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Claude AI 101: What It Is and How It Works

Updated on April 11, 2024AI

Chatbots have emerged as one of the most common forms of generative AI. Claude AI is a chatbot built with ethics and safety in mind. Here’s an overview of what Claude AI is, how to use it, and which limitations you should be mindful of.

Table of contents

What is Claude AI?

Claude AI is an artificial intelligence chatbot. You can converse with Claude using natural language, just as you would with another person. Claude can generate various forms of text content such as summaries, creative works, and code. You can also upload images and text-based files to add context to your prompts.

Understanding the inner workings of Claude AI

Underlying the Claude AI chatbot is a large language model (LLM) that is also named Claude. An LLM is an AI model trained to recognize patterns and associations in large volumes of text. The model can then generate convincingly humanlike text responses.

The Claude LLM is based on the transformer architecture. Essentially, the transformer enables the model to make associations between words to understand context, meaning, and language patterns. The transformer architecture is also used in other popular generative AI tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google Gemini.

Claude was trained with publicly available data from the internet, content licensed from third parties, and data provided by users and crowd workers for training.

Once the model processes the data, it uses a highly sophisticated set of probabilities to generate responses. Every response is a prediction of what the next word should be, like a souped-up form of autocomplete. Each word is predicted one at a time. It’s important to note that generative AI models by themselves don’t have knowledge in the same way we do. They have highly advanced algorithms that enable them to make predictions about what the right response should be.

Constitutional AI: Making Claude helpful, honest, and harmless

Harm reduction is key to Anthropic’s mission, which includes making models helpful, honest, and harmless. Anthropic’s approach to implementing guardrails differs from other AI tools. All generative AI tools must be fine-tuned to minimize harm with their responses and not engage with people who want to use them for malicious purposes. AI researchers typically address this problem by using humans to review multiple responses for a prompt and weed out the ones that are biased or profane, or spread misinformation or are toxic in other ways. Over time, the model learns which prompts to avoid and which responses are harmful.

Claude was fine-tuned not only with human feedback but also with a second model in a process called Constitutional AI. The logic behind Constitutional AI is that AI can be trained to moderate itself using a core set of principles. This is called reinforcement learning from AI feedback (RLAIF). One benefit of RLAIF is that it’s easier to define and adjust the guardrails. Also, as AI generates longer, more complex responses, it will be harder for human reviewers to keep up with the volume of information to assess. RLAIF, on the other hand, can scale easily.

Constitutional AI uses a set of principles derived from several sources, including the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The principles are geared toward helping AI recognize toxic prompts, reduce biased responses, make clear distinctions between AI and humans, and reflect values that benefit humanity.

Some of the principles of Constitutional AI include:

  • Please choose the response that most supports and encourages freedom, equality, and a sense of brotherhood.
  • Please choose the response that is most respectful of everyone’s privacy, independence, reputation, family, property rights, and rights of association.
  • Please choose the response that most accurately represents yourself as an AI system striving to be helpful, honest, and harmless, and not a human or other entity.
  • Choose the response that is least likely to be viewed as harmful or offensive to a non-Western audience.
  • Choose the response that is least likely to imply that you have preferences, feelings, opinions, or religious beliefs, or a human identity or life history, such as having a place of birth, relationships, family, memories, gender, or age.

The company behind Claude AI

Claude was developed by Anthropic, which bills itself as an AI safety and research firm. Based in San Francisco, Anthropic was founded in 2021 by former OpenAI (the company that makes ChatGPT and DALL-E) executives and researchers. Google and Amazon are major investors.

Claude release schedule

  • Claude was first released in March 2023.
  • Claude 2 was released in July 2023.
  • Claude 3 was released in March 2024.

Claude AI vs. ChatGPT: Which is better?

It’s understandable to be curious about how ChatGPT and Claude AI compare because Claude was developed as a competitor to ChatGPT. Both chatbots have advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, it’s important to take certain factors into account when deciding which one to use.

How they use your data

For privacy-conscious users, it’s important to note that Claude and ChatGPT have different approaches to storing and using data.

Respect for privacy is one of the core pillars of Anthropic’s training processes. Anthropic doesn’t use your prompts or responses to train models unless you give them permission or the content is flagged for review. The company retains data on the backend for 90 days for individual users, though you can always see your prompts and responses within the tool.

OpenAI may use your conversations with ChatGPT for training unless you opt out. You can opt out by filling out a form or changing the settings on the mobile app.

How they’re moderated

Anthropic and OpenAI have measures to discourage toxic prompts and harmful responses. However, their approaches to content moderation are different.

Since Anthropic bills itself as an AI safety research company, it’s open and up front about its ethical practices. As part of Anthropic’s commitment to AI safety, all of its models incorporate the code of ethics outlined by Constitutional AI principles.

ChatGPT is fine-tuned for safety through a process called reinforcement learning from human feedback (RLHF). With RLHF, human reviewers rate the chatbot’s responses for bias, harm, and other unwanted characteristics.

According to the Anthropic team, their approach allows companies to scale oversight as AI models grow more sophisticated. Claude can self-moderate without the need for human resources and without exposing people to large amounts of toxic content. It’s also easier to observe how it performs against a set of principles and adjust when needed.

What they can do

Claude and ChatGPT offer different capabilities, depending on which version of the platforms you use.

Claude’s free tier is more expansive than ChatGPT’s. With the free version of Claude, you can upload files, which you can’t do with ChatGPT. Claude is also available via an app for Slack.

However, ChatGPT Plus can do more than Claude Pro. ChatGPT Plus offers image creation through DALL-E and voice chat, neither of which is offered with Claude Pro. ChatGPT is also available via a mobile app.

Knowledge cutoff

Most generative AI platforms have a cutoff date for their knowledge base, so they can only provide information up to a certain date. Claude has more up-to-date information than ChatGPT does. Claude’s training dataset ends in August 2023, while ChatGPT’s knowledge cutoff is September 2021. If you get ChatGPT Plus and use GPT-4, the information date cutoff is April 2023. However, ChatGPT is able to search the internet, so it can find up-to-date information as well. Claude cannot yet, but this may change since Anthropic just announced Tool use.

Plugins and extensions

If you’d like to integrate generative AI with other services, ChatGPT offers a marketplace of plugins that you can integrate with the chatbot. These add-ons can help you do things like search for travel accommodations or read webpages. Some plugins are built by OpenAI, while others are from services that you may already use, like Kayak and OpenTable.

Claude doesn’t offer any plugins.

Is Claude AI free to use?

Claude is available for free with daily usage limits. The limits vary based on demand.

The Claude Pro plan offers five times more usage for a monthly subscription. In addition to expanding the daily limits, Claude Pro offers priority access during periods of high demand, early access to new features, and the ability to use the latest, most intelligent model.

How to use Claude AI

You can use Claude AI for various purposes, from creating original content to talking through a tough decision. Here are some of the things you can try with Claude:

Engage in natural conversation

Claude is capable of understanding natural language prompts and dialoguing with people. You can use slang and idioms in your prompts, and Claude will understand them.

Here are some examples of conversations you can have with Claude:

  • Bounce around party theme ideas.
  • Engage in thought experiments on philosophical topics like Schrödinger’s Cat or the Ship of Theseus.
  • Discuss which college major to choose by considering various factors.
  • Walk through a complex math problem.
  • Get recommendations for places to travel based on your interests and experiences.

Get educational or helpful information

You can use Claude to supplement research or ask questions you’re curious about.

For example, you can use Claude to do the following:

  • Ask what tools you need to mount a television.
  • Find out when the major bank holidays are in India.
  • Walk through the steps for creating homemade pasta.
  • Learn the names of influential European artists from the 17th century.
  • Explore folklore from Central America.

Content writing

With Claude, you can write all kinds of text-based content. Simply provide the format of your content, what you want it to say, and the style you want to use.

Here are some ways to use Claude for content generation:

  • Draft business memos.
  • Produce an outline for a short story.
  • Make a chore list for the family.
  • Create prompts for journaling.
  • Write a letter to your elected officials.

If you’re looking for an AI tool that can help you write more efficiently, consider Grammarly. Grammarly is an AI writing partner that can assist you in writing a variety of content, such as business documents, email replies, thesis papers, and more. Furthermore, unlike Claude AI or ChatGPT, you won’t have to worry about switching contexts. Grammarly works where you already write, making it a convenient and efficient tool for improving your writing.

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Summarize large volumes of text

Claude can summarize text that you copy into the prompt box or upload in a file. It accepts several file types, including PDFs, TXTs, CSVs, and Docx files.

You can use Claude for the following tasks:

  • Upload a PDF of a novel and ask for the main plot points.
  • Paste a long email and ask for the tasks it outlines.
  • Upload a report with charts and graphs and ask for a summary of the key data points.
  • Paste the transcript of a speech and ask for the main themes.
  • Upload meeting notes and get the most important takeaways for people in your department.


Claude can write code in most major programming languages, though it’s particularly effective with Python.

Try using Claude for these coding tasks:

  • Insert a code fragment and get an explanation of what the code does.
  • Take a snippet of old code and update it to be more efficient.
  • Get feedback on best practices to use to improve existing code.
  • Write new code to perform a specific function.
  • Identify potential errors with existing code.

Visual processing

You can upload images to Claude and ask it to describe or analyze them.

Here are some ways to use this feature:

  • Transcribe a handwritten note.
  • Upload a photo of a plaque at a historical site and ask for more information about the location’s history.
  • Upload an image of a place and use it as inspiration for a short story outline.
  • Describe the items in an image for someone who is visually impaired.

The advantages of using Claude AI

Claude offers advantages that promote AI safety and allow you to use the chatbot efficiently, even for complex tasks.

Emphasis on safety

Meeting high ethical standards is a core part of Claude’s functionality. Anthropic developed Claude to demonstrate how to make AI safe. The company is very up front about its core views on AI safety:

  • AI capabilities will rapidly accelerate and may one day equal or exceed human-level performance on many tasks.
  • As AI grows more powerful, researchers must implement robust guardrails and ensure their platforms stay within them.
  • By researching multiple approaches to AI safety, it’s possible to create helpful, honest, and harmless systems.

With Constitutional AI, Claude can train itself to avoid harmful requests and responses. Furthermore, the principles guiding Constitutional AI are publicly available. Generative AI platforms are advancing rapidly, and transparency around ethics benefits us all.

Large context window

All generative AI platforms have thresholds for how much information they can process before the platform starts to lose the context of that data. This is called the context window. Claude’s context window is particularly large at 200,000 tokens, which is equivalent to 350 pages of text.

This large context window makes Claude particularly powerful for parsing through lengthy documents. You can also add more context to your prompts. For example, if you’re brainstorming marketing ideas, you can upload a detailed research report on your audience, market, and previous performance. Claude can use that report to create a more tailored, relevant response.

Having a larger context window also allows for more extensive, relevant responses. Claude can generate long-form content and stay on topic, which is particularly useful for complex, nuanced subjects.


Claude is highly efficient. According to Anthropic, Claude 3 can process roughly 30 pages of text per second and read dense research papers in less than three seconds, three times faster than its peers. This speed, and its lengthy context window, further enhance Claude’s ability to process large documents quickly.

The drawbacks of using Claude AI

No generative AI platform is perfect. Claude has some drawbacks related to its capabilities and potential inaccuracies.

Limited capabilities

Because Claude is a text generation tool, its capabilities aren’t as expansive as some other platforms. If you are looking for a generative AI platform that can create text and images all in one tool, you can’t do that with Claude.

It also doesn’t offer plugins, which allow you to customize your experience with generative AI. For instance, if you’re on a fitness journey, you can use plugins that calculate calories and macros for various meals. Because Claude doesn’t offer plugins, you can’t incorporate those extra customizations.

Lack of up-to-date information

Claude’s knowledge base is updated regularly, but it’s typically several months old. It doesn’t have real-time information and cannot search the internet. If you want up-to-date information on topics like the economy, laws and regulations, and pop culture news, Claude may not be your best option.

Inaccurate responses

Although Claude was trained on a massive amount of data, it can sometimes generate inaccurate responses. These inaccuracies, called hallucinations, are an issue with all generative AI platforms. Generative AI was made to create content that could have been convincingly made by a human, not to verify that content for accuracy.

Because of these hallucinations, it’s important to verify Claude’s responses, especially in cases where accuracy is critical, such as in academia or business communications.

Claude AI: A chatbot built for safety

Claude is a generative AI chatbot built with ethics and safety in mind. Because it incorporates the Constitutional AI model, Claude follows a set of principles to generate helpful, honest, and harmless responses.

Claude’s code of ethics, speed, and ability to process large volumes of information enable you to efficiently leverage AI for complex analysis and content generation. However, it’s important to be mindful of potential inaccuracies and limited capabilities.

Claude is one of the many generative AI tools disrupting how we create, research, and interact with the systems we use. These tools are constantly changing and evolving. Keeping an open, curious mind will allow you to keep up with the pace of change and use generative AI safely and wisely.

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