The interactivity of AI models like ChatGPT and Bing make them the perfect medium for exchange-based language learning. But for one thing: their lack of persistent memory.
The standard setup, to now, has been for a ‘black box’ style conversation on AI platforms. You initiate a session with your instructions, you chat, and it’s over. You can revisit the conversation in your history, but as far as AI is concerned, it’s lost in the mists of time.
It’s something that throws a mini spanner in the works of using AI for language (or any kind of) learning. Teaching and learning are cumulative; human teachers keep records of what their students have studied, and build on previous progress.
DIY ChatGPT Memory
There seems to be little movement in the direction of AI with memory amongst the big platforms, although OpenAI’s recent announcement of memory storage for developer use might lead to third-party applications that ‘remember’. But in the meantime, users within the AI community, ever adept at finding workarounds and pushing the tech, have begun formulating their interim alternatives.
One clever way around it I recently spotted takes advantage of two elements of ChatGPT Plus: custom instructions and file upload/analysis. In a nutshell, an external text file serves as ChatGPT’s ‘memory’, storing summarised past conversations between student and AI teacher. We let ChatGPT know in the custom instructions that we’ll be uploading a history of our previous conversations at the beginning of a learning session. We also specify that it analyse this file in order to pick up where we left off. At the end of each session, we prompt it to add a round-up of the present conversation to that summary, and give the file back to us for safekeeping.
Here’s how I’ve worked the persistent memory trick into my own custom instructions:
Wording it as such makes memory mode optional; ‘teacher remembering’ only kicks in if you upload memory.txt. This way, you can otherwise continue using regular, non-teach ChatGPT without any fuss.
The only thing that remains is to create a blank text file called memory.txt to start it all off. Remember to start a new chat before giving it a whirl too, so your new custom instructions take. As you use the technique in your everyday learning chats, you’ll see memory.txt blossom with summary detail. As an offline record of your learning, it even becomes a useful resource in its own right apart from ChatGPT.
Just make sure you keep it safe – that’s your teacher’s brain you have right there!
Let us know your experiences if you give this technique a go! And if you’re stuck for lesson ideas, why not check out my book, AI for Language Learners?