ongoing by Tim Bray · The LLM Problem

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2023-03-17 22:00:05

So far I’ve had nothing to say about the LLM chatbot frenzy. My understanding of the technology is shallow and I’ve no sense for its functional envelope, and lots of other people have had smart things to say. I hadn’t even conversed with any of the bots. But I fell off the wagon a few days ago and put time into GPT3 and (especially) the new GPT4-based Bing chat. I got off Bing’s waitlist a few days before the recent general availability, so I have more hands-on than most people. Plus I caught up on background reading. So, question: Are LLMs dangerous distractions or are they a glowing harbinger of a bright future? (Spoiler: I’m dubious but uncertain.)

Preconceptions · The Eighties, when I had my first-ever software job, featured another AI craze: Fifth-Generation computing, GigaLIPS, OMG the Japanese are going to eat us all. It was hard to understand, but apparently running Prolog really fast was the future. I was already pretty cynical for a twentysomething, and arrogant enough to think that if I couldn’t understand it then it was bullshit. More or less by accident, since I didn’t actually know anything, I was right that time. Which left me with an attitude problem about AI in general.

Before I even discovered computers, I’d read the fashionable books by Hofstadter and Chomsky. I had no trouble believing that human intelligence and language processing are pretty well joined at the hip. I still believe this, and that belief is relevant to how one thinks about 2023’s ML technology. In the Nineties I seem to remember throwing poo on Usenet at John Searle’s Chinese Room partisans.

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