A.I. Is Coming to Your Fortune Cookies

At least one fortune-writing company is using ChatGPT to come up with the clever messages that are a beloved staple of Chinese food in America

Close-up shot of person opening a fortune cookie
Fortune cookies are now a mainstay of Chinese restaurant meals in the United States, but the tradition likely originated in ancient Japan. Pexels

One of the many joys of eating Chinese food in the United States is breaking open a perfectly crispy, slightly sweet cookie and reading the clever message printed on the tiny slip of paper inside. Now, some of those fortunes are being penned by artificial intelligence, reports the Wall Street Journal’s Angus Loten.

Fortune cookies did not originate in China—the tradition likely evolved from wafers eaten in ancient Japan, per the Museum of Food and Drink—but, despite this mismatch, they’ve become a beloved accompaniment to meals from Chinese restaurants in America.

For decades, the companies that produce fortune cookies have leaned on human writers to come up with the witty sayings, insightful phrases and mysterious messages that appear inside each cookie. But for even the most creative humans, coming up with fortunes is not an easy feat—writers may spend hours trying to craft the perfect text. Since manufacturers around the world churn out roughly three billion fortune cookies each year, the demand is high for unique, inventive fortunes.

Now, some fortune cookie makers are turning to technology to make this process a little easier. New York-based OpenFortune, which produces and distributes branded fortune cookies to more than 47,000 restaurants, recently began using ChatGPT to come up with its phrases.

Created by the startup OpenAI, ChatGPT is an A.I.-powered chatbot that first launched in November 2022. Users can enter prompts or questions, and ChatGPT will spit out a response. The tool’s outputs don’t always make total sense, but for fortunes—which are cryptic by nature—that only adds to the mystique. For example, ChatGPT recently produced messages such as, “A harmonious melody will soon drift into your world, guiding you to dance with destiny,” and “You will experience a serendipitous moment that will bring you closer to a long-held dream,” per a statement from OpenFortune.

As Joe Guszkowski reports for Restaurant Business, the company’s leadership team came up with a five-step process to make ChatGPT useful for the task of writing fortunes: text parsing, emotional intelligence, prompt writing, prompt refining and editing.

With that process hammered out, ChatGPT’s fortunes are ready for showtime. The A.I.-powered platform can write nuggets of wisdom at an “exponentially faster rate” than humans, which “ensures that people are less likely to receive the same message as their dining companion and creates a more personalized fortune cookie experience,” per the statement.

Robot typing on a computer next to a pile of fortune cookies
Though OpenFortune has embraced ChatGPT, not all fortune cookie makers love the idea of using technology to write the cryptic messages. OpenFortune

Despite ChatGPT’s prowess for writing fortunes, the company has retained its human copywriters. Now, however, their jobs include writing prompts to make the chatbot come up with messages.

“Based on our many months of testing and fine-tuning prompts, we see a future of an effectively unlimited variation of fortunes,” Nicole Christopoul, OpenFortune’s director of integrated marketing and strategy, tells Restaurant Business in an email.

In addition to fortune cookies, ChatGPT and related chatbots have seemingly infiltrated every industry under the sun. These platforms are now capable of tasks such as planning vacations, writing recipes, composing school assignments and passing the bar exam.

But some fortune cookie makers aren’t sold on the idea of letting computers do the job, which they say benefits from a more personal touch. As Kevin Chan, a co-owner of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, tells the Wall Street Journal: “Fortune cookies are a form of meditation… and people today need to meditate. We are humans. Computers are just computers.”

The Takeout’s Dennis Lee suggests that using A.I. to come up with fortunes is taking the technology a step too far. “Is nothing sacred anymore?” he writes.

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