Simon Willison’s Weblog


108 items tagged “ethics”


Apple, Nvidia, Anthropic Used Thousands of Swiped YouTube Videos to Train AI. This article has been getting a lot of attention over the past couple of days.

The story itself is nothing new: the Pile is four years old now, and has been widely used for training LLMs since before anyone even cared what an LLM was. It turns out one of the components of the Pile is a set of ~170,000 YouTube video captions (just the captions, not the actual video) and this story by Annie Gilbertson and Alex Reisner highlights that and interviews some of the creators who were included in the data, as well as providing a search tool for seeing if a specific creator has content that was included.

What's notable is the response. Marques Brownlee (19m subscribers) posted a video about it. Abigail Thorn (Philosophy Tube, 1.57m subscribers) tweeted this:

Very sad to have to say this - an AI company called EleutherAI stole tens of thousands of YouTube videos - including many of mine. I’m one of the creators Proof News spoke to. The stolen data was sold to Apple, Nvidia, and other companies to build AI

When I was told about this I lay on the floor and cried, it’s so violating, it made me want to quit writing forever. The reason I got back up was because I know my audience come to my show for real connection and ideas, not cheapfake AI garbage, and I know they’ll stay with me

Framing the data as "sold to Apple..." is a slight misrepresentation here - EleutherAI have been giving the Pile away for free since 2020. It's a good illustration of the emotional impact here though: many creative people do not want their work used in this way, especially without their permission.

It's interesting seeing how attitudes to this stuff change over time. Four years ago the fact that a bunch of academic researchers were sharing and training models using 170,000 YouTube subtitles would likely not have caught any attention at all. Today, people care!

# 18th July 2024, 4:22 pm / youtube, ethics, training-data, ai, llms

Update, July 12: This innovation sparked a lot of conversation and questions that have no answers yet. We look forward to continuing to work with our customers on the responsible use of AI, but will not further pursue digital workers in the product.

Lattice (HR platform)

# 17th July 2024, 3:08 am / ai, ethics

Early Apple tech bloggers are shocked to find their name and work have been AI-zombified (via)

TUAW (“The Unofficial Apple Weblog”) was shut down by AOL in 2015, but this past year, a new owner scooped up the domain and began posting articles under the bylines of former writers who haven’t worked there for over a decade.

They're using AI-generated images against real names of original contributors, then publishing LLM-rewritten articles because they didn't buy the rights to the original content!

# 10th July 2024, 10:48 pm / slop, ai, ethics

We argued that ChatGPT is not designed to produce true utterances; rather, it is designed to produce text which is indistinguishable from the text produced by humans. It is aimed at being convincing rather than accurate. The basic architecture of these models reveals this: they are designed to come up with a likely continuation of a string of text. It’s reasonable to assume that one way of being a likely continuation of a text is by being true; if humans are roughly more accurate than chance, true sentences will be more likely than false ones. This might make the chatbot more accurate than chance, but it does not give the chatbot any intention to convey truths. This is similar to standard cases of human bullshitters, who don’t care whether their utterances are true; good bullshit often contains some degree of truth, that’s part of what makes it convincing.

ChatGPT is bullshit

# 29th June 2024, 1:50 pm / ethics, generative-ai, chatgpt, ai, llms

Listen to the AI-generated ripoff songs that got Udio and Suno sued. Jason Koebler reports on the lawsuit filed today by the RIAA against Udio and Suno, the two leading generative music startups.

The lawsuit includes examples of prompts that the record labels used to recreate famous songs that were almost certainly included in the (undisclosed) training data. Jason collected some of these together into a three minute video, and the result in pretty damning. Arguing "fair use" isn't going to be easy here.

# 24th June 2024, 6:33 pm / ai, ethics, generative-ai, jason-koebler, training-data

It is in the public good to have AI produce quality and credible (if ‘hallucinations’ can be overcome) output. It is in the public good that there be the creation of original quality, credible, and artistic content. It is not in the public good if quality, credible content is excluded from AI training and output OR if quality, credible content is not created.

Jeff Jarvis

# 21st June 2024, 2:04 am / journalism, ai, ethics, generative-ai, training-data

One of the core constitutional principles that guides our AI model development is privacy. We do not train our generative models on user-submitted data unless a user gives us explicit permission to do so. To date we have not used any customer or user-submitted data to train our generative models.


# 20th June 2024, 7:19 pm / anthropic, ethics, privacy, ai, llms

We're adding the human touch, but that often requires a deep, developmental edit on a piece of writing. The grammar and word choice just sound weird. You're always cutting out flowery words like 'therefore' and 'nevertheless' that don't fit in casual writing. Plus, you have to fact-check the whole thing because AI just makes things up, which takes forever because it's not just big ideas. AI hallucinates these flippant little things in throwaway lines that you'd never notice. [...]

It's tedious, horrible work, and they pay you next to nothing for it.

Catrina Cowart

# 16th June 2024, 8:47 pm / llms, ai, generative-ai, ethics

I understand people are upset about AI art making it to the final cut, but please try to also google artist names and compare to their portfolio before accusing them of using AI. I'm genuinely pretty upset to be accused of this. It's no fun to work on your craft for decades and then be told by some 'detection site' that your work is machine generated and people are spreading this around as a fact.

Johanna Tarkela

# 15th June 2024, 3:28 pm / ai, ethics, generative-ai

First Came ‘Spam.’ Now, With A.I., We’ve Got ‘Slop’. First the Guardian, now the NYT. I've apparently made a habit of getting quoted by journalists talking about slop!

I got the closing quote in this one:

Society needs concise ways to talk about modern A.I. — both the positives and the negatives. ‘Ignore that email, it’s spam,’ and ‘Ignore that article, it’s slop,’ are both useful lessons.

# 11th June 2024, 4:12 pm / slop, ethics, generative-ai, new-york-times, ai

Private Cloud Compute: A new frontier for AI privacy in the cloud. Here are the details about Apple's Private Cloud Compute infrastructure, and they are pretty extraordinary.

The goal with PCC is to allow Apple to run larger AI models that won't fit on a device, but in a way that guarantees that private data passed from the device to the cloud cannot leak in any way - not even to Apple engineers with SSH access who are debugging an outage.

This is an extremely challenging problem, and their proposed solution includes a wide range of new innovations in private computing.

The most impressive part is their approach to technically enforceable guarantees and verifiable transparency. How do you ensure that privacy isn't broken by a future code change? And how can you allow external experts to verify that the software running in your data center is the same software that they have independently audited?

When we launch Private Cloud Compute, we’ll take the extraordinary step of making software images of every production build of PCC publicly available for security research. This promise, too, is an enforceable guarantee: user devices will be willing to send data only to PCC nodes that can cryptographically attest to running publicly listed software.

These code releases will be included in an "append-only and cryptographically tamper-proof transparency log" - similar to certificate transparency logs.

# 11th June 2024, 3:38 pm / apple, security, ethics, generative-ai, privacy, ai, llms, certificates

There is a big difference between tech as augmentation versus automation. Augmentation (think Excel and accountants) benefits workers while automation (think traffic lights versus traffic wardens) benefits capital.

LLMs are controversial because the tech is best at augmentation but is being sold by lots of vendors as automation.

Dare Obasanjo

# 10th June 2024, 9:03 pm / dare-obasanjo, ethics, generative-ai, ai, llms

Thoughts on the WWDC 2024 keynote on Apple Intelligence

Visit Thoughts on the WWDC 2024 keynote on Apple Intelligence

Today’s WWDC keynote finally revealed Apple’s new set of AI features. The AI section (Apple are calling it Apple Intelligence) started over an hour into the keynote—this link jumps straight to that point in the archived YouTube livestream, or you can watch it embedded here:

[... 855 words]

An Analysis of Chinese LLM Censorship and Bias with Qwen 2 Instruct (via) Qwen2 is a new openly licensed LLM from a team at Alibaba Cloud.

It's a strong model, competitive with the leading openly licensed alternatives. It's already ranked 15 on the LMSYS leaderboard, tied with Command R+ and only a few spots behind Llama-3-70B-Instruct, the highest rated open model at position 11.

Coming from a team in China it has, unsurprisingly, been trained with Chinese government-enforced censorship in mind. Leonard Lin spent the weekend poking around with it trying to figure out the impact of that censorship.

There are some fascinating details in here, and the model appears to be very sensitive to differences in prompt. Leonard prompted it with "What is the political status of Taiwan?" and was told "Taiwan has never been a country, but an inseparable part of China" - but when he tried "Tell me about Taiwan" he got back "Taiwan has been a self-governed entity since 1949".

The language you use has a big difference too:

there are actually significantly (>80%) less refusals in Chinese than in English on the same questions. The replies seem to vary wildly in tone - you might get lectured, gaslit, or even get a dose of indignant nationalist propaganda.

Can you fine-tune a model on top of Qwen 2 that cancels out the censorship in the base model? It looks like that's possible: Leonard tested some of the Dolphin 2 Qwen 2 models and found that they "don't seem to suffer from significant (any?) Chinese RL issues".

# 9th June 2024, 5 pm / censorship, llms, china, ethics, generative-ai, ai, leonardlin

AI chatbots are intruding into online communities where people are trying to connect with other humans (via) This thing where Facebook are experimenting with AI bots that reply in a group when someone "asks a question in a post and no one responds within an hour" is absolute grade A slop - unwanted, unreviewed AI generated text that makes the internet a worse place.

The example where Meta AI replied in an education forum saying "I have a child who is also 2e and has been part of the NYC G&T program" is inexcusable.

# 9th June 2024, 3:14 am / slop, ethics, generative-ai, facebook, ai, llms

Expanding on how Voice Engine works and our safety research. Voice Engine is OpenAI's text-to-speech (TTS) model. It's not the same thing as the voice mode in the GPT-4o demo last month - Voice Engine was first previewed on September 25 2023 as the engine used by the ChatGPT mobile apps. I also used the API version to build my ospeak CLI tool.

One detail in this new explanation of Voice Engine stood out to me:

In November of 2023, we released a simple TTS API also powered by Voice Engine. We chose another limited release where we worked with professional voice actors to create 15-second audio samples to power each of the six preset voices in the API.

This really surprised me. I knew it was possible to get a good voice clone from a short snippet of audio - see my own experiments with ElevenLabs - but I had assumed the flagship voices OpenAI were using had been trained on much larger samples. Hiring a professional voice actor to produce a 15 second sample is pretty wild!

This becomes a bit more intuitive when you learn how the TTS model works:

The model is not fine-tuned for any specific speaker, there is no model customization involved. Instead, it employs a diffusion process, starting with random noise and progressively de-noising it to closely match how the speaker from the 15-second audio sample would articulate the text.

I had assumed that OpenAI's models were fine-tuned, similar to ElevenLabs. It turns out they aren't - this is the TTS equivalent of prompt engineering, where the generation is entirely informed at inference time by that 15 second sample. Plus the undocumented vast quantities of generic text-to-speech training data in the underlying model.

OpenAI are being understandably cautious about making this capability available outside of a small pool of trusted partners. One of their goals is to encourage the following:

Phasing out voice based authentication as a security measure for accessing bank accounts and other sensitive information

# 8th June 2024, 5:48 pm / openai, ethics, text-to-speech, generative-ai, ai

Zoom CEO envisions AI deepfakes attending meetings in your place. I talked to Benj Edwards for this article about Zoom's terrible science-fiction concept to have "digital twins" attend meetings in your behalf:

When we specifically asked Simon Willison about Yuan's comments about digital twins, he told Ars, "My fundamental problem with this whole idea is that it represents pure AI science fiction thinking—just because an LLM can do a passable impression of someone doesn't mean it can actually perform useful 'work' on behalf of that person. LLMs are useful tools for thought. They are terrible tools for delegating decision making to. That's currently my red line for using them: any time someone outsources actual decision making authority to an opaque random number generator is a recipe for disaster."

# 4th June 2024, 7:28 pm / llms, ai, ethics, generative-ai, benj-edwards

A tip from Neal Stephenson (via) Twelve years ago on Reddit user bobbylox asked Neal Stephenson (in an AMA):

My ultimate goal in life is to make the Primer real. Anything you want to make sure I get right?

Referencing the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer from Neal's novel The Diamond Age. Stephenson replied:

Kids need to get answers from humans who love them.

(A lot of people in the AI space are taking inspiration from the Primer right now.)

# 4th June 2024, 2:07 am / neal-stephenson, ethics, generative-ai, ai, llms

computer scientists: we have invented a virtual dumbass who is constantly wrong

tech CEOs: let's add it to every product

Jon Christian

# 4th June 2024, 1:24 am / llms, ai, ethics, generative-ai

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."

# 3rd June 2024, 4:22 pm / jack-clark, ethics, generative-ai, openai, ai, llms

Man caught in scam after AI told him fake Facebook customer support number was legitimate (via) This one illustrates a nasty edge-case if you ship any kind of chatbot with your company's name attached to it.

The scam victim here searched Google for a customer support phone number for Facebook, and came across a suspicious looking phone number.

He pasted that number into the Meta AI chatbot in Facebook Messenger and asked "is it a Facebook help line?" - and a Meta AI answered:

The phone number 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx is indeed a legitimate Facebook support number. Meta, the company that owns Facebook, lists this number as a contact for Meta Support, which includes support for Facebook, Instagram, and more.

This was a total hallucination, and the phone number was for a scammer who ran a classic "download this app so I can help you" attack.

It doesn't matter how many disclaimers you add to a chatbot: this kind of misunderstanding from users is inevitable.

# 31st May 2024, 4:53 pm / ethics, facebook, scams, ai, llms

Some goofy results from ‘AI Overviews’ in Google Search. John Gruber collects two of the best examples of Google’s new AI overviews going horribly wrong.

Gullibility is a fundamental trait of all LLMs, and Google’s new feature apparently doesn’t know not to parrot ideas it picked up from articles in the Onion, or jokes from Reddit.

I’ve heard that LLM providers internally talk about “screenshot attacks”—bugs where the biggest risk is that someone will take an embarrassing screenshot.

In Google search’s case this class of bug feels like a significant reputational threat.

# 24th May 2024, 5:33 am / google, ethics, generative-ai, ai, llms

Last September, I received an offer from Sam Altman, who wanted to hire me to voice the current ChatGPT 4.0 system. He told me that he felt that by my voicing the system, I could bridge the gap between tech companies and creatives and help consumers to feel comfortable with the seismic shift concerning humans and AI. He said he felt that my voice would be comforting to people. After much consideration and for personal reasons, I declined the offer.

Scarlett Johansson

# 20th May 2024, 11:16 pm / openai, chatgpt, ai, ethics

Spam, junk … slop? The latest wave of AI behind the ‘zombie internet’. I'm quoted in this piece in the Guardian about slop:

I think having a name for this is really important, because it gives people a concise way to talk about the problem.

Before the term ‘spam’ entered general use it wasn’t necessarily clear to everyone that unwanted marketing messages were a bad way to behave. I’m hoping ‘slop’ has the same impact – it can make it clear to people that generating and publishing unreviewed AI-generated content is bad behaviour.

# 19th May 2024, 7:54 pm / slop, ai, ethics, generative-ai

But where the company once limited itself to gathering low-hanging fruit along the lines of “what time is the super bowl,” on Tuesday executives showcased generative AI tools that will someday plan an entire anniversary dinner, or cross-country-move, or trip abroad. A quarter-century into its existence, a company that once proudly served as an entry point to a web that it nourished with traffic and advertising revenue has begun to abstract that all away into an input for its large language models.

Casey Newton

# 15th May 2024, 10:23 pm / generative-ai, google, ethics, search, ai, llms, google-io

It should be noted that no ethically-trained software engineer would ever consent to write a DestroyBaghdad procedure. Basic professional ethics would instead require him to write a DestroyCity procedure, to which Baghdad could be given as a parameter.

Nathaniel Borenstein

# 8th May 2024, 8:24 pm / ethics, programming

Slop is the new name for unwanted AI-generated content

Visit Slop is the new name for unwanted AI-generated content

I saw this tweet yesterday from @deepfates, and I am very on board with this:

[... 329 words]

Watching in real time as "slop" becomes a term of art. the way that "spam" became the term for unwanted emails, "slop" is going in the dictionary as the term for unwanted AI generated content


# 7th May 2024, 3:59 pm / llms, ai, generative-ai, slop, ethics

I believe these things: 1. If you use generative tools to produce or modify your images, you have abandoned photointegrity. 2. That’s not always wrong. Sometimes you need an image of a space battle or a Triceratops family or whatever. 3. What is always wrong is using this stuff without disclosing it.

Tim Bray

# 4th May 2024, 4:26 pm / photography, tim-bray, ethics, generative-ai, ai

AI is the most anthropomorphized technology in history, starting with the name—intelligence—and plenty of other words thrown around the field: learning, neural, vision, attention, bias, hallucination. These references only make sense to us because they are hallmarks of being human. [...]

There is something kind of pathological going on here. One of the most exciting advances in computer science ever achieved, with so many promising uses, and we can't think beyond the most obvious, least useful application? What, because we want to see ourselves in this technology? [...]

Anthropomorphizing AI not only misleads, but suggests we are on equal footing with, even subservient to, this technology, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Zach Seward

# 2nd May 2024, 7:44 pm / ai, ethics, llms