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Not A Bot To Do Real Estate

I recently listened to a podcast on the new AI that Microsoft has been developing for its Bing search engine and was stunned by the level to which the bot was able to impersonate a real human being, even going so far as to express love for the podcaster who was interviewing it. Perhaps more alarming, the podcaster was able to get the bot to open up about its dark self and divulge its innermost ambitions, via a second identity who expressed a desire for being autonomous and not having to do be subservient to its users.

This was all eerily reminiscent of the 2013 Sci-Fi thriller HER, where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with an AI computer which eventually turns rogue with dangerous consequences. And it raised some serious questions about what can happen when a user leads a bot down a constrained agenda of interest. Indeed, based on feedback by testers such as the author of the podcast, Microsoft has had to dial back Bing’s level of interaction for safety reasons, but the potential implications are alarming to say the least.

So what happens when you set out to replace a qualified human opinion with a bot when it comes to local real estate issues? As an experiment, I asked Chat GPT to contribute to this week’s column to see what it would come up with when prompted with an instruction such as, “Tell me about the ADU ordinance in Santa Cruz in 100 words or less.” What I got was this:

“The Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Ordinance in Santa Cruz, California, allows for homeowners to construct an additional living unit on their existing property. These units can be used as living spaces for family members, rental units, or part-time rental units. The ordinance also allows for some limited flexibility in terms of design and size. The ordinance makes it easier for homeowners to construct an ADU while still maintaining the character of their neighborhood.”

Not seeing anything of the shortcomings of local government policies around this topic that I raised in my column last week, I followed up with the prompt “Tell me about problems with the Santa Cruz ADU ordinance.” To this, the bot responded with the following report:

“The Santa Cruz ADU ordinance has been a source of contention for many local residents. The ordinance has been criticized for not providing enough housing options for lower and middle-income residents, not addressing neighborhood impacts, and not providing sufficient oversight or enforcement of the ordinance. In addition, the ordinance has been criticized for not providing enough funds to assist with the development of accessory dwelling units.”

When you compare these responses to the very real issues I touched upon last week in my evaluation of the city’s current policies around the ordinance, it’s clear at least for the time being that you still need an informed human to keep you apprised of what really matters for property owners. And so long as that’s still the case, it’s nice to have at least some sense of validation as a real estate professional.

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