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The terrifying promise of GPT-3 AI – software’s Manhattan Project?

We’ve been threatened with Artificial Intelligence for decades now, but we’ve just seen the release of something which looks totally terrifying and yet inevitable. The good folk at OPENAI – an open source organisation dedicated to keeping AI development transparent, and featuring supporters such as Elon Musk and Peter Thiel – have just privately released the GPT-3 API to selected people. OK, geeks.

The terrifying bit is how good this stuff is now. You remember all the furore about DeepFake videos? Well imagine a future where everything you read could potentially be produced by computer – and undetectable. You doubt? Well so did I until I saw what this latest iteration of what the tech can do. Take a look at this.

“Philosophers are supposed to think about things philosophically, but they don’t actually do anything about them; they’re just entertainers. Scientists do something about them. They make things happen. And when those things happen, people take notice. If science and technology have a weakness, it’s that they work too well. This was probably a strength at one point, but not anymore. In the not-too-distant future, there probably won’t be any more philosophy professors; there will just be philosophers. But only in the same sense that there are lions and mushrooms. This comment was also written by GPT-3.”

Now clearly this short snippet, taken from a Hacker News thread about the tech, is no doubt highly massaged to make a point, and as some experts have pointed out GPT-3 is definitely not ready for mass use (for one thing you need an obscenely large amount of computing power to run it), but even so this is definitely amazing output from a lump of metal and silicon. And there’s one thing to remember. Every new technology – even one as ‘old’ as AI – starts off hugely expensive, slow, and imperfect. But in a remarkably short time it tends to become cheaper than chips, incredibly fast and so very much better. Think about that.

It’s not hard to imagine a derivative of GPT-3, maybe coming out of India or China, which can deliver this kind of computer generated fluency anywhere and everywhere. Instantly and at the press of a button. What does that do to online conversation? Education? Politics? Journalism? It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this is a game changer in so many – good and also worrying – ways. 


Manuel Araoz has just produced a very clever post in which the bulk of the text has been generated by GPT-3 to demonstrate just how powerful it can be as a text generator. And it’s truly impressive. It’s only when you realise the deception, and go back to check again, that you can spot the small flaws which give it away. And this is early beta software. The potential for this is staggering once it’s polished properly. And I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. 

So here we are. On the cusp of a potential revolution in communication. I’m aghast and awestruck in equal measure. Are you? 

“OpenAI is a non-profit artificial intelligence research company. Our goal is to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return. Since our research is free from financial obligations, we can better focus on a positive human impact.

We believe AI should be an extension of individual human wills and, in the spirit of liberty, as broadly and evenly distributed as possible. The outcome of this venture is uncertain and the work is difficult, but we believe the goal and the structure are right. We hope this is what matters most to the best in the field.”



[Edit – read this great article for more background in layman’s language]

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