Prompt engineering: fad or fate?

By Khuong Nha   April 6, 2024 | 07:00 pm PT
Prompt engineering: fad or fate?
A response by ChatGPT, an AI chatbot developed by OpenAI, is seen on its website in this illustration picture taken Feb. 9, 2023. Photo by Reuters/Florence Lo
Thao Nguyen heard prompt engineering was going to be the next big thing in the age of AI.

She signed up for a class to learn about the new concept with hopes of improving her income.

But disappointment was all she got.

The woman is among a group of Vietnamese youths excited to catch up with the new technology trend, only to find out the market is not really in need of their skills.

Nguyen, 24, an accountant at an export and import business in the southern province of Binh Duong, which neighbor’s Vietnam’s financial hub Ho Chi Minh City, enrolled in an AI prompt engineering class for VND500,000 ($20.18).

"The teachers only introduced us to some popular generative AI models, taught us how to sign up for accounts, then provided us with an array of prompt templates," she told VnExpress.

Nguyen added that she did learn how to instruct AI to make financial reports and update tax profiles, among other tasks, which helped to speed up completion of her work tasks considerably.

Nguyen was then able to land freelance jobs and was ready to become a full-time prompt engineer.

However, on recruitment websites and social media pages, there were almost no companies looking for prompt engineers.

Nguyen Thanh, an architect in Hanoi, said he also spent time learning how to prompt the AI generated images as he wanted.

He said he wanted to improve his income using AI, but he found no employers in need of such services, and he could not sell the art he generated by AI either.

"If you can learn it, others can as well. When anyone can learn it, it is simply a skill, not a job," Thanh said.

In 2023, when ChatGPT made its rounds around the world, analysts predicted that generative AI would bring forth a new career path: prompt engineers.

Such professional specialists in this new field would not necessarily have to code or program – their job would simply be to create text prompts to make the AI do what they ask. They would keep asking questions and responding to the chatbot until it meets their needs.

In Vietnam, prompt engineering was a hotly debated topic on several forums last year. On recruitment platform TopCV, certain businesses provided job postings for prompt experts for effective work with AI.

However, a TopCV representative told VnExpress the system no longer posts for such positions anymore.

Hoang Phuong, the HR director of a major software company in Vietnam, said the firm's AI project is still looking for engineers, but not prompt engineers.

She said that while many Vietnamese may believe that prompt engineering is the next big thing, global tech companies pay hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars for such positions to more qualified international candidates: so the reality in Vietnam is gloomier than it looks to local applicants.

Already obsolete?

"In the IT environment, prompting is simply a skill, and most personnel at a company can handle it after a few days of training. As such, a separate position for prompt engineers is not necessary," Phuong said.

Quan Nguyen, a former engineer at OpenAI, said prompt engineering is unlikely to become a long-term career path like many people had hoped.

In the early stages, large language models were needed to optimized prompts to bring out the best results. But now, anyone can do searches on the Internet for an hour to figure out the best ways to give basic prompts to AIs, he said.

Additionally, prompt engineers can be easily replaced as models change. In the earlier stages, models like GPT-3 were not capable enough to understand natural language processing. To prompt it, users would need to use many commas. The job of a prompt engineer was then to streamline such sentences so that the machine could understand them.

However, as generative AIs keeps getting better, users no longer need to input detailed and complex prompts. The AIs themselves are making prompt engineers obsolete.

For example, Quan said that previously a local Vietnamese law firm had only one personnel in charge of technical aspects, and this employee in charge of AI prompts could hire an outside contractor for efficiency.

"But after just a month, the technical personnel of the law firm has been able to learn all the prompts. This is why such a career path is rendered obsolete very quickly," he said.

Quan said the rise of AI is similar to how the Internet era took the world by storm a few decades prior. Everyone would go online and learn how to search for information, and there was no job position for "search engineers" or the likes. As such, the rise of prompt engineers is also unlikely to come to fruition.

A study by the Harvard Business Review also pointed out that prompt engineering is but an ephemeral trend, as future AI systems will be more intuitive and better at understanding natural languages.

New AI models like the GPT-4 have been optimized in creating their own prompts, rendering engineers obsolete.

go to top