Civic News
AI / Internet

Can ChatGPT help you find free Wi-Fi in Baltimore?

In a city plagued by disproportionate disconnectedness, a Technical.ly reporter tried to find out if the popular chatbot could assist with a frequent problem.

Two DALL-E-generated images of people asking questions of their computers — like one might with ChatGPT. (Images created by DALL-E, composite by Technical.ly)

ChatGPT captured tremendous attention from tech workers, entrepreneurs and everyday users throughout the world in the months following its November 2022 public launch. Still, questions about its ability to tackle longstanding basic access issues remain unanswered.

The chatbot’s emergence quickly inspired expert discussions on the future of work and how AI-assisted platforms like ChatGPT may impact employment. Even Baltimore’s schoolchildren joined the conversation, with some predicting that AI and machine simulators will dominate technology to come.

Of course, not all of that interest is optimistic. Several leaders from Big Tech and related sectors, including the cofounder of Pinterest, signed an open letter arguing that the development of powerful AI systems should only proceed once the positive effects can be assured. This 590-word letter urges AI labs to halt the training of AI systems that are more potent than GPT-4 for at least six months. The likes of Twitter CEO Elon Musk and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak signed the letter, for which additional signatures have been paused due to alleged high demand.

Before Big Tech can halt the further development or deployment of evermore powerful digital minds that the letter signatories believe no one (not even the tools’ creators) can understand, predict or reliably control, we wanted to challenge ChatGPT with a consistent issue in Baltimore City: digital disconnection, and specifically the lack of free and reliable access to Wi-Fi. In 2022, the Abell Foundation launched the Maryland Digital Equity Scorecard Index Map, which graphically highlights such statewide disparities as the 520,000 Maryland households (23%) that don’t have a wireline broadband internet connection at home.

Many of Baltimore’s remote workers work at home or in popular cafes that put captive portals, or web pages that newly connected users of a Wi-Fi network see before they’re granted access to the internet, before them. Baltimore is known as a city of neighborhoods, which can make it challenging to get granular about where to find free Wi-Fi.

However, given the importance of reliable connectivity for our audience of remote or hybrid employees or contractors — and, as the Abell Foundation’s research notes, many others in a predominantly Black and highly segregated city — Technical.ly asked ChatGPT to help identify locations where they can access free Wi-Fi. The prompt was simple:

“Can you help me find free Wi-Fi access in Baltimore City?” 

Here’s what ChatGPT had to say:

“Yes, I can certainly help you with that! Here are some options for finding free Wi-Fi access in Baltimore City:

  • Baltimore City Free Wi-Fi Hotspots: The City of Baltimore offers a list of free Wi-Fi hotspots across the city, which includes parks, libraries, and community centers. You can access the list on the city’s website: https://data.baltimorecity.gov/City-Services/Baltimore-City-Free-Wi-Fi-Hotspots/6b68-wvch
  • Public Libraries: The Enoch Pratt Free Library has branches throughout Baltimore City, and all of them offer free Wi-Fi access to the public. You can find more information about their locations and hours on their website: https://www.prattlibrary.org/
  • Coffee Shops: Many coffee shops in Baltimore City offer free Wi-Fi access to their customers. Some popular options include Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Peet’s Coffee.
  • Restaurants: Some restaurants in Baltimore City also offer free Wi-Fi access to their customers. Check with your favorite restaurants to see if they offer this service.
  • Public Parks: Many public parks in Baltimore City offer free Wi-Fi access, including Patterson Park, Druid Hill Park, and Canton Waterfront Park.”

I hope this helps you find a suitable place for free Wi-Fi access in Baltimore City!”

Qualifying a “suitable place”

Given that almost 40% of Black Marylanders lack high-speed wireline internet access at home, the work of institutions like Coppin State University on initiatives for laptop distribution and other device access concerns is crucial. With this in mind, we found the term “suitable place” ChatGPT offered intriguing enough to explore further while addressing this issue. So we asked a follow-up question:

“How might one qualify that a space is a suitable place for free Wi-Fi access in Baltimore City?”

“When determining whether a space is a suitable place for free Wi-Fi access in Baltimore City, there are a few factors to consider. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Connection speed: The quality and speed of the Wi-Fi connection can vary depending on the location. It’s important to ensure that the Wi-Fi signal is strong enough to support your internet needs.
  • Accessibility: Make sure the location is easily accessible and convenient for you to get to. Consider factors such as transportation, parking, and the location’s hours of operation.
  • Privacy and security: It’s important to make sure that the Wi-Fi network you’re connecting to is secure and private. Be sure to only connect to networks that are password-protected or have other security measures in place.
  • Comfort and amenities: Depending on your needs, you may want to consider the overall comfort of the space and the amenities it offers. For example, if you plan to work for an extended period of time, you may want to choose a space that has comfortable seating and access to power outlets.
  • By considering these factors, you can determine whether a space is suitable for free Wi-Fi access in Baltimore City. It’s a good idea to do some research and try out a few different locations to find the one that best meets your needs.”

We wrapped the convo by asking ChatGPT one last question about both connection speed and which neighborhoods in Baltimore City have the best Wi-Fi. In summation, ChatGPT said that despite not having “real-time data on Wi-Fi signal strength or quality in different neighborhoods in Baltimore City,” Downtown, Fells Point, Mount Vernon, Canton and the Inner Harbor would all be “known for having good internet connectivity.”

What do you think about AI’s potential to plug into Baltimore’s deep digital inequities? Let us know by emailing baltimore@technical.ly.

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