Why you can trust ZDNET : ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.


What is ChatGPT and why does it matter? Here's what you need to know

The AI chatbot's advanced conversational capabilities continue to generate a buzz. We answer your questions.
Written by Sabrina Ortiz, Editor
Sabrina Ortiz/ZDNET

What is ChatGPT?

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot with natural language processing (NLP) that allows you to have human-like conversations to complete various tasks. The generative AI tool can answer questions and assist you with composing emails, essays, code, and much more.

AlsoHow to use ChatGPT: What you need to know now

It's currently open to use for free. OpenAI launched a paid subscription version called ChatGPT Plus in February 2023, which guarantees users access to the company's latest models and updates.

What is ChatGPT used for?

ChatGPT offers many functions in addition to answering simple questions. ChatGPT can compose essays, have philosophical conversations, do math, and even code for you

The tasks ChatGPT can help with also don't have to be so ambitious. For example, my favorite use of ChatGPT is for help creating basic lists for chores, such as packing and grocery shopping, and to-do lists that make my daily life more productive. The possibilities are endless. 

ZDNET has published many ChatGPT how-to guides. Below are some of the most popular ones. 

Use ChatGPT to: 

Can ChatGPT help me apply for jobs?

Yes, ChatGPT is a great resource to help with job applications. Undertaking a job search can be tedious and difficult, and ChatGPT can help you lighten the load. ChatGPT can build your resume and write a cover letter.

AlsoHow to use ChatGPT to write an essay

If your application has any written supplements, you can use ChatGPT to help you write those essays or personal statements

Is ChatGPT available for free?

ChatGPT is free, regardless of what you use it for, including writing, coding, and much more. 

There is a subscription option, ChatGPT Plus, that costs $20 per month. The paid subscription model gives you extra perks, such as priority access to GPT-4o, DALL-E 3, and the latest upgrades. 

Also: ChatGPT vs ChatGPT Plus: Is it worth the subscription fee?

Although the subscription price may seem steep, it is the same amount as Microsoft Copilot Pro and Google One AI Premium, Microsoft's and Google's paid AI offerings. 

The free version is still a solid option, as it can access the same model and perks. One major exception: only subscribers get guaranteed access to GPT-4o when the model is at capacity.

How can you access ChatGPT?

On April 1, 2024, OpenAI stopped requiring you to log in to ChatGPT. Now, you can access ChatGPT simply by visiting chat.openai.com. You can also access ChatGPT via an app on your iPhone or Android device.

Once you visit the site, you can start chatting away with ChatGPT. A great way to get started is by asking a question, similar to what you would do with Google. You can ask as many questions as you'd like.

Also: ChatGPT no longer requires a login, but you might want one anyway. Here's why

Creating an OpenAI account still offers some perks, such as saving and reviewing your chat history, accessing custom instructions, and, most importantly, getting free access to GPT-4o. Signing up is free and easy; you can use your existing Google login.

For step-by-step instructions, check out ZDNET's guide on how to start using ChatGPT

Is there a ChatGPT app?

Yes, an official ChatGPT app is available for iPhone and Android users. Make sure to download OpenAI's app, as many copycat fake apps are listed on Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store that are not affiliated with the startup.

Also: ChatGPT dropped a free app for iPhones. Does it live up to the hype?

There's also a ChatGPT app for MacOS, which lets you access the chatbot quickly via a keyboard shortcut. The Mac app is currently available for ChatGPT Plus subscribers, but OpenAI plans to release it for all users in the coming months.

Is ChatGPT safe?

People have expressed concerns about AI chatbots replacing or atrophying human intelligence. 

For example, chatbots can write an entire essay in seconds, raising concerns about students cheating and not learning how to write properly. These fears even led some school districts to block access when ChatGPT initially launched.

Now, not only have many of those schools decided to unblock the technology, but some higher education institutions have been catering their academic offerings to AI-related coursework. 

Also: Generative AI can be the academic assistant an underserved student needs

Another concern with AI chatbots is the possible spread of misinformation. ChatGPT says: "My responses are not intended to be taken as fact, and I always encourage people to verify any information they receive from me or any other source." OpenAI also notes that ChatGPT sometimes writes "plausible-sounding but incorrect or nonsensical answers."

Lastly, there are ethical and privacy concerns regarding the information ChatGPT was trained on. OpenAI scraped the internet to train the chatbot without asking content owners for permission to use their content, which brings up many copyright and intellectual property concerns. 

There are also privacy concerns regarding generative AI companies using your data to fine-tune their models further, which has become a common practice. OpenAI lets you turn off training in ChatGPT's settings.

So, is ChatGPT safe? If your main concern is privacy, OpenAI has implemented several options to give users peace of mind that their data will not be used to train models. The company even allows you to turn off your chat history. If you are concerned about the moral and ethical problems, those are still being hotly debated.

Will my conversations with ChatGPT be used for training?

Companies train generative AI models on user inputs. Therefore, when familiarizing yourself with how to use ChatGPT, you might wonder if your specific conversations will be used for training and, if so, who can view your chats.

Also: This ChatGPT update fixed one of my biggest productivity issues with the AI chatbot

OpenAI will, by default, use your conversations with the free chatbot to train data to refine its models. You can opt out of the startup using your data for model training by clicking on the question mark in the bottom left-hand corner, Settings, and turning off "Improve the model for everyone."

I tried using ChatGPT and it says it's at capacity. What does that mean?

The ChatGPT website operates using servers. When too many people hop onto these servers, they may overload and won't process your request. If this happens, you can visit the site later when fewer people are trying to access the tool. You can also keep the tab open and refresh it periodically.

Also: The best AI chatbots

Suppose you want to skip the wait and have reliable access. In that case, you can subscribe to ChatGPT Plus for general access during peak times, faster response times, and priority access to new features and improvements, including priority access to GPT-4o.

You can also try using Microsoft's AI chatbot, Copilot. This chatbot is free to use, runs on GPT-4, has no wait times, and can access the internet.

What does ChatGPT stand for?

The last three letters in ChatGPT's namesake stand for Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT), a family of large language models created by OpenAI that uses deep learning to generate human-like, conversational text. 

Also: What does GPT stand for? Understanding GPT 3.5, GPT 4, GPT-4 Turbo, and more

The "Chat" part of the name is simply a callout to its chatting capabilities. 

Can ChatGPT generate images?

Yes, ChatGPT can generate images using DALL-E 3, but only for ChatGPT Plus subscribers. Since OpenAI discontinued DALL-E 2 in February 2024, the only way to access its most advanced AI image generator, DALL-E 3, through OpenAI's offerings is via its chatbot and ChatGPT Plus subscription.

Also: DALL-E adds new ways to edit and create AI-generated images. Learn how to use it

Microsoft's Copilot offers free image generation, also powered by DALL-E 3, in its chatbot. This is a great alternative if you don't want to pay for ChatGPT Plus but want high-quality image outputs.

How does ChatGPT work?

ChatGPT runs on a large language model (LLM) architecture created by OpenAI called the Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT). Since its launch, the free version of ChatGPT ran on a fine-tuned model in the GPT-3.5 series until May 2024, when the startup upgraded the model to GPT-4o. 

Also: How does ChatGPT actually work? 

With a subscription to ChatGPT Plus, you can access GPT-3.5, GPT-4, or GPT-4o. Plus users also have the added perk of priority access to GPT-4o, even when it is at capacity, while free users get booted down to GPT-3.5. 

Generative AI models of this type are trained on vast amounts of information from the internet, including websites, books, news articles, and more.

Who owns ChatGPT currently?

AI startup OpenAI launched ChatGPT on November 30, 2022. OpenAI has also developed DALL-E 2 and DALL-E 3, popular AI image generators, and Whisper, an automatic speech recognition system. 

Also: OpenAI inks deal with ride-sharing operator to develop AI tools

As a result, OpenAI owns ChatGPT. Microsoft is a major investor in OpenAI thanks to multiyear, multi-billion dollar investments. Elon Musk was an investor when OpenAI was first founded in 2015, but has since completely severed ties with the startup and created his own AI chatbot, Grok.

Is ChatGPT better than a search engine?

ChatGPT is an AI chatbot created to converse with the end user. A search engine indexes web pages on the internet to help users find information. One is not better than the other, as each suit different purposes. 

When searching for as much up-to-date, accurate information as possible, your best bet is a search engine. It will provide you with pages upon pages of sources you can peruse. 

Also: The best AI search engines of 2024: Google, Perplexity, and more

As of May 2024, the free version of ChatGPT can get responses from both the GPT-4o model and the web. It will only pull its answer from, and ultimately list, a handful of sources instead of showing nearly endless search results.

For example, I used GPT-4o to ask, "What is the weather today in San Francisco?" In its response, ChatGPT told me that it searched four sites and provided links to them. 

Also: How to get ChatGPT to browse the web for free

If you are looking for a platform that can explain complex topics in an easy-to-understand manner, then ChatGPT might be what you want. If you want the best of both worlds, plenty of AI search engines combine both.

What are ChatGPT's limitations?

Despite its impressive capabilities, ChatGPT still has limitations. Users sometimes need to reword questions multiple times for ChatGPT to understand their intent. A bigger limitation is a lack of quality in responses, which can sometimes be plausible-sounding but are verbose or make no practical sense.

Also: How AI hallucinations could help create life-saving antibiotics

Instead of asking for clarification on ambiguous questions, the model guesses what your question means, which can lead to poor responses. Generative AI models are also subject to hallucinations, which can result in inaccurate responses.

Does ChatGPT give wrong answers?

As mentioned above, ChatGPT, like all language models, has limitations and can give nonsensical answers and incorrect information, so it's important to double-check the answers it gives you.

Also: 8 ways to reduce ChatGPT hallucinations

OpenAI recommends you provide feedback on what ChatGPT generates by using the thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons to improve its underlying model. You can also join the startup's Bug Bounty program, which offers up to $20,000 for reporting security bugs and safety issues.

Can ChatGPT refuse to answer my prompts?

AI systems like ChatGPT can and do reject inappropriate requests. The AI assistant can identify inappropriate submissions to prevent unsafe content generation.

Also: 6 things ChatGPT can't do (and another 20 it refuses to do)

These submissions include questions that violate someone's rights, are offensive, are discriminatory, or involve illegal activities. The ChatGPT model can also challenge incorrect premises, answer follow-up questions, and even admit mistakes when you point them out.

These guardrails are important. AI models can generate advanced, realistic content that can be exploited by bad actors for harm, such as spreading misinformation about public figures and influencing elections.

Does ChatGPT plagiarize?

Yes, sort of. OpenAI scraped the internet to train ChatGPT's models. Therefore, the technology's knowledge is influenced by other people's work. Since there is no guarantee that ChatGPT's outputs are entirely original, the chatbot may regurgitate someone else's work in your answer, which is considered plagiarism. 

Also, technically speaking, if you, as a user, copy and paste ChatGPT's response, that is an act of plagiarism because you are claiming someone else's work as your own. This act could have repercussions. 

Is there a ChatGPT detector?

In short, the answer is no, not because people haven't tried, but because none do it efficiently. 

In January 2023, OpenAI released a free tool to detect AI-generated text. Unfortunately, OpenAI's classifier tool could only correctly identify 26% of AI-written text with a "likely AI-written" designation. Furthermore, it provided false positives 9% of the time, incorrectly identifying human-written work as AI-produced. 

Also: OpenAI unveils text-to-video model and the results are astonishing

The tool performed so poorly that, six months after its release, OpenAI shut it down "due to its low rate of accuracy." Despite the tool's failure, the startup claims to be researching more effective techniques for AI text identification.

Other AI detectors exist on the market, including GPT-2 Output DetectorWriter AI Content Detector, and Content at Scale's AI Content Detection tool. ZDNET tested these tools, and the results were underwhelming: all three were unreliable sources for spotting AI, repeatedly giving false negatives. Here are ZDNET's full test results.

What is GPT-4?

GPT-4 is OpenAI's language model, much more advanced than its predecessor, GPT-3.5. GPT-4 outperforms GPT-3.5 in a series of simulated benchmark exams and produces fewer hallucinations. Users can access GPT-4 by subscribing to ChatGPT Plus for $20 per month or by using Microsoft's Copilot.

What is GPT-4o?

GPT-4o is OpenAI's latest, fastest, and most advanced flagship model. As the name implies, GPT-4o has the same intelligence as GPT-4. However, the "o" in the title stands for "omni", referring to its multimodal capabilities, which allow the model to understand text, audio, image, and video inputs and output text, audio, and image outputs.

Also: 6 ways OpenAI just supercharged ChatGPT for free users

The model is 50% cheaper in OpenAI's API than GPT-4 Turbo while still matching its English and coding capabilities and outperforming it in non-English language, vision, and audio understanding -- a big win for developers.

What are the best ChatGPT alternatives?

Although ChatGPT gets the most buzz, other options are just as good -- and might even be better suited to your needs. ZDNET has created a list of the best chatbots, all of which have been tested by us to identify the best tool for your requirements.

Also: 4 things Claude AI can do that ChatGPT can't

Despite ChatGPT's extensive abilities, other chatbots have advantages that might be better suited for your use case, including Copilot, Claude, PerplexityJasper, and more.

What are GPTs?

OpenAI once offered plugins for ChatGPT to connect to third-party applications and access real-time information on the web. The plugins expanded ChatGPT's abilities, allowing it to assist with many more activities, such as planning a trip or finding a place to eat. 

Also: My two favorite ChatGPT Plus features and the remarkable things I can do with them

However, on March 19, 2024, OpenAI stopped letting users install new plugins or start new conversations with existing ones. Instead, OpenAI replaced plugins with GPTs, which are easier for developers to build. 

With the latest update, all users, including those on the free plan, can access the GPT Store and find 3 million customized ChatGPT chatbots. Unfortunately, there is also a lot of spam in the GPT store, so be careful which ones you use.

What is Microsoft's involvement with ChatGPT?

Microsoft was an early investor in OpenAI, the AI startup behind ChatGPT, long before ChatGPT was released to the public. Microsoft's first involvement with OpenAI was in 2019 when the company invested $1 billion. The company invested another $2 billion in the years after. In January 2023, Microsoft extended its partnership with OpenAI through a multiyear, multi-billion dollar investment.

Also: ChatGPT vs. Copilot: Which AI chatbot is better for you?

Neither company disclosed the investment value, but unnamed sources told Bloomberg that it could total $10 billion over multiple years. In return, OpenAI's exclusive cloud-computing provider is Microsoft Azure, powering all OpenAI workloads across research, products, and API services.

Microsoft has also used its OpenAI partnership to revamp its Bing search engine and improve its browser. On February 7, 2023, Microsoft unveiled a new Bing tool, now known as Copilot, that runs on OpenAI's GPT-4, customized specifically for search.

How does Copilot compare to ChatGPT?

Copilot uses OpenAI's GPT-4, which means that since its launch, it has been more efficient and capable than the standard, free version of ChatGPT. At the time, Copilot boasted several other features over ChatGPT, such as access to the internet, knowledge of current information, and footnotes.

Also: I was a Copilot diehard until ChatGPT added these 5 features

In May 2024, however, OpenAI supercharged the free version of its chatbot with GPT-4o. The upgrade gave users GPT-4 level intelligence, the ability to get responses from the web via ChatGPT Browse with Bing, analyze data, chat about photos and documents, use GPTs, and access the GPT Store and Voice Mode. After the upgrade, ChatGPT reclaimed its crown as the best AI chatbot.

What is Gemini and how does it relate to ChatGPT?

Gemini is Google's AI chat service, a rival to ChatGPT. On February 6, 2023, Google introduced its experimental AI chat service, which was then called Google Bard. 

Also: ChatGPT vs. Microsoft Copilot vs. Gemini: Which is the best AI chatbot?

Over a month after the announcement, Google began rolling out access to Bard first via a waitlist. Now, the tool is available to the public.

What is Apple's involvement with OpenAI?

At Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference in June 2024, the company announced a partnership with OpenAI that will integrate ChatGPT with Siri. With the user's permission, Siri can request ChatGPT for help if Siri deems a task is better suited for ChatGPT.

Editorial standards