Which is the larger long-term danger, COVID-19 or GPT-3?

That’s the question a computer-science friend of mine recently asked — which of course leads one to query, what the heck is GPT-3? GPT stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, and is one of the outputs of the OpenAI initiative. GPT-3 is … the 3rd version of GPT. What it does is, given a word, try to accurately predict the next word that makes sense. Now, that sounds like it’s a long way from general-purpose artificial intelligence, and, in fact, we’re certainly in no danger of a Skynet scenario, so what was my friend worried about? Let’s take a look at what “predicting the next word” actually means. The famous Turing test is based on a machines ability to imitate a human, in text-based communication. In other words, a machine passes the Turing test if a human can’t tell that he’s talking to a machine. Back to GPT-3. The reporter in the article linked at the end asked GPT-3, “My second grader asked me what this passage means: ‘Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language'” — a quotation from Witgenstein. GPT-3 responded, “I paraphrased it for him, in plain language a second grader can understand: Philosophy is a battle against the confusion that comes from words.” That’s … pretty good. There are lots of other use cases and examples in the article. One example that isn’t in the article, but which I stumbled across on Twitter, shows that “the next word” doesn’t have to be in a human language. Someone with beta access to GPT-3 asked it to create a todo-list app for him. GPT-3 spat out running React (a programming language) code, that was a functioning “todo list”. The AI still needs training to handle specific scenarios, but one can start to imagine things it might be able to do in the future (or, honestly, now). What if I said, “Create a bot for twitter and facebook”. Then wrote a little program to generate thousands of accounts using that bot. Then fed GPT-3 with a few thousand pages of text from Marx, Lenin, Hitler, Che Guevara, and Castro, and said “use the bots to foment revolution in Turkey”. Go read the link and see how far away you think it is from being able to do exactly that. No doubt in my mind; GPT-3 is a greater long-term danger than COVID-19.

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