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The Brief, Explosive History of AI Prompting

Updated: Apr 13

It's hard to believe, but "AI prompts" wasn't even recognized term a few short years ago.

Today, AI prompting is the driving force behind some of the most groundbreaking advancements in artificial intelligence. Let's take a look at its evolution.

Prompts are the instructions, questions, or examples we give to AI models. They guide the model's output, shaping its responses and actions. These prompts can be as simple as a few words or as elaborate as images and even subtle cues picked up from our own behavior.

The Pre-Prompt Era

To grasp just how revolutionary prompting is, we need to rewind. Classic AI systems, like those described in leading textbooks, rarely used what we'd recognize as prompts. Inputs had to be precisely structured, resembling code more than conversation. These systems excelled in their specific domains but lacked the flexibility to handle the nuances of human communication.

The Rise of LLMs and the Birth of True Prompting

Large Language Models (LLMs) changed everything. Their uncanny ability to process and understand natural language fueled the rise of true prompting. Suddenly, we could interact with AI using phrases like "Write a marketing email for my new product" instead of meticulously crafted code.

The earliest forms of LLM prompting were simple. A one-shot prompt might ask a model to "Translate this sentence into French" or "Write a poem about a sunset." While powerful, these prompts had limitations. Chain-of-thought prompting introduced the idea of breaking down complex tasks into smaller, sequential steps. This seemingly simple technique unlocked surprising abilities in LLMs, making them capable of solving problems they weren't even explicitly trained to do.

The Evolution of Prompt Engineering

As researchers began to grasp the potential of prompts, a new discipline emerged: prompt engineering. Prompt engineers discovered that:

  • Specificity is key: Detailed prompts lead to more accurate and relevant outputs.

  • Context & Examples Matter:  Like humans, AI learns better with background information and illustrative examples.

  • Iteration is Essential: Refining prompts based on the AI's responses is a crucial part of the process.

It's important to note that prompting isn't just about what the end-user sees. Underneath the surface of many AI tools lie intricate webs of prompts, carefully crafted during the model training process to fine-tune performance.

The Prompting Explosion

The development of advanced prompting techniques has supercharged the field of AI:

  • Tree-of-thought prompting: Allows models to explore different decision paths, aiding in complex problem-solving.

  • Graph-of-thought prompting: Helps models understand relationships between concepts by creating interlinked prompts.

This explosion of creativity in prompting unleashed a wave of innovation. AI-powered image generators that conjure breathtaking visuals from a few descriptive words, systems that can write different kinds of creative content, and chatbots that hold surprisingly nuanced conversations – all are made possible by the sophistication of modern prompts.


The history of AI prompting is a story of rapid evolution. In just a few years, we've moved from rigid inputs to a rich and intuitive way of interacting with AI models. What might the future hold? Perhaps prompts will become even more seamless, blending with our natural ways of communicating and thinking.

The most exciting aspect of this evolution is how prompting democratizes AI. It lowers the barrier to entry, allowing people without extensive technical backgrounds to harness the power of these incredible machines.

Want to learn more about the fascinating world of AI prompting? Explore our glossary for deeper dives into specific concepts!

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