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Writing for Snobs (russelldavies.typepad.com)
67 points by headalgorithm 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 92 comments





Any of these thoughts are valid only under the assumption that one is concerned if something is written by GPT-3 or a human. But nobody cares. I would gladly read Wikipedia written by GPT-3, if it can rewrite math articles in a less fucked-up unnecessary jargon-filled way than they already are. And if not, I will hate it more, but only to a degree it will do it's job worse than a human did (presumably it's humans who write all this atrocity, I don't know for sure).

And nobody reads marketing brochures anyway. I hope they don't, and I pity them otherwise.

Who I don't pity though are lawyers, and if GPT-3 can make lawyers as miserable, as normal people are when forced to deal with lawyers: good. I mean, I don't really believe anything can eliminate this pesky profession (which depends on laws & litigation process being incomprehensible to ordinary citizens), but I can at least entertain myself with this thought for a while.


GPT-3 has no actual understanding of the text and therefore no internal consistency or logic. It doesn't understand the difference between truth and falsehood. All it does is try to sound convincingly like a real person wrote it. You don't want anything that's supposed to be non-fictional to be written by GPT-3.

Does it concern you that GPT-3 will make up quotes and citations? That it will autocomplete both sides of an argument?

The only reason GPT-3 sometimes gets facts right is that it was trained on Wikipedia. It will be as inconsistent as its input.


I can imagine GTP-3 being used to make legal documents that are even more difficult for a human being to parse. That's probably a net-negative for society as a whole if it is used that way.

Of course, it's fun to chuckle at the thought of a lawyer having to read through the most insane document of all time and muttering profanities to himself the entire time.


"The most insane document of all time" is not the point. It is good to make documents unreadable, sure, but they still must be valid, and you have to be sure they are valid, before you use them in the battle. However close to the realms of sci-fi we may be, I believe we are still very far from any machine being able to compete with a professional lawyer in that kind of stuff. Jokes aside, they kinda specialise on it.

What GPT-3 can be good at though is making a huge amounts of text cheaply and quickly. Making up a tons of bullshit to present in court (or putting the other side in a position when they have to) is a way to make litigation last forever, i.e. until the side with less money is forced to give up on a case they could have otherwise won. You can win by virtue of having more lawyers to read and type stuff.

And that way to use GPT-3 based stuff I imagine to be much closer shot. A company with 2 competent lawyers will be able to generate virtually same amount of semi-coherent bullshit as a company with a 100 of lawyers. You can produce an amount of stuff in a single night that is humanly impossible to read, but still if kinda meaningful stuff with some content kinda "relevant" to the matter at hand. At some point it will stop making any sense, the judge won't read this shit, nobody will. You will have to somehow forbid to make stuff more complicated than it must be. What is currently normal will fall apart.

As I said, I don't actually believe it will do any good: people will still find a way to make it way too complicated for normal humans, but acceptable for lawyers. But until they agree on a new norm, it will be painful for everybody involved.


If you have 'known valid' legalese broken into segments and clauses (this already exists in platforms in use by legal professionals to speed up this process, but for legit purpose) and you can convert certain elements into variables (names, dates, addresses, and so forth), you can trivially make a 'valid' legal document that is nearly impossible to parse due to length, by referencing everything under the sun and stars, by introducing lots of situational logic that rests on references, or by simply relying on hyper-specific language and structure.

For example, I've had to read quite a few 1,000+ page legal documents (Companies Act 2006 being one example) and that document gets referenced all the time. I can imagine tools like GPT-3 being used to crank things up to 11 to ensure that no user ever really reads or understands the TOS/EULA/whatever they're reading. Not that most people do anyway.

> too complicated for normal humans, but acceptable for lawyers.

I can totally imagine someone building a tool to parse generated garbage legalese into plain language bullet points and adding the proper visual references/links and document structure so that a human can read it. Perhaps it already exists and I'm just not aware of it.



> "the tell-tale signature artifact of simulation is not the spiky glitch, it's the smooth, shallow, facile surface"

Notably, this has been true for visual content from the beginning, compare the original "TRON" movie. It had been especially true in times, when smooth gradients and perfect lines had been a luxury, which were hard to achieve in analog media technology, and became the tell-tale signature of computer generated visual content. After an intermezzo in the uncanny valley and with embraceable pixels, we seem to be right back where we started. – It's somewhat logical that what is true for visual content should also be true for textual content.

[Edit] We may add a definition: "Interesting" is the artful deviation from the smooth and perfect.


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Headroom#Production

hard to achieve as a practical effect, but still cheaper than digital.


Max Headroom is somewhat special, since it's a crossover of digital and video. The later has always been signaled by glitches and artifacts (as in color, unstable vertical and/or horizontal hold, overly expressed scanlines, lately also by exaggerated cushion distortion, etc).

Supporting the signalling, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23833111 was definitely a product of the VCR era.

See also the expressed scanlines in the "faked" 80's of the first video in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24398456 .

As for exaggerated curvature, surely we've all run across https://github.com/Swordfish90/cool-retro-term by now?


A thought I had:

The goal of photography is to look like CGI.

The goal of CGI is to look like photography.


> Japanese and British cultures are so hierarchical and stratified, in such long-lasting and subtle ways, that they've become incredibly good at discerning status from tiny signals.

The topic of the article wasn't all that interesting to me, but I thought this quip was interesting.

Does anyone have any references that expand on the merit of it?

Or thoughts on the idea in general?


I've worked in Britain and what I noticed was that working class Brits consider themselves apart from the "posh" middle class and of course, the upper class.

They seem to think they will be working class for the rest of their lives and there's noticeable hate/resent for the rich.

Being an immigrant, I didn't notice any of this stuff. I didn't notice the dismissive polite attitude, I thought it was just politeness. You know, when someone wealthier talks to you, they're polite but there's subtle signals that they consider you "inferior".

I only saw the opportunities, of which there are plenty. I didn't see classes, I just saw that it is possible to go from working class to upper class, much easier than in most other EU countries.

I did start noticing these "subtle signals" after a year and a half or so, but honestly I just decided to ignore them. Since I would always be a foreigner, people would just cut me some slack for not understanding stuff (this also happens in Japan afaik).

Clothes play an important role, surprisingly (OK, maybe not that surprising). If you're in dirty workwear and a hi-vis vest, you're pretty much considered bottom of the barrel. With the right clothes, you can turn into anything from a "chav" or a middle class manager to a millionaire (though you also need the attitude - no slouching, make eye contact, etc).

Just some of my thoughts.


Foreigners are in a special class in the UK, so you were already pigeon-holed.

The subtle signals are about who your parents are, which of the different educational streams you went through, and - more than anything - who you know. Clothes will display all of that indirectly, but the core is always about families and networks.

The idea that opportunities exist is very much a middle class mindset, and anyone who pursues it will inevitably run into the class ceiling. You can make a huge pile of money but it won't buy you entry into the upper classes. At best you'll be a nouveau "someone we can do business with" - or the technical help.

Under the considerable surface polish and politeness the defining characteristics of the upper classes are effortless social - not just professional - confidence, personal entitlement, and exceptionalism. Members are strongly encouraged to believe in all of the above from birth, and it's very hard for outsiders to understand this. There's also a curious affinity with more successful - let's say almost managerial - working class criminals.

I used to live in an upper class enclave, and it was quite astonishing how much time these people spent trying to screw each other over with disputes over family inheritances, property and land rights, various investment scams, and so on.


The US has some of this, and it's much of what the prep school to Ivy League pipeline is for. "There is no door in this entire country that cannot be opened by a Choate graduate".

"Class", by Paul Fussell, is amusing, if dated.


Okay so you've made a pile of money, but the people that think they've got a god given right to wealth from birth still thumb their noses at you and don't want to be friends. My question is, why should anyone care if clearly shitty people don't want to know them?

For the same reason people in the US care about what a bunch of high-follower Twitter accounts think of them. We're hard-wired to seek status even when that status is counterproductive and contrary to our instrumental goals.

What exactly is the “ceiling” one hits if one capitalizes on opportunities, succeeds in career and family, and makes a pile of money? That the 6th Earl Postlethwaite won’t invite them to tea at Shrumsbury Hall?

> They seem to think they will be working class for the rest of their lives and there's noticeable hate/resent for the rich.

Told to me by an Irish person:

You know the difference between an Irishman and an American? The American looks up at that big, shining mansion on the hill, and says, "someday... someday... I'm gonna be that guy". The Irishman looks up at that big, shining mansion on the hill, and says, "someday... someday... I'm gonna get that bastard".


On the other hand, it's hard not to feel like the American's reaction is the result of propaganda and a distraction from the fact that, today, he lives in a dilapidated trailer park and has no access to healthcare.

Of course it's part propaganda, but it's also a result of history. Our borders were expanding for nearly 200 years and in the process we gained unimaginable amount of resources and land. For a long time, you could really get land ( cheaply or free ) and you could hope to improve your lot in life. Of course all that land and resources were a result of the mass extermination of the natives, but that was the reality. It's really fairly recently where we've pretty much stagnated. For most of US history, there was genuine reasons for the optimism of the american dream.

America has excelled in the manufacture of many things, but perhaps especially dreams.

Which explains the success of Hollywood.

Hah.

As an American living in Ireland 8 years now....

Yup.


> If you're in dirty workwear and a hi-vis vest, you're pretty much considered bottom of the barrel

Disclaimer: my knowledge of British culture is horribly outdated, and mostly draws from George Mikes' "How to be an alien" and TV shows.

I always thought that truly high society in Britain sometimes wears rags, and the neat clothing was a sign of either working class or "new riches". George Mikes makes fun of this:

> On Sundays on the Continent even the poorest person puts on his best suit, tries to look respectable, and at the same time the life of the country becomes gay and cheerful; in England even the richest peer or motor-manufacturer dresses in some peculiar rags, does not shave, and the country becomes dull and dreary.

But it's not just his opinion; for example in the TV show "Traitors", set in postwar London, a character coming from a high society family derides someone for dressing "too well", signalling lower class/new riches, and because of how he pronounces "opera" (according to her, it's "opera" for the lower classes, and "op'ra" for the higher classes).


That's quite universal, I think. The aspirational and the nouveaus tend to overdo it. They're out of their element, so they either indulge their existing habits and aspirations, behave unnaturally, or overcompensate according to what they think it means to be "upper class". It takes three generations or so for the habits, attitudes, concerns, and sensibilities to sink in. By then, their children and grandchildren are likely to have squandered their wealth.

The whole point of 'peacefull' stratification is is that everyone internalizes it 'voluntarily'. If they (the underclass) didn't, and realized their power, saw it was nothing more than custom holding them back, it wouldn't work and other methods would be invented. There is a reason Britons proclaim to be non revolutionaries, that is very much in support of their stratification.

Your observation that the subtle cues seem to be the only thing keeping the classes apart is precisely the goal. This way it costs minimal effort to keep the stratification in tact.


The men in this picture may have opportunities, but I'll bet tens of thousands of pounds:

https://scontent.fqls1-1.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/88175441_110...

they'll continue to make a career in entertainment, never transitioning to posing for banknotes like the woman in this picture:

https://dynaimage.cdn.cnn.com/cnn/q_auto,w_1100,c_fill,g_aut...

(Both backgrounds have automobiles and feature greenery, and the men in them all wear trousers. Are there any other similarities?)

Brave New World's "I'm glad to be a β" is funnier if one takes it as an observation, like Cleese's and the 2 Ronnies' 60's treatment, of the actual british class system as it existed in 1930. Having read the M-M-Mitford sisters as well as White Mischief, "everyone belongs to everyone else" may not have been ethnologically that far off of the faster upper class sets. Compare note 3,5 of https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24250082 . On a grimmer note, an irish friend told me that the wide eyes of fetal alcohol syndrome were obvious in many faces of the generations before hers.

Is there a name for the "straight man" who motivates an infodump in fiction? In the Yes, Minister series, Sir Humphrey Appleby GCB KBE MVO (as he is now, Winchester) frequently has an excuse to infodump because Jim Hacker (as he was then, school unknown) went to the LSE and therefore couldn't possibly be expected to know how things are done. Fortunately for Mr. Hacker, Sir Humphrey platonically helps him to recall the ideals of government, e.g. "When there is a Labour government, the education authorities tell them that comprehensives abolish the class system and when there's a Tory government we tell them that it's the cheapest way of providing mass education; to Labour we explain that selective education is divisive and to the Tories we explain that it is expensive."


it is possible to go from working class to upper class

You can't really do that for "traditional" definitions of upper class (which isn't based on anything as simple as having loads of money).

And anyway - everyone is middle class these days. Nobody claims to be working class and there are so few actually upper class people that most people will never meet one.


There is a new housing development behind my house which like most in the UK now has a mix of social/shared ownership and more expensive traditional properties.

It's fascinating to see the differences. One side has flash cars, the other ordinary hatchbacks. One side is happy to wander around in a dressing gown during the day whilst the other is always smartly dressed. One side let their kids play in the street whilst the other has them in studying. One side is mostly trades people whilst the other works in offices.

Despite all the differences (or perhaps because of) it seems to work. I doubt either side would chose the situation but the fact the system forces them together is genius.

So to answer your point, no, everybody is not middle class.


> Nobody claims to be working class

I think "Working class" is a distinct thing from "Lower class."

At least here in the US, I know a fair number of people that would claim the label "Working class", though I doubt any of them would claim to be "Lower class."

"Working class" is a synonym for "Blue collar" to many people.

"Middle class" is less of a synonym for "White collar", but I think that distinction exists for some people.


I think he might be refering to tendencies some people have to look at accessories to get hints at a person.

For instance it is an old people’s saying in Japan to look at someone’s shoes to know if they are rich/value good objects (the basis of that was that poor/undiscerning people would have poor shoes maintenance, or plain bad shoes).

Or you would tell someone’s rank in a company by the amount of stuff he (was about men, yes) was carrying every morning (basis was higher ranked people would have less manual roles)

Of course these saying become pointless and people find other stupid stuff to look at to rank other people on a scale. But yeah, in my short experience it’s a thing people train to do, and is valued as useful skill.

Also as people tend to dress rather uniformly, so you need a decent amount of effort to stand out without being flashy, which means trying to prove good taste with exotic and expensive but plain looking goods, that you justify owning by touting their good quality and not their high price.


Social signalling is important. I fully admit that. I wear completely different clothes when I'm meeting a minister of Canada than when I'm hanging out at a think tank beers night.

That said, I think there is a correlation between the amount of social signalling one must do to be successful in a society and the amount of wealth that that society allocates to those that are capable of navigating organizations. It's one of the reasons I think the tech sector is mostly jeans and sneakers.

Fancy shoes don't mean you're capable of knowing what a gin index is or when to use it.

While I have many qualms with modern tech, this is not one of them.


I’d say we shifted our signaling to laptop stickers, Vessi snickers or “life long” classic style worker boots that were only used to go from and to the office in the old times. I kinda like some attention is still on shoes, somewhat.

You can wear jeans and sneakers in tech, but suit and cravate makes you suspect.

The right jeans and sneakers (and hoodie, and "tech pants", et c., et c.) can even help. There's definitely a techie look, and it's not the same as poor-people/low-class clothes (which some of the same categories of items can fall into, like jeans and sneakers).

I've heard Arc'teryx is all the rage in SV? Is that true? Out here in the midwest the only person I've seen wearing it is a hipster doctor of mine.

I think any expensive, unnecessarily-rugged-for-what-you-actually-do outdoor clothing counts, but yes, that name comes up a lot. I think it should be regarded as a mid-prestige brand to wear, for tech fashion, above, say, REI store brand, which is at the bottom edge of (and perhaps hanging somewhat over) acceptably hip. The top-end you probably can't find stocked in normal outdoors stores in the US (they're invariably European).

Ideally your rain jacket is appropriate for weeks-long alpine or warmer-weather arctic expeditions, and costs at least $250. It should pack down unbelievably small so you can excuse/brag-about the expense as an expression of "minimalism". You wear it on your $1000 bike for your 2km commute to the coffee shop to work on your MacBook. Shoes should be ready for many kilometers of hard, high-performance trail running, and should have been priced to match. Or else rock climbing or bouldering. No activity is more hip-tech-culture-approved and laudable than rock climbing, at least for now (the trends come and go).

There's that stuff, then there's the hipster-mimicking tech-fashion sect in $200 Japanese selvedge jeans and $300ish Red Wing Heritage workboots. There's plenty of overlap and mixing of the styles, though.

Don't forget the right hoodie. If the aglets aren't metal and the zipper's not a heavy, smooth-but-crunchy-feeling YKK, you've screwed up.

If in doubt, just shop REI and Patagonia. Little they stock will be too far off the mark.


I was watching The Boys (rewatching series 1) and Karl Urban goes to the Superhero AA meeting. And halfway through he loses it, calls them all c#nts (of course) and shouts "where is your rage".

This is a pretty good (if not perfect) allegory for working classes / middle classes and upper classes. Those with power want to hold on to it - so entry to power is gatewayed through things like birth obviously but also a series of educational and life choices that prove you are not here to burn it all down.

Social hierarchies exist to both keep the powerful in power, but also as a contract against anarchy. After Brutus murdered caesar he expected to be greeted as a saviour of the republic by the populace of Rome. Instead they all shut their doors and withdrew from the streets for days as they knew what was coming - the chaos and destruction of anarchy and power fighting for a vacuum.

But we should still have our rage. even in the face of anarchy. I think.


> But we should still have our rage. even in the face of anarchy. I think.

Revolutions are the worst possible move. They cause more harm than good and generally involve orgies of injustice and a swapping of a crusty old guard with an even worse power-hungry band of criminals and Jacobin savages. Typically, revolutions draw their monstrous energy from the envy of the haves rather than any kind of injustice. Even when inspired by a desire for justice, it come from a desire to immanentize the eschaton. This always ends badly.

Sometimes, it is better to suffer the shabbiness of a predicament. Building healthy communities and a healthy culture to suffocate the corrupt order with goodness is more constructive and ultimately stronger.


Youd spot someone missing an apostrophe missing commas, not making things uppercase, or some other, like, bad english.

There's then "Standard" English, where one is expected to utilise the language correctly.

Beyond that, you get into demonstrating a classical education, with the inference that knowledge of Latin phrases ipso facto means intelligence.

I'm much more likely to trust a source written in Standard English as you'd find in a newspaper, as opposed to a poorly written FB post.


> Beyond that, you get into demonstrating a classical education, with the inference that knowledge of Latin phrases ipso facto means intelligence.

I’ve been reading some classic English books, and it is really noteworthy that the writers use Greek phrases and references to Greek plays, clearly as a sign of status (synonym: culture). The οἱ πολλοί are not educated.

Having one’s English corrected is reviled by many, because the implication is that they are poorly educated and lower status. Take care when correcting anyone’s English online or offline!


It's nonsense, for Japan certainly, if not also wrt the English (which I don't know enough about to comment on, but I'm skeptical).

When Japanese people are purchasing foreign products at least, they are responding to the same pressures and cultural biases that guide their purchase of Japanese products and services. In my experience this is stuff like age and legacy of the company, how much other Japanese people like and trust the brand, and all the other arbitrary things that shape the ebb and flow of product and service popularity in a given culture.

This is not to say that there aren't unique aspects to how Japanese people choose products which maybe overlap with the English, but in and of itself the markers of status in Japan are distinct from those in the U.S. (for example), so it doesn't seem likely that Japanese people somehow have some sophisticated notion of not just how to find products that have high status but high status according to U.S. consumers. It's silly simply taken at face value.

I do think the question of whether the English and Japanese share similarities because they are island nations with a royal family (and more) is interesting, though.

EDIT: I should be clear that I'm responding to the entire section of the piece, not just what you highlighted:

It's something like: if you want to know what's good about what your country makes look at what the Japanese and British import. (I can't find the actual quote). And his reasoning is something like: Japanese and British cultures are so hierarchical and stratified, in such long-lasting and subtle ways, that they've become incredibly good at discerning status from tiny signals.

Also worth stating that "what's good" != high-status, so the whole thing seems confused to me.


You can clearly tell someone status by what kind of tracksuit they wear and when, for example. Or the subtle differences between a man with a $20 haircut and a man with a $150 haircut.

Even black t-shirts are not all the same if you know where to look.

Hell, if we both have a Porsche 911, but I share it on instagram as my wonderful car and you just never mention it because a Porsche 911 is a normal car to you ... which of us is higher class?

Then there are shibboleths. We use this in professional contexts. If you’re a Fortune500 person and I say I will consult my lawyer, you know I’m a schmuck and a small vendor. Otherwise I’d have a department and would say I will “talk to legal”


If an expensive track suit, not sharing your Porsche on the 'gram and referring to your lawyer as "legal" are all it takes to seem legit then getting swindled by a "vendor" in Uzbekistan might be in your future.

Edit: the point was that shallow things easily copied with minimal investment make bad signals.


It’s an example and the rules are always shifting. Same as how the kids know whether you’re cool or not.

If you’re not part of the in crowd you’ll never know what glaringly obvious signal makes you stand out.


Cars are fascinating, in my area the flashiest cars are parked outside the smallest houses.

One thing that I've heard from international students that is hard to pick up on this is that a lot of British people will inflect a different accent to emphasize a certain point.

Another anecdote: In the 1950s the KGB thoroughly infiltrated the British government and security services, but their assets would send back would be public school English so convoluted it literally could not be read by their handlers at times.


The British counterpart to HUAC was the assumption that anyone in a trade union was a communist and anyone who who went to public school couldn't be. So the security services spent a lot of time on the labour party and missed the Cambridge Four because they were "the right sort of chap".

Cambridge Five, and yes.

It wasn't until the 70s that there was a proper effort to weed out the communists.

I would bet £10 that Hollis was a mole.


Only very rich people in the UK wear red trousers.

I am not joking.


Should you desperately want to go down this rabbit hole:

"Look at my fucking red trousers" blog -> http://lookatmyfuckingredtrousers.blogspot.com/

followed by a piece in The Guardian "in defense of red trousers" which cites a YouGov poll saying that almost half of Britains hate them -> https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/01/in-def...

followed by a piece in The Telegraph about how that blog ruined the ultimate upper-class fashion statement -> https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/style/look-at-my-fing-red-tr...


In the US, I've seen that referred to as "go to hell pants": https://www.gentlemansgazette.com/go-to-hell-pants/

It's a sure sign of a public school boy, which I associate more with being posh than being very rich.

I wouldn't expect someone from "new" money to wear red chinos.


I tend to associate strikingly coloured trousers on older gentlemen with a military background in one of the posher regiments.

Everyone reads nonverbal signals, even when they're not aware of doing it.

In stratified cultures, it means "rich-looking person is important", but also can convey more meaning, as the small variances that are allowed take on meaning.

In less stratified cultures, you get jokes about the sales schmuck who lost a sale because he assumed the man was buying the car.


It just occurred to me that GPT-3 could become an existential threat to Google.

If the SERPs are filled with garbage, their search algorithm loses competitive edge. We may need to go back to a reputation graph-based system. That sort of thing doesn't scale, and Google isn't doing this at all.

In fact, all of the platforms may suffer. How will Facebook keep out GPT-3 spam?


> If the SERPs are filled with garbage

That's already the case. GPT-3 might be faster, but there's literally millions of humans producing absolute garbage for pennies. I'm talking 1000 word, quite readable articles (that make little sense if you pay close attention) for $5 or less.

Used to be a time when it was really easy to rank at the top with just that kind of content.

But Google managed to filter all that out, for the most part. Pretty sure they can deal with computer generated text, too.


I guess one way Google filters out the junk articles is that people who read them don't end their search, and keep looking for the same information after visiting the useless, wordy stuff.

Yeah they used to track time on site (with Google Analytics or if the user clicks the "back" button), probably still do.

Hyperlinks still play an important role - if someone links to the article's URL, that automatically increases its rank. No one links to trash. Links from known spam websites will downrank the article or the whole website really fast.

Timestamps used to be abused back when Google preferred the newest stuff - just update it every day or hour and it's the freshest article in the world in Googlebot's eyes.

It's a really impressive piece of technology, and they have a ton of experience fighting abuse on their SERPs - it's happening constantly and it will continue to as long as search engines exist.


Why would they want to keep out GPT-3 spam? They're probably already looking at how they can drive engagement by having human users argue with bots they run.

Because their users don't want to read GPT-3 spam. If that's the dominant form of content on those platforms, people are going to use those platforms less.

I mean, for a while Facebook may get paid for presenting ads to GPT-3 spam bots, but eventually advertisers will catch on that the people are gone.


I can't wait for us to train models on user browser behavior.

Maybe we can unleash bots that appear exactly as humans, ruining the advertiser gravy train forever.


Mark my words: if that even looks like that might happen, the advertising behemoths (chiefly Google and Facebook) will spend every last dollar trying to get some kind of human Internet ID program passed into law.

If our weapons (programs, scripts, "AI") become half as effective as theirs (the advertising giants'), they'll drop nine-plus figures paying to have ours outlawed, guaranteed. The only thing that might save us from that in the US is that national ID of any sort is pretty unpopular across party lines, and that's effectively what it'd be.

I wouldn't be surprised if they're already quietly laying the groundwork for such an effort.


"national ID of any sort"

In the US it's not possible to catch a flight across the country or obtain a loan without providing your SSN. And the SSN was originally, extra-explicitly, not allowed to be used for anything but administering social security benefits.


Exactly. It's a terrible tool for that job and wasn't designed for it, but there's such a great need for something like that, that businesses and governments have grabbed onto it anyway, for lack of something better.

Despite what might be described as an absolutely huge market signal that there's desire and need for this, resistance to actual national ID is so high among elected officials that propositions for it have, so far, always been DOA. Maybe national IDs really are terrible and it's worth the shared-over-the-population pain and expense not having one causes in a modern society and economy, IDK.


Then maybe a privately-issued national ID is the answer, for those that want it. That's the proper response to a market signal, no?

Indeed, there must be some reason no such thing has materialized from the market, despite ongoing problems caused by its absence.

I'd guess it's one of those things where network effects make it hard to get off the ground, and given the nature of it, especially hard to get off the ground without government buy-in from the beginning, as so many of the ways it'd be useful for saving time and money and reducing risk are tied to interaction with the government. If a market-based solution for it were desirable, for whatever reason, defining some clear and interoperable standard at the government level would probably be necessary to make the market viable, no matter how much latent demand there may be.

Further, imagining the user experience of a non-heavily-regulated/standardized ID market, it seems like it'd necessarily be so hellishly bad it'd never gain adoption. Having 5 different IDs and sometimes having to get new ones or drop an old one seems no better than using credit cards and our social security numbers as IDs, like we do now. It seems to me the epitome of something that can't possibly be any good as a market solution, unless it's so monopolized or regulated that it's indistinguishable from a government solution, except somewhat less straightforward.


I don't know what Facebook you've been using, but millions of people appear to love nothing better than responding to low-grade content mills that push their emotional buttons.

The idea that "You won't believe what <popular/unpopular> celebrity said!" or "Trump outrage #942134!" gets tons of engagement when written by a human, but will make people leave if it's generated by an algorithm is hard for me to square with the social media landscape that actually exists.


Exactly, I think it's a problem only if it leads to lower "engagement" by humans. I kinda doubt it will. Most reading and writing that occurs on the Web, by a large margin, is already very low-value, not noticeably better than a near-future "AI" will very likely be able to produce.

If ad impressions & clicks don't drop, Google, FB, and others won't give a shit where the content's coming from. If impressions & clicks go up (not an unlikely outcome, I'd say) they'll even encourage it.


GPT-3 is more of an existential threat to Google because of its bias. It could be a much more efficient search engine than Google.

"One lesson that GPT-3 might be teaching us: the tell-tale signature artifact of simulation is not the spiky glitch, it's the smooth, shallow, facile surface. It's not the errors, it's a certain kind of boring flawlessness, that's what we should be on the lookout for."

These models could be trained on any arbitrary corpus of writing, from any one author or combinations of authors.

Let's see the the critics complain about "boring flawlessness" when the model is trained on the works of Shakespeare, Voltaire, Buckowski, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, or Hunter S Thompson... or some combination of the above.


GPT-3 was trained on all of those authors.

But many millions of others besides these.

So these authors were drowned out in the noise.

I'm talking about training on just a relatively small number of authors, so the model can acquire some of their distinctive traits.


"drowned out in the noise" is not really a thing here.

Style is just another aspect of text it learns to model and predict. If there are style cues, it makes that part of the prediction and continues it; if there are no style cues, then it just starts somewhere, perhaps with some style common on average...

But if there's a decent amount of text clearly linked to a specific author or style, it will learn the quirks, the vocab, the topics, and so on. Shakespare, no problem, of course it can do Shakespeare pastiche - it can do Paul Graham pastiche, it can even do gwern pastiche! Read through the samples in https://www.gwern.net/GPT-3 and tell me again that everything is just "drowned out in the noise" and GPT-3 is unable to produce anything but a bland average style...


I don't know much about GPT-3, but if you drastically reduce the size of the corpus won't you also drastically reduce the output domain to the point that it's no longer useful? Or is there some way to get it to take whatever "semantic understanding" makes it somewhat convincing, that it's gathered from the full corpus, and ape a particular author's style over it?

It's very possible for human authors to imitate style. In fact, if you write a lot of the same kind of thing that you read, you'll find your own style gravitating toward that of whoever you're reading at the time. I just (re)read Franny and Zooey, for instance, and for days I've been fighting Salinger outbreaks in my own prose. Presumably a machine could do the same thing, but I'd guess it's a very hard problem on top of creating something like GPT-3.

edit: and this is not even getting into the thematic and semantic richness of the content, which is something good authors pack a lot more of into each word than the blogspam wordsmiths GPT-3 is about to put out of work.


"if you drastically reduce the size of the corpus won't you also drastically reduce the output domain to the point that it's no longer useful?"

Usefulness is in the eye of the beholder.

A model trained on, say, all the works of Shakespeare might not create something that can pass for Shakespeare's lost work, but might be inspiring, interesting, or have a Shakespearean quality about it in small doses... which could still be very useful for a writer seeking inspiration.

Incidentally, all of Shakespeare's works make up a not insignificant amount of data, though obviously it's a lot less than what GPT-3 was trained on.

Other prolific authors might also provide enough data to train a model.

It's not clear to me at what point the amount of data one uses becomes too little for useful results, and it would surprise me if there was any consensus on this matter, considering the enormous variety in AI techniques, combination of techniques, and parameters that can be used for training and testing, along with all the different uses one might put the models to after they're trained.


> Usefulness is in the eye of the beholder.

I think the context here is the question of what "kinds" of writing GPT-3 and similar technologies can and can't do as well as humans, so when I talk about "usefulness" I'm really talking about whether GPT-3 can do its thing of generating passable text in response to widely varied prompts. If it can't do that in some domain, then it's not going to replace writers working in that domain.

That doesn't mean the output won't be interesting, but it will be far less relevant in the ways that make GPT-3 notable in the first place.


> There's a kind of writing that is actively aspiring to a smooth, shallow, facile surface, a certain kind of boring flawlessness. The writing that most corporations do. That's who GPT-3 will get to first. Not the novelists and the poets but the corporate copy-writers. They came for the writers of car brochures, but I wasn't a writer of car brochures, so I said nothing.

I'm not at all convinced. A car brochure at least has to tell you what's good about the car. Poetry seems to actively aspire to saying nothing substantive, and so does a lot of "literary" fiction and a certain kind of magazine article.


Computers are good at giving you facts, that's why computers will be able to write a car brochure. Poetry is more about making you feel something. That's harder for a computer to do.

Marketing of cars has very little to do with facts, it's all about emotion. There are no pictures of the typical congestion, its all open roads with no other pesky road users. The models are all slim whereas most of their customers struggle to drag their fat backsides into the car. The kids are happy to sit in the back whilst the reality is they will be screaming "are we there yet" after five minutes of a long drive.

Modern marketing is all about emotion.


That's just not true of GPT-3 though. It's very good at capturing tone and therefore provoking the same kinds of feelings as "real" examples of the same style. It's much less good at conveying facts.

Hmm. Have these guys seen Ryan North's "Star Trek GPT-NG"?

`S1, E20: The Big Goodbye: The crew of the Enterprise-D sets aside all of its other duties to try and solve a murder mystery. Filmed on location in Miami. A woman dressed in a Starfleet uniform from the ship is murdered, and Riker's going to need a tan to solve this case.`


The premise is that GPT-3 has a certain style, but it doesn't. It is almost defined by its ability to readily adopt linguistic idiosyncracies. That includes the OP's example of using colloquialisms like "dang."

GPT-3 will reduce the premium on style compared to substance.


Substance has a style all its own.

You can make GPT-3 affect any writing style. But you can't make it actually have something to say. That feeling - of reading something that's wasting my time, because it doesn't actually have anything to say - is not going to go away just because what I'm reading says "dang" every so often.


The value of much writing, especially on the Web, is being what the reader happens to have found rather than whatever better thing they might instead be reading on the same topic. That is, if your cheap knock-off article is what people end up reading, for whatever reason, instead of the better one(s) you cribbed from, you win. Because the barriers to entry on reading are so low (click link, start reading) and most of the writing's low-value to begin with, people don't exactly shop around for their idle Web reading.

These articles may have substance, but simply be far from the best presentation of that substance. I think GPT-3 and similar projects will do a fine job at subpar regurgitation of existing info that's better covered elsewhere but still manages to capture eyeballs, which describes, I expect, something like 99% of all writing on the Web, including, and perhaps especially, message board posts like this, as people often remark when yet another 300-post thread hits the front page on [some tired topic the discussion of which plays out the same every time]. Long-form print isn't perfect but is somewhat better, since there are some barriers both to publishing and to reading and you're not giving the writing away for free so simply holding a passing reader's interest for two minutes means nothing. The web, though, and maybe even magazines? I wouldn't bet against machines doing much or even most of that writing within a decade. Consider: how much of an issue of, say, Cosmo consists of light re-workings of earlier, recurring articles? People already joke about that kind of thing. Machines can probably do that work, very soon.


We're playing a sequential game. No one is going to happily lap up GPT-3/4/5 generated articles in the long run as their primary reading unless they only read articles that take the form of "X happened, then Y, and A said B" (which actually is a lot of people, but they're not really readers anyway).

GPT will serve as intellectual humiliation. Some people will be embarrassed to find out that most of their reading materials can be generated by robots. On the margins, that can lead to people deliberately seeking out more intellectual content. That includes long format materials such as books. On the labor side, writing talent will be allocated away from shallow topics. That's a plus to me.


If GPT could produce something intellectually interesting, wouldn't that pass the Turing test?

Seems like all GPT can produce is an infinite supply of shaggy dog stories. I don't know if I'd call that intellectual humiliation, just a lack of a point or punchline.

(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaggy_dog_story)


To rephrase: it will humiliate people who consume non-intellectually interesting material but don't really think about what they're doing. E.g. Someone whose daily reading consists of the top articles on Yahoo News. I don't think they'll continue to do so if Yahoo and its partners switch to GPT-X. So either Yahoo will source better material, or its readership will decline.

In GPT's current iteration, I agree.

If GPT produces better output and is carefully mixed in with existing stories, I don't think anyone will notice.

What percentage of stock price stories are generated by a bot? Off the cuff and totally guessing, I'd say 50%. Do you know the exact number? Could you tell? Would the headline service tell you? (probably not)


Ethos matters, especially when there's money involved and you're taking advice from someone. You'd be disturbed if that someone is a bot. Maybe you shouldn't be, because sometimes financial advisors are worse than bots, but people don't know that.

As for the stories that merely describe stock movements without any real analysis, I myself would read those. I'm completely fine with that as long as there's reliable QA on the output.




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