The Download: AI’s limitations | MIT Technology Review


The World Health Organization’s new chatbot launched on April 2 with the best of intentions. The virtual avatar named SARAH, was designed to dispense health tips about how to eat well, quit smoking, de-stress, and more, for millions around the world. But like all chatbots, SARAH can flub its answers. It was quickly found to give out incorrect information. In one case, it came up with a list of fake names and addresses for nonexistent clinics in San Francisco.

Chatbot fails are now a familiar meme. Meta’s short-lived scientific chatbot Galactica made up academic papers and generated wiki articles about the history of bears in space. In February, Air Canada was ordered to honor a refund policy invented by its customer service chatbot. Last year, a lawyer was fined for submitting court documents filled with fake judicial opinions and legal citations made up by ChatGPT.

This tendency to make things up—known as hallucination—is one of the biggest obstacles holding chatbots back from more widespread adoption. Why do they do it? And why can’t we fix it? Read the full story.

—Will Douglas Heaven

Will’s article is the latest entry in MIT Technology Review Explains, our series explaining the complex, messy world of technology to help you understand what’s coming next. You can check out the rest of the series here.

The story is also from the forthcoming magazine issue of MIT Technology Review, which explores the theme of Play. It’s set to go live on Wednesday June 26, so if you don’t already, subscribe now to get a copy when it lands.

Why artists are becoming less scared of AI

Knock, knock. Who’s there? An AI with generic jokes. Researchers from Google DeepMind asked 20 professional comedians to use popular AI language models to write jokes and comedy performances. Their results were mixed. Although the tools helped them to produce initial drafts and structure their routines, AI was not able to produce anything that was original, stimulating, or, crucially, funny. 

The study is symptomatic of a broader trend: we’re realizing the limitations of what AI can do for artists. It can take on some of the boring, mundane, formulaic aspects of the creative process, but it can’t replace the magic and originality that humans bring. Read the full story.



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