learn.

HTML template for your submission
Part 1: Machine Learning
Part 2: Image Generation
Part 3: Large Language Models
Part 4: A Python Version
Submitting your work

In this lab, we will highlight instructions for what you have to submit in a yellow box like this one.

HTML template for your submission

For grading, we need some uniformity among submissions, so use this template to collect your results as you work through the lab:

<title> Your netid, your name </title>
<h3> Your netid, your name </h3>
  Any comments that you would like to make about the lab,
  including troubles you had, things that were interesting,
  and ways we could make it better.
<h3>Part 1</h3>
<h3>Part 2</h3>
<h3>Part 3</h3>
<h3>Part 4</h3>
If you include big images, please limit their widths to about 80% of the page width, with <img ... width="80%">, as in earlier labs.

Put a copy of this template in a file called lab7.html and as you work through the lab, fill in each part with what we ask for, using HTML tags like the ones that you learned in the first few labs.

Part 1: Machine Learning

"Machine learning algorithms can figure out how to perform important tasks by generalizing from examples." Most machine-learning algorithms have a similar structure. They "learn" by processing a large number of examples that have been labeled with the correct answer, for example, whether some text is spam or not, or which digit a hand-written sample is, or what kind of animal is found in a picture, or what the price of a house is. Using this training set, the algorithm figures out parameter values that enable it to make good classifications or predictions about new inputs.

There is an enormous range of algorithms, and much research in continuing to improve them. There are also many ways in which machine learning algorithms can fail -- for example, "over-fitting", in which the algorithm does very well on its training data but much less well on new data -- or producing results that confirm biases in the training data. This is an especially sensitive issue in applications like sentencing or predicting recidivism in the criminal justice system.

One particularly effective kind of ML is called "deep learning" because its implementation loosely matches the kind of processing that the human brain appears to do. A set of neurons observe low-level features; their outputs are combined and fed into another set of neurons that observe higher-level features based on the lower level, and so on. Deep learning has been very effective in image recognition, and that's the basis of this part of the lab.

Google's Teachable Machine is a web application that uses the camera and microphone on a computer to train a neural network on multiple visual or auditory inputs; the interface looks like this:

I trained the network on two images, holding a pen in one of two orientations. It's an easy case, and the recognizer is quite good at distinguishing them.

Your job is to do some comparable but hopefully more interesting and challenging examples of your own, and report on what you discovered.

  • Using the Teachable Machines link above, do two distinctly different projects using the camera and/or microphone in your computer. This might be images of yourself in various attire, or of you and friends, or singing, or lots of other things -- be imaginative!
  • For each experiment, describe what you tried, why you chose it, and how well it worked. How many training examples were necessary? How did it improve, if at all, with more training?
  • For each, include a screenshot like the one above.
  • Part 2: Image Generation

    Machine learning models have been steadily improving in their ability to generate language and images that can often appear as if they were generated by people.

    One of the most interesting examples marries language models to image tags to generate surprisingly creative images from a "prompt", perhaps a dozen words that approximately describe an image that might exist in the world, or might be entirely synthetic. We saw a stunning example early in the semester, the AI-generated Théâtre D’opéra Spatial:

    Most such images are nowhere near that good, but they do show promise. For example, this set of images comes from Stable Diffusion with the prompt "A bearded elderly male professor teaching programming to a class of bored humanities majors":

    More seriously, some prompts produce remarkably good results; for instance, "a gray cat sitting at a door watching squirrels in the style of van gogh's starry night":

    The purpose of this section is for you to explore this area a little, generate a handful of images that you like, and have some fun while seeing what works and what doesn't.

    The images above were generated by Stable Diffusion. You can also use alternatives like DALL-E2 from OpenAI or a DALL-E3 version from Microsoft. These require you to create an account, though use is free up to a point.

    These systems are fun to play with, and impressive in their capabilities. Archie suggests some tips that might help image quality; these were for DALL-E2 originally but should be helpful for other systems as well.

  • Specifying an art style is often very useful. OpenAI itself advises new users to try out the suffix ", digital art", which generates "stunning, high quality images".
  • DALL-E understands emotions and themes in addition to concrete objects. It will respond correctly if you ask for "a tragic scene of" or "an unflattering portrait of", for example.
  • If the prompt does not specify an environment, DALL-E will often create abstract backgrounds that do not blend logically with the foreground.
  • DALL-E is not good with text. It's almost impossible to make it write coherent English in an image. (It's even worse at math.)
  • Using some image generation system, create two distinctly different sets of images.
  • One set should be pretty representational, like the ones above. The other set should be non-representational, something that is not likely to exist in the real world ("a tyrannosaurus sword-fighting with Spiderman on Mars"). This isn't meant to be prescriptive, however, so create something that you really like -- be imaginative!
  • For each set, include a screenshot like the ones above, and make sure you include the prompt. For each, say what system you used, and describe how you evolved the prompts before you settled on your final version.
  • Part 3: Large Language Models

    I said to ChapGPT "Write two or three paragraphs that explain ChatGPT to a non-technical reader with only a limited interest in and knowledge of computer science and programming."

    Certainly! ChatGPT is a friendly AI companion that uses the power of computers to have conversations with people. Imagine ChatGPT as a virtual friend who loves to chat about a wide range of topics. It can answer questions, provide information, and even help with creative writing or problem-solving.

    What makes ChatGPT special is its ability to understand and generate human-like text. It doesn't need to be programmed for specific conversations; instead, it has learned from a vast amount of text from the internet, books, and other sources. This means it can chat about everything from history and science to movies and hobbies. You can talk to it by typing messages or questions, and it responds just like a text conversation with a friend.

    In a nutshell, ChatGPT is like having an intelligent virtual buddy you can talk to whenever you want, and it's especially helpful when you're curious or need information, even if you're not into computer science or programming. It's designed to make technology feel more approachable and helpful for everyday conversations and tasks.

    ChatGPT appeared in late November, 2022, and has been enormously influential. It does a remarkably good job of generating well-written English prose, it can answer questions over a wide range of areas (often though not always correctly), it can translate to and from other languages, and it does all this through a conversational interface that often feels like talking to another person. In that sense, it does seem to pass the Turing test. And its updated version ChapGPT-4 is even better.

    Your job is to play with ChatGPT or one of its competitors, to get a sense of the good bits and the failures. For example, you might ask it to explain some part of the course that you have trouble with or that you think needs a better explanation.

    You should also apply it to one question from the problem sets, similar to what we described in gpt.html. See if you can pinpoint where it goes wrong with logic or arithmetic.

    You can access ChatGPT at You will have to register to get access; the free account will give you enough computing resources for experimenting for this lab. If you prefer, you can use a different LLM; just tell us which one(s) you used.

  • Use the LLM to produce a 3 or 4 paragraph biographical sketch of some person named in COS 109. How accurate does it seem to be? (And does it agree with what was described in the course?)
  • Use the LLM to briefly explain some topic or concept of COS 109 that you find confusing or think that others might. Include your prompt and the generated output. It's better to have a conversation rather than a single prompt and response.
  • Use the LLM to answer some problem set or old exam question that involves a numeric computation. Again, it's better to have a conversation of several rounds. If it gets a wrong answer, see if you can guide it towards a correct answer.
  • Part 4: (Optional) Using Python with LLMs

    If you want to try out your newly acquired Python expertise, you can use the Python API for ChatGPT. It's pretty easy to set up a basic conversational interface. You need to get a (free) API key from OpenAI that is stored in your program to identify you when you run the program. You can do the sign-up at

    Here's a simple example program, courtesy of Archie, and slightly fiddled by me. If you copy it into a file, or paste it into a Colab window, it should "just work". ™

    import openai
    openai.api_key = "YOU NEED ONE OF YOUR OWN"  # register with OpenAI to get one
    # replace this with your own system prompt:
    system_prompt = '''Perform name-entity recognition:  Identify proper names of people,
    names of places, names of institutions, etc., in the following text.   Print names
    of people and names of places separately.'''
    messages = [ { "role": "system", "content": system_prompt } ]
    while True:
        user_content = input("enter text:\n")
        messages.append( { "role": "user", "content": user_content } )
        result = openai.ChatCompletion.create(model="gpt-3.5-turbo", messages=messages )

    If you choose to do this optional section, let us know what you did, what worked, what was harder than it should have been.

    Submitting Your Work

    Upload your lab7.html, including all images, to your cPanel page. Make sure that everything is accessible at Ask a friend to view your page and check all the links from his or her computer.

    When you are sure that your page is displaying correctly, upload your lab7.html to Gradescope so we know you're done.