Cornell Feline Health Center launches playful CatGPT

CatGPT is more than just a fun AI chatbot that answers questions about feline health. It’s part of a larger, multipronged Cornell experiment with artificial intelligence.

“Rather than go in deep with one approach, we want to create an environment of experimentation,” said Ben Maddox, chief information officer for Cornell’s Ithaca campus and Cornell Tech.

The Cornell Feline Health Center (CFHC) in the College of Veterinary Medicine recently launched CatGPT to help connect cat owners with credible, science-based information in a novel way. Users can ask the chatbot questions about their cats, get to the answers quickly and ask follow-up questions. CatGPT can even play games.

Luke Dringoli, vice president of technology at Media Cause, the marketing agency that developed CatGPT in collaboration with the CFHC team, instructed the chatbot to use articles from CFHC’s website as well as a database of abstracts from peer-reviewed scientific publications as sources of information for answering user inquiries. They set the tool to have a chatty, playful tone.

CatGPT is available in OpenAI’s ChatGPT app store, which features custom-built chatbots that focus on a range of topics and pull information and data from selected sources rather than the general internet. For now, access requires a subscription to ChatGPT Plus.

“If we’re not doing this, somebody else very likely will be in some way, shape or form,” said Dr. Bruce Kornreich, DVM ’92, Ph.D. ’05, a veterinary cardiologist and director of the CFHC.

CFHC supports basic and clinical research on feline health and educates cat owners and veterinarians using trustworthy, authoritative information through its website, newsletter, consultation service, membership and one-on-one communication with cat owners and veterinary professionals. Center staff hope CatGPT will help connect them with a new, younger audience. “I have kids who are in their upper 20s and 30s,” Kornreich said, “and they are all over this new technology.”

“Cornell has been a leader in AI and machine learning for research and instructional purposes for many years,” Maddox said, adding that the proliferation of generative AI and large-language models have brought this into the public consciousness in new ways. “So the question for us is, how does a place like Cornell think of engaging with AI in its more democratic and egalitarian state today?”

In 2023, Cornell formed cross-campus task forces to discuss how AI is impacting its mission and work. The task force members produced reports to guide AI experimentation and access at Cornell in the areas of research, education and administration.

This work enabled schools and units to submit project ideas such as CatGPT, and established an AI enablement team, which can guide those projects from concept to reality.

CatGPT is a slightly-off-the-beaten-path example of how Cornell might use AI, said Stephanie Herrick, IT project manager, who is part of the AI enablement team that evaluated the CatGPT project.

“Their development work is more targeted toward a marketplace than perhaps some of the other AI projects will be, which will be much more internal to Cornell,” she said.

CatGPT might be unique and fun, but Maddox and his team hope to glean insights from it that will be useful to Cornell’s broader approach to AI.

“Not only are we learning about the various tools that are heading into the marketplace at a blazingly fast speed,” Herrick said, “we’re also trying to figure out, what is the framework into which AI fits? How does it fit for research, administration, teaching? There’s a huge amount of cultural change, organizational change. It’s transformative, and that requires more investment of people and time and effort to get that right for people.”

The team expects CatGPT to evolve and change, perhaps shifting to a model that wouldn’t require a subscription.

“This has been a great, collaborative project,” Maddox said, “because the team working on it is thinking flexibly and creatively and iteratively.”

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Becka Bowyer