Simon Willison’s Weblog


GPT-2 five years later. Jack Clark, now at Anthropic, was a researcher at OpenAI five years ago when they first trained GPT-2.

In this fascinating essay Jack revisits their decision not to release the full model, based on their concerns around potentially harmful ways that technology could be used.

(Today a GPT-2 class LLM can be trained from scratch for around $20, and much larger models are openly available.)

There's a saying in the financial trading business which is 'the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent' - though you might have the right idea about something that will happen in the future, your likelihood of correctly timing the market is pretty low. There's a truth to this for thinking about AI risks - yes, the things we forecast (as long as they're based on a good understanding of the underlying technology) will happen at some point but I think we have a poor record of figuring out a) when they'll happen, b) at what scale they'll happen, and c) how severe their effects will be. This is a big problem when you take your imagined future risks and use them to justify policy actions in the present!

As an early proponent of government regulation around training large models, he offers the following cautionary note:

[...] history shows that once we assign power to governments, they're loathe to subsequently give that power back to the people. Policy is a ratchet and things tend to accrete over time. That means whatever power we assign governments today represents the floor of their power in the future - so we should be extremely cautious in assigning them power because I guarantee we will not be able to take it back.

Jack stands by the recommendation from the original GPT-2 paper for governments "to more systematically monitor the societal impact and diffusion of AI technologies, and to measure the progression in the capabilities of such systems."