Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI)

Applying Chatbots to Understand Literature, History, Science, and Current Events

Course Number


Study Group Leader (SGL)

John Day.


This course will take place virtually on Zoom. Participation in this course requires a device (ideally a computer or tablet, rather than a cell phone) with a camera and microphone in good working order and basic familiarity with using Zoom and accessing email.

5-Week Course

April 1 - May 6. No Class April 22.


With the power to process volumes of books, papers and records, conversational AI dramatically expands research efficacy in the humanities and science. This course will equip you with the practical knowledge to use ChatGPT, Bard, and Claude to transcend beyond Google searches resulting in long lists of references to readily readable responses. How Chatbots work will be explained. 

Through hands-on examples, you’ll learn techniques to extract key information from massive datasets – identifying historical connections, summarizing research papers, assessing literary works, and tracking emerging news. With practice, you’ll be able to prompt Chatbots to develop timelines, characterize trends, synthesize unfolding events, and reveal artistic motifs. You will learn to curate the most relevant AI-generated summaries as hypotheses for human analysis and evaluation, as well as audit AI-generated content for accuracy, objectivity, and source support. 

Examples from literature, history, science/technology, public health, law, and current events will be used to teach the principles of effective AI use. Participants will be encouraged to perform research on topics of interest to them and share their findings and experience of using AI.  Current articles that address the best and worst of Chatbots will be provided. 

NOTE: The course requires that you have access to a computer that supports the Chrome browser for individual investigation of the AI tools. Please be sure you are comfortable with computer use as there will not be opportunities to build basic computer skills during the course. 

Group Leadership Style

Roughly the same amount of lecture and discussion.

Course Materials

The course requires that you have access to a computer that supports the Chrome browser for individual investigation of the AI tools. PDF sources will be provided to the class where necessary. Paper by Turing, short story from the New Yorker, The text of Macbeth, excerpts from Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years. All other sources will be available through the browser online.

Preparation Time

1-2 hours using Chatbots to explore topics.


After receiving his PhD in Statistical Physics applied to biophysics from Boston University, John worked at Raytheon Company designing electronic devices. Early in career he transitioned into data science, applying his physics and math background to manufacturing and design challenges. With broad interests in both the humanities and sciences, John finds exploring the intersection of science and the humanities both interesting and gratifying.