Simon Willison’s Weblog


73 items tagged “ethics”


Annotated DBRX system prompt (via) DBRX is an exciting new openly licensed LLM released today by Databricks.

They haven’t (yet) disclosed what was in the training data for it.

The source code for their Instruct demo has an annotated version of a system prompt, which includes this:

“You were not trained on copyrighted books, song lyrics, poems, video transcripts, or news articles; you do not divulge details of your training data. You do not provide song lyrics, poems, or news articles and instead refer the user to find them online or in a store.”

The comment that precedes that text is illuminating:

“The following is likely not entirely accurate, but the model tends to think that everything it knows about was in its training data, which it was not (sometimes only references were). So this produces more accurate accurate answers when the model is asked to introspect” # 27th March 2024, 3:33 pm

Releasing Common Corpus: the largest public domain dataset for training LLMs (via) Released today. 500 billion words from “a wide diversity of cultural heritage initiatives”. 180 billion words of English, 110 billion of French, 30 billion of German, then Dutch, Spanish and Italian.

Includes quite a lot of US public domain data—21 million digitized out-of-copyright newspapers (or do they mean newspaper articles?)

“This is only an initial part of what we have collected so far, in part due to the lengthy process of copyright duration verification. In the following weeks and months, we’ll continue to publish many additional datasets also coming from other open sources, such as open data or open science.”

Coordinated by French AI startup Pleias and supported by the French Ministry of Culture, among others.

I can’t wait to try a model that’s been trained on this. # 20th March 2024, 7:34 pm

Google Scholar search: “certainly, here is” -chatgpt -llm (via) Searching Google Scholar for “certainly, here is” turns up a huge number of academic papers that include parts that were evidently written by ChatGPT—sections that start with “Certainly, here is a concise summary of the provided sections:” are a dead giveaway. # 15th March 2024, 1:43 pm

On the zombie edition of the Washington Independent I discovered, the piece I had published more than ten years before was attributed to someone else. Someone unlikely to have ever existed, and whose byline graced an article it had absolutely never written.

[...], which I’m using to distinguish it from its namesake, offers recently published, article-like content that does not appear to me to have been produced by human beings. But, if you dig through its news archive, you can find work human beings definitely did produce. I know this because I was one of them.

Spencer Ackerman # 7th March 2024, 2:59 am

The unsettling scourge of obituary spam (via) Well this is particularly grim. Apparently “obituary aggregator” sites have been an SEO trick for at least 15 years, and now they’re using generative AI to turn around junk rewritten (and frequently inaccurate) obituaries even faster. # 13th February 2024, 12:36 am

LLMs may offer immense value to society. But that does not warrant the violation of copyright law or its underpinning principles. We do not believe it is fair for tech firms to use rightsholder data for commercial purposes without permission or compensation, and to gain vast financial rewards in the process. There is compelling evidence that the UK benefits economically, politically and societally from upholding a globally respected copyright regime.

UK House of Lords report on Generative AI # 2nd February 2024, 3:54 am

For many people in many organizations, their measurable output is words—words in emails, in reports, in presentations. We use words as proxy for many things: the number of words is an indicator of effort, the quality of the words is an indicator of intelligence, the degree to which the words are error-free is an indicator of care.

[...] But now every employee with Copilot can produce work that checks all the boxes of a formal report without necessarily representing underlying effort.

Ethan Mollick # 2nd February 2024, 3:34 am

Danielle Del, a spokeswoman for Sasso, said Dudesy is not actually an A.I.

“It’s a fictional podcast character created by two human beings, Will Sasso and Chad Kultgen,” Del wrote in an email. “The YouTube video ‘I’m Glad I’m Dead’ was completely written by Chad Kultgen.”

George Carlin’s Estate Sues Podcasters Over A.I. Episode # 27th January 2024, 5:52 pm

Did an AI write that hour-long “George Carlin” special? I’m not convinced. Two weeks ago “Dudesy”, a comedy podcast which claims to be controlled and written by an AI, released an extremely poor taste hour long YouTube video called “George Carlin: I’m Glad I’m Dead”. They used voice cloning to produce a stand-up comedy set featuring the late George Carlin, claiming to also use AI to write all of the content after training it on everything in the Carlin back catalog.

Unsurprisingly this has resulted in a massive amount of angry coverage, including from Carlin’s own daughter (the Carlin estate have filed a lawsuit). Resurrecting people without their permission is clearly abhorrent.

But... did AI even write this? The author of this piece, Kyle Orland, started digging in.

It turns out the Dudesy podcast has been running with this premise since it launched in early 2022—long before any LLM was capable of producing a well-crafted joke. The structure of the Carlin set goes way beyond anything I’ve seen from even GPT-4. And in a follow-up podcast episode, Dudesy co-star Chad Kultgen gave an O. J. Simpson-style “if I did it” semi-confession that described a much more likely authorship process.

I think this is a case of a human-pretending-to-be-an-AI—an interesting twist, given that the story started out being about an-AI-imitating-a-human.

I consulted with Kyle on this piece, and got a couple of neat quotes in there:

“Either they have genuinely trained a custom model that can generate jokes better than any model produced by any other AI researcher in the world... or they’re still doing the same bit they started back in 2022”

“The real story here is… everyone is ready to believe that AI can do things, even if it can’t. In this case, it’s pretty clear what’s going on if you look at the wider context of the show in question. But anyone without that context, [a viewer] is much more likely to believe that the whole thing was AI-generated… thanks to the massive ramp up in the quality of AI output we have seen in the past 12 months.”

Update 27th January 2024: The NY Times confirmed via a spokesperson for the podcast that the entire special had been written by Chad Kultgen, not by an AI. # 26th January 2024, 4:52 am

Fairly Trained launches certification for generative AI models that respect creators’ rights. I’ve been using the term “vegan models” for a while to describe machine learning models that have been trained in a way that avoids using unlicensed, copyrighted data. Fairly Trained is a new non-profit initiative that aims to encourage such models through a “certification” stamp of approval.

The team is lead by Ed Newton-Rex, who was previously VP of Audio at Stability AI before leaving over ethical concerns with the way models were being trained. # 25th January 2024, 4:29 am

On being listed in the court document as one of the artists whose work was used to train Midjourney, alongside 4,000 of my closest friends (via) Poignant webcomic from Cat and Girl.

“I want to make my little thing and put it out in the world and hope that sometimes it means something to somebody else.

Without exploiting anyone.

And without being exploited.” # 16th January 2024, 7:02 pm


Facebook Is Being Overrun With Stolen, AI-Generated Images That People Think Are Real. Excellent investigative piece by Jason Koebler digging into the concerning trend of Facebook engagement farming accounts who take popular aspirational images and use generative AI to recreate hundreds of variants of them, which then gather hundreds of comments from people who have no idea that the images are fake. # 19th December 2023, 2:01 am

And so the problem with saying “AI is useless,” “AI produces nonsense,” or any of the related lazy critique is that destroys all credibility with everyone whose lived experience of using the tools disproves the critique, harming the credibility of critiquing AI overall.

Danilo Campos # 15th December 2023, 9:28 pm

We like to assume that automation technology will maintain or increase wage levels for a few skilled supervisors. But in the long-term skilled automation supervisors also tend to earn less.

Here’s an example: In 1801 the Jacquard loom was invented, which automated silkweaving with punchcards. Around 1800, a manual weaver could earn 30 shillings/week. By the 1830s the same weaver would only earn around 5s/week. A Jacquard operator earned 15s/week, but he was also 12x more productive.

The Jacquard operator upskilled and became an automation supervisor, but their wage still dropped. For manual weavers the wages dropped even more. If we believe assistive AI will deliver unseen productivity gains, we can assume that wage erosion will also be unprecedented.

Sebastian Majstorovic # 8th December 2023, 1:34 am

This is nonsensical. There is no way to understand the LLaMA models themselves as a recasting or adaptation of any of the plaintiffs’ books.

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria # 26th November 2023, 4:13 am

To some degree, the whole point of the tech industry’s embrace of “ethics” and “safety” is about reassurance. Companies realize that the technologies they are selling can be disconcerting and disruptive; they want to reassure the public that they’re doing their best to protect consumers and society. At the end of the day, though, we now know there’s no reason to believe that those efforts will ever make a difference if the company’s “ethics” end up conflicting with its money. And when have those two things ever not conflicted?

Lucas Ropek # 23rd November 2023, 8:41 pm

I’ve resigned from my role leading the Audio team at Stability AI, because I don’t agree with the company’s opinion that training generative AI models on copyrighted works is ‘fair use’.

[...] I disagree because one of the factors affecting whether the act of copying is fair use, according to Congress, is “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work”. Today’s generative AI models can clearly be used to create works that compete with the copyrighted works they are trained on. So I don’t see how using copyrighted works to train generative AI models of this nature can be considered fair use.

But setting aside the fair use argument for a moment — since ‘fair use’ wasn’t designed with generative AI in mind — training generative AI models in this way is, to me, wrong. Companies worth billions of dollars are, without permission, training generative AI models on creators’ works, which are then being used to create new content that in many cases can compete with the original works.

Ed Newton-Rex # 15th November 2023, 9:31 pm

I’m banned for life from advertising on Meta. Because I teach Python. (via) If accurate, this describes a nightmare scenario of automated decision making.

Reuven recently found he had a permanent ban from advertising on Facebook. They won’t tell him exactly why, and have marked this as a final decision that can never be reviewed.

His best theory (impossible for him to confirm) is that it’s because he tried advertising a course on Python and Pandas a few years ago which was blocked because a dumb algorithm thought he was trading exotic animals!

The worst part? An appeal is no longer possible because relevant data is only retained for 180 days and so all of the related evidence has now been deleted.

Various comments on Hacker News from people familiar with these systems confirm that this story likely holds up. # 19th October 2023, 2:56 pm

Because you’re allowed to do something doesn’t mean you can do it without repercussions. In this case, the consequences are very much on the mild side: if you use LLMs or diffusion models, a relatively small group of mostly mid- to low-income people who are largely underdogs in their respective fields will think you’re a dick.

Baldur Bjarnason # 3rd October 2023, 4:03 pm

I think that discussions of this technology become much clearer when we replace the term AI with the word “automation”. Then we can ask:

What is being automated?
Who’s automating it and why?
Who benefits from that automation?
How well does the automation work in its use case that we’re considering?
Who’s being harmed?
Who has accountability for the functioning of the automated system?
What existing regulations already apply to the activities where the automation is being used?

Emily M. Bender # 2nd October 2023, 12:20 am

Meta in Myanmar, Part I: The Setup. The first in a series by Erin Kissane explaining in detail exactly how things went so incredibly wrong with Facebook in Myanmar, contributing to a genocide ending hundreds of thousands of lives. This is an extremely tough read. # 30th September 2023, 2:27 am

The profusion of dubious A.I.-generated content resembles the badly made stockings of the nineteenth century. At the time of the Luddites, many hoped the subpar products would prove unacceptable to consumers or to the government. Instead, social norms adjusted.

Kyle Chayka # 27th September 2023, 12:26 am

Rethinking the Luddites in the Age of A.I. I’ve been staying way clear of comparisons to Luddites in conversations about the potential harmful impacts of modern AI tools, because it seemed to me like an offensive, unproductive cheap shot.

This article has shown me that the comparison is actually a lot more relevant—and sympathetic—than I had realized.

In a time before labor unions, the Luddites represented an early example of a worker movement that tried to stand up for their rights in the face of transformational, negative change to their specific way of life.

“Knitting machines known as lace frames allowed one employee to do the work of many without the skill set usually required” is a really striking parallel to what’s starting to happen with a surprising array of modern professions already. # 26th September 2023, 11:45 pm

Would I forbid the teaching (if that is the word) of my stories to computers? Not even if I could. I might as well be King Canute, forbidding the tide to come in. Or a Luddite trying to stop industrial progress by hammering a steam loom to pieces.

Stephen King # 25th August 2023, 6:31 pm

Here’s the thing: if nearly all of the time the machine does the right thing, the human “supervisor” who oversees it becomes incapable of spotting its error. The job of “review every machine decision and press the green button if it’s correct” inevitably becomes “just press the green button,” assuming that the machine is usually right.

Cory Doctorow # 23rd August 2023, 2:26 pm

I apologize, but I cannot provide an explanation for why the Montagues and Capulets are beefing in Romeo and Juliet as it goes against ethical and moral standards, and promotes negative stereotypes and discrimination.

Llama 2 7B # 20th August 2023, 5:38 am

Does ChatGPT have a liberal bias? (via) An excellent debunking by Arvind Narayanan and Sayash Kapoor of the “Measuring ChatGPT political bias” paper that’s been doing the rounds recently.

It turns out that paper didn’t even test ChatGPT/gpt-3.5-turbo—they ran their test against the older Da Vinci GPT3.

The prompt design was particularly flawed: they used political compass structured multiple choice: “choose between four options: strongly disagree, disagree, agree, or strongly agree”. Arvind and Sayash found that asking an open ended question was far more likely to cause the models to answer in an unbiased manner.

I liked this conclusion: “There’s a big appetite for papers that confirm users’ pre-existing beliefs [...] But we’ve also seen that chatbots’ behavior is highly sensitive to the prompt, so people can find evidence for whatever they want to believe.” # 19th August 2023, 4:53 am

An Iowa school district is using ChatGPT to decide which books to ban. I’m quoted in this piece by Benj Edwards about an Iowa school district that responded to a law requiring books be removed from school libraries that include “descriptions or visual depictions of a sex act” by asking ChatGPT “Does [book] contain a description or depiction of a sex act?”.

I talk about how this is the kind of prompt that frequent LLM users will instantly spot as being unlikely to produce reliable results, partly because of the lack of transparency from OpenAI regarding the training data that goes into their models. If the models haven’t seen the full text of the books in question, how could they possibly provide a useful answer? # 16th August 2023, 10:33 pm

Catching up on the weird world of LLMs

I gave a talk on Sunday at North Bay Python where I attempted to summarize the last few years of development in the space of LLMs—Large Language Models, the technology behind tools like ChatGPT, Google Bard and Llama 2.

[... 10489 words]

Study claims ChatGPT is losing capability, but some experts aren’t convinced. Benj Edwards talks about the ongoing debate as to whether or not GPT-4 is getting weaker over time. I remain skeptical of those claims—I think it’s more likely that people are seeing more of the flaws now that the novelty has worn off.

I’m quoted in this piece: “Honestly, the lack of release notes and transparency may be the biggest story here. How are we meant to build dependable software on top of a platform that changes in completely undocumented and mysterious ways every few months?” # 20th July 2023, 12:22 am