How to use ChatGPT to make charts and tables

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Know what floats my boat? Charts and graphs.

Give me a cool chart to dig into and I’m unreasonably happy. I love watching the news on election nights, not for the vote count, but for all the great charts. I switch between channels all evening to see every possible way that each network finds to present numerical data.

Is that weird? I don’t think that’s weird.

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As it turns out, ChatGPT does a great job making charts and tables. And given that this ubiquitous generative AI chatbot can synthesize a ton of information into something chart-worthy, what ChatGPT gives up in pretty presentation it more than makes up for in informational value.

Exactly what sort of chart-making tools are available for ChatGPT? There are three ways you can proceed:

  1. You can make tables (but not charts) in the free version of ChatGPT
  2. You can make charts and tables using the Advanced Data Analysis (formerly “Code Interpreter”) add-on to ChatGPT Plus
  3. You can make tables using ChatGPT Plus and charts using random charting plugins

In this article, I’ll be discussing the first two options, but skipping over the third. While there are a variety of charting plugins for ChatGPT Plus, they all take you out of the ChatGPT interface and employ external services. They all attempt to charge an upsell fee to get you to use their SaaS-based charting services. Essentially, they’re listed in the ChatGPT store as ads, not as out-of-the-box functional tools. Plus, they tend to be very unreliable.

Note: What ChatGPT used to call “Code Interpreter” is now called “Advanced Data Analysis.” So whenever we previously used the term Code Interpreter, we’ll now be moving on to calling it Advanced Data Analysis.

Advanced Data Analysis produces relatively ugly charts. But it rocks. First, let’s discuss where ChatGPT gets its data, then we’ll make some tables.

How to use ChatGPT to make charts and tables

List the top five cities in the world by population. Include country.

I asked this of ChatGPT’s free version and here’s what I got back:

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Turning it into a table is simple. Just tell ChatGPT you want a table:

Make a table of the top five cities in the world by population. Include country.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Make a table of the top five cities in the world by population. Include country and a population field

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

You can also specify certain details about the table, like field order and units. Here, I’m moving the country first and compressing the population numbers.

Make a table of the top five cities in the world by population. Include country and a population field. Display the fields in the order of rank, country, city, population. Display population in millions (with one decimal point), so 37,833,000 would display as 37.8M.

Note that I gave the AI an example of how I wanted the numbers to display.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

That’s about as far as the free version will take us. From now on, we’re switching to the $20/month ChatGPT Plus version.

In this example, we’re just going to make a simple bar chart.

Make a bar chart of the top five cities in the world by population

Chatty little tool, isn’t it?

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the discrepancy in populations between the previous table shown and the results here. Notice that the table has a green icon and this has a purple icon. We’ve jumped from GPT-3.5 (the free version of ChatGPT) to GPT-4 (in ChatGPT Plus). It’s interesting that the differing LLMs have slightly different data. This is all part of why it pays to be careful when using AIs and double-check your work. In our case, we’re just demonstrating charts, but this is a tangible example of where confidently presented data can be wrong or inconsistent.

The dataset I chose for this article is readily available from a government site, so you can replicate this experiment on your own. There are a ton of great datasets available on Data.gov, but I found that many are far too large for ChatGPT to use. Once I downloaded this one, I realized it also included information on ethnicity, so we can run a number of different charts from the same dataset.

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Click the little upload button and then tell it the data file you want to import.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

I asked it to show me the first five lines of the file so I’d know more about the file’s format.

Create a pie chart showing gender as a percentage of the overall dataset

And here’s the result:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Unfortunately, the dark shade of green makes the numbers difficult to read. Fortunately, you can instruct Advanced Data Analytics to use different colors. I was careful to choose colors that did not reinforce gender stereotypes.

Create a pie chart showing gender as a percentage of the overall dataset. Use light green for male and medium yellow for female.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Show the distribution of ethnicity in the dataset using a pie chart. Use only light colors.

And here’s the result. Notice anything?

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Apparently, New York didn’t properly normalize its data. It used “WHITE NON HISPANIC” and “WHITE NON HISP” together, “BLACK NON HISPANIC” and “BLACK NON HISP” together, and “ASIAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDER” and “ASIAN AND PACI” together. This resulted in inaccurate representations of the data.

One benefit of ChatGPT is it remembers instructions throughout a session. So I was able to give it this instruction:

For all the following requests, group “WHITE NON HISPANIC” and “WHITE NON HISP” together. Group “BLACK NON HISPANIC” and “BLACK NON HISP” together. Group “ASIAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDER” and “ASIAN AND PACI”. Use the longer of the two ethnicity names when displaying ethnicity.

And it replied:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Let’s try the chart again, using the same prompt.

Show the distribution of ethnicity in the dataset using a pie chart. Use only light colors.

That’s better:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

You need to be diligent when looking at results. For example, in a request for top baby names, the AI separated out “Madison” and “MADISON” as two different names:

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

For all the following requests, baby names should be case insensitive.

For each ethnicity, present two pie charts, one for each gender. Each pie chart should list the top five baby names for that gender and that ethnicity. Use only light colors.

As it turns out, the chart generated text that was too small to read. So, to get a more useful chart, we can export it back out. I’m going to specify both file format and file width:

Export this chart as a 3000 pixel wide JPG file.

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

And here’s the result:

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Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Notice that Sofia and Sophia are very popular, but are shown as two different names. But that’s what makes charts so fascinating.

FAQ

How much does it cost to use Advanced Data Analytics?

Advanced Data Analytics comes with ChatGPT Plus as a beta feature you have to turn on in the Settings panel. ChatGPT Plus is $20/month. Advanced Data Analytics also is included with the Enterprise edition, but pricing for that hasn’t been released yet.

Is the data uploaded to ChatGPT for charting kept private or is there a risk of data exposure?

Assume that there’s always a privacy risk.

I asked this of ChatGPT and this is what it told me: Data privacy is a priority for ChatGPT. Uploaded data is used solely for the purpose of the user’s current session and is not stored long-term or used for any other purposes. However, for highly sensitive data, users should always exercise caution and consider using the Enterprise version of ChatGPT, which offers enhanced data confidentiality.

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My recommendation: Don’t trust ChatGPT or any generative AI tool. The Enterprise version is supposed to have more privacy controls, but I would recommend you only upload data that you won’t mind finding its way to public visibility.

Can ChatGPT’s Advanced Data Analysis handle real-time data or is it more suited for static datasets?

It’s possible, but there are some practical limitations. First, the Plus account will throttle the number of requests you can make in a given period of time. Second, you have to upload each file individually. There is the possibility you could use a licensed ChatGPT API to do real-time analytics. But for the chatbot itself, you’re looking at parsing data at rest.

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