Whether you’re for or against it, ChatGPT has remained a popular conversation topic since its launch in November 2022. Discussions of the artificial intelligence-generated chatbot often revolve around plagiarism concerns, AI ethics, and how it could impact workers. Here at Technical.ly, we talk a lot about how much the tool can accomplish to make our and others’ jobs a little easier.
In Pittsburgh, those conversations about ChatGPT can clash with the reality that not all residents have equal access to technology. At the same time the city considers itself the robotics capital of the world as well as cybersecurity’s birthplace, nearly one in five households in Allegheny County lacks digital access.
Local organizations including Community Internet Solutions (fka Meta Mesh Wireless Communities) have been bringing the internet to underserved communities. The eight-year-old, Allentown-based nonprofit has spent the past year-plus working to take the internet directly to the people who need it most through its Every1online initiative, which provides the necessary receiver, router and other tech and connects them to a private Wi-Fi network, free of charge. The network is anchored by signal towers on top of buildings such as the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning in Oakland.
It’s not alone: In September 2022, elected officials announced the Pittsburgh Digital Equity Coalition, a collaboration between nonprofits, universities and technologists with a goal to shrink the city’s digital divide.
In the meantime, this reporter wanted to know: In a pinch, where could a Pittsburgher in need of free Wi-Fi get it? Could ChatGPT help?
So, I asked.
“Can you help me find free Wi-Fi access in Pittsburgh?”
Here’s what ChatGPT had to say:
“I don’t have access to real-time data, so I can’t provide you with specific current locations for free Wi-Fi access in Pittsburgh. However, I can suggest some general places where you might find free Wi-Fi:
- Coffee Shops and Cafes: Many coffee shops and cafes offer free Wi-Fi to their customers. Places like Starbucks, Dunkin’, and local cafes often have Wi-Fi available.
- Libraries: Public libraries often provide free Wi-Fi access to visitors. You might need to register for a library card or follow their specific access procedures.
- Parks and Public Spaces: Some parks and public areas in Pittsburgh might have free Wi-Fi available. Check with the local authorities or park management to see if they offer this service.
- Shopping Malls: Some shopping malls provide free Wi-Fi access to shoppers. You might need to ask about the Wi-Fi details at the information desk.
- Restaurants: Many restaurants, especially those in tourist or business areas, offer free Wi-Fi to their customers.
- University Campuses: If you’re near a university campus, they often have open Wi-Fi networks available in common areas.
- Airports and Transportation Hubs: Airports and transportation terminals may have free Wi-Fi available for travelers.
- Public Transportation: Some buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation might offer free Wi-Fi on board.
Remember that free Wi-Fi availability can vary, so it’s a good idea to confirm with the establishment or location before relying on it. Additionally, be cautious when using public Wi-Fi networks, as they might not always be secure. It’s a good practice to avoid accessing sensitive information or using unsecured websites while connected to public Wi-Fi.”
I knew that ChatGPT would give better answers if I was more specific about which area I needed Wi-Fi in. First up, downtown.
“Can you help me find free Wi-Fi access in downtown Pittsburgh?”
“While I don’t have access to real-time data, I can suggest some common places in downtown Pittsburgh where you might find free Wi-Fi access. Keep in mind that availability can change, so it’s always a good idea to double-check before visiting. Here are some places to consider:
- Market Square: This public space often has free Wi-Fi available for visitors.
- Pittsburgh Public Libraries: The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has multiple branches in the downtown area that might offer free Wi-Fi access.
- Coffee Shops and Cafes: Look for coffee shops and cafes in downtown Pittsburgh, such as Starbucks or local establishments, as they often provide free Wi-Fi to customers.
- Restaurants: Many restaurants in the downtown area offer free Wi-Fi access. It’s worth asking the staff when you visit.
- Pittsburgh T Stations: Some of the T (Pittsburgh’s light rail system) stations might have free Wi-Fi access for commuters.
- Point State Park: This park is near downtown and might offer free Wi-Fi, especially during events and festivals.
- Hotels: Some hotels in downtown Pittsburgh offer free Wi-Fi access in their lobby or public areas, even if you’re not staying there.
- Convention Center: If there’s an event or conference happening at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, they might offer free Wi-Fi to attendees in certain areas.
- Public Transportation: Pittsburgh’s Port Authority buses might have free Wi-Fi on some routes.”
It also gave a similar disclosure about verifying Wi-Fi availability and exercising caution when using public networks.
Next up, Oakland.
“Can you help me find free Wi-Fi access in Oakland?”
“As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, Oakland is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh known for its universities, museums, and cultural institutions. Here are some places in Oakland where you might find free Wi-Fi access:
- University Campuses: Oakland is home to several universities, including the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Many areas on these campuses offer free Wi-Fi access. Libraries, student centers, and common areas are good places to look.
- Cafes and Coffee Shops: There are numerous cafes and coffee shops in Oakland that might provide free Wi-Fi to customers. Consider places near the universities or on Forbes Avenue.
- Pittsburgh Public Libraries: The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has a branch in Oakland. They might offer free Wi-Fi access to visitors.
- Schendley Park: This park in Oakland might have public Wi-Fi available, especially during events or festivals.
- Panther Hollow Lake: This area near the University of Pittsburgh might have free Wi-Fi access due to its proximity to the university.
- Museums and Cultural Centers: If you’re visiting a museum or cultural institution in Oakland, they might offer free Wi-Fi to visitors. The Carnegie Museums complex is located in Oakland and could be worth checking out.
- Public Transportation: If you’re using public transportation, some buses might offer free Wi-Fi on specific routes.
- Local Businesses: Explore local businesses around the neighborhood, as some might provide free Wi-Fi to attract customers.”
And finally, Shadyside.
“Can you help me find free Wi-Fi access in Shadyside?”
“As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, Shadyside is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh known for its residential charm, boutique shops, and dining options. Here are some general places in Shadyside where you might find free Wi-Fi access:
- Coffee Shops and Cafes: Shadyside has several cafes and coffee shops that may offer free Wi-Fi to customers. Look for local establishments on Ellsworth Avenue and Walnut Street.
- Public Libraries: You might be able to find free Wi-Fi access at nearby public libraries, such as the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
- Local Restaurants: Some restaurants and eateries in Shadyside might offer free Wi-Fi to their patrons.
- Boutiques and Shops: Some boutique shops and retail establishments in Shadyside may provide free Wi-Fi to shoppers.
- Bakery and Deli Shops: Explore local bakeries, delis, and similar establishments as they might offer Wi-Fi access.
- Parks and Public Spaces: If you’re near a park or public space, you might find open Wi-Fi networks available.
- Local Businesses: Depending on the specific businesses in the area, you might come across free Wi-Fi options.”
To close our conversation, I asked ChatGPT how to know whether a given location is suitable for accessing free Wi-Fi. The chatbot offered a checklist of factors to consider, including internet speed and reliability, security, ease of connection, and availability hours.
Overall, I observed that when asked about Pittsburgh in general, ChatGPT’s answers were pretty vague. But when my questions mentioned neighborhoods, what each suggestion had in common was a Carnegie Library branch, which allows visitors access with or without a library card.
The key, it seems, is to tell ChatGPT where you are to get the most specific recommendations — that is, if you trust an AI-generated chatbot to know where you are.Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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