‘AI’ Algorithms Aren’t People – Stop Testing Them as if They Are

So much unnecessary anthropomorphizing happening in the Machine Learning (aka Artificial Intelligence) space. From calling outright fabrications of ‘data’ ‘Hallucinations’ to claiming human emotions (“I’m sorry I couldn’t help with that….”) and giving human names to interfaces, the discussions in these areas continue to be muddied more than clarified.

When Taylor Webb played around with GPT-3 in early 2022, he was blown away by what OpenAI’s large language model appeared to be able to do. Here was a neural network trained only to predict the next word in a block of text—a jumped-up autocomplete. And yet it gave correct answers to many of the abstract problems that Webb set for it—the kind of thing you’d find in an IQ test. “I was really shocked by its ability to solve these problems,” he says. “It completely upended everything I would have predicted.”

Webb is a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies the different ways people and computers solve abstract problems. He was used to building neural networks that had specific reasoning capabilities bolted on. But GPT-3 seemed to have learned them for free.

Last month Webb and his colleagues published an article in Nature, in which they describe GPT-3’s ability to pass a variety of tests devised to assess the use of analogy to solve problems (known as analogical reasoning). On some of those tests GPT-3 scored better than a group of undergrads. “Analogy is central to human reasoning,” says Webb. “We think of it as being one of the major things that any kind of machine intelligence would need to demonstrate.”

What Webb’s research highlights is only the latest in a long string of remarkable tricks pulled off by large language models. For example, when OpenAI unveiled GPT-3’s successor, GPT-4, in March, the company published an eye-popping list of professional and academic assessments that it claimed its new large language model had aced, including a couple of dozen high school tests and the bar exam. OpenAI later worked with Microsoft to show that GPT-4 could pass parts of the United States Medical Licensing Examination.

And multiple researchers claim to have shown that large language models can pass tests designed to identify certain cognitive abilities in humans, from chain-of-thought reasoning (working through a problem step by step) to theory of mind (guessing what other people are thinking). 

Such results are feeding a hype machine that predicts computers will soon come for white-collar jobs, replacing teachers, journalists, lawyers and more. Geoffrey Hinton has called out GPT-4’s apparent ability to string together thoughts as one reason he is now scared of the technology he helped create

But there’s a problem: there is little agreement on what those results really mean. Some people are dazzled by what they see as glimmers of human-like intelligence; others aren’t convinced one bit.

“There are several critical issues with current evaluation techniques for large language models,” says Natalie Shapira, a computer scientist at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. “It creates the illusion that they have greater capabilities than what truly exists.”


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