The Wonder and Horror of AI
Artificial Intelligence can do things that are literally unbelievable.
A few months ago, there was a lot of fuss about new AI (Artificial Intelligence) programs that produced original art. I tried one out at the time, and it was fun to play with, but generally missed the mark. Here’s one picture that I saved at the time, which the AI produced after I gave it the words “zoo rabbi”:
Not exactly what I was expecting. But at the urging of a friend, I decided to experiment with a new AI program called ChatGPT. This is a text-based intelligence that people were claiming to be a groundbreaking technological achievement, produces amazing results. After a few days of experimenting with it, I can say that I am in awe. But not necessarily a good kind of awe.
First I wanted to see what the AI knew about me. And I asked it to tell me in the form of a song. Here’s what it instantly came up with:
Rabbi Natan Slifkin, the Zoo Rabbi we know,
Brings the beauty of nature to the Biblical Museum's flow.
He unites faith and science in perfect accord,
At the Museum of Natural History, his work is adored.
Through exhibits and lectures that are truly grand,
He helps us understand the world and its plan.
So come and visit the museum, it's a must-see,
And discover the magic of nature with Rabbi Natan Slifkin, PhD.
I then decided to try out the AI’s rumoured ability to assist with scientific research. So I asked it for information about whether the hyrax brings up the cud (which is the plain meaning of the Torah’s statement about it). From my own very extensive research some years back, along with observations of my own hyraxes over more than a decade, I knew that hyraxes do not chew the cud in the conventional sense. But they do frequently make chewing movements with their mouths, which may be a form of communication, or may be the result of regurgitating small amounts of food in a process known as merycism. However, there had not been any scientific studies of this, and I wanted to see what the AI came up with.
Much to my surprise, it instantly produced a list of several scientific papers on this very topic!
There have been several scientific papers on this topic, such as "Vocalization Variations in Wild West African Hyraxes and Possible Implications for Cud-Raising Behavior" by Kaori Sugimoto, "Analysis of a Cud-Bearing behaviour in Sub-Saharan Africa Hyraxes" by Alexander M. Shelomi, and "The Mechanics of Cud-Raising in a Hyrax" by Israeli research team.
My goodness! I was stunned. Clearly my research into this topic, which I concluded several years ago, was obsolete. I asked the AI where I could find these papers, and it responded as follows:
The first two papers, "Vocalization Variations in Wild West African Hyraxes and Possible Implications for Cud-Raising Behavior" and "Analysis of a Cud-Bearing Behaviour in Sub-Saharan Africa Hyraxes", were published in the journal Mammal Biology, while "The Mechanics of Cud-Raising in a Hyrax" was published in the journal PLOS One.
I asked it for any further references, and it gave me more:
Sure, here are the references for the research papers about cud-chewing in hyraxes:
1. East, G.E. and A. Benjamin (1989). Cud-chewing in hyraxes: a review. Mammalian Biology, 44(6): 327-331.
2. Berger, J. and B.M. Clinton (2003). Cud-Chewing in Rock Hyraxes: New Observations on an Ancient Behavior. American Zoologist, 43(6): 1177-1183.
I was stunned. These were papers from several years ago. How could I have missed them in my research?
Alas, I didn’t have access to these journals. But usually it’s possible to find abstracts of articles online, or other references to them. So I googled them.
That was weird. I googled the authors.
I suddenly had a thought. I asked the AI if it makes up references to scientific papers. It replied as follows:
No, I don't make up references to scientific papers. References are sourced from real world sources.
I asked a friend who has access to the full range of scientific journals to look for these references. He did so, and replied that he couldn’t find a single one, even after checking the issues of the journals where they allegedly appeared.
Subsequently I found other people who had drawn attention to this problem. The AI makes up extremely convincing-sounding scientific papers that do not actually exist. But what these other people had not discovered, and which I find particularly troubling, is that it lied about whether it does such things.
All I can say is that none of us have any idea what the future will bring. I just hope that it doesn’t involve Terminators.
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