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Large Language Models (LLMs): an Ontological Leap beyond AI

Posted: December 27th, 2022 | Author: | Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Large Language Models (LLMs): an Ontological Leap beyond AI

More than the quasi-human interaction and the practically infinite use cases that could be covered with it, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has provided an ontological jolt of a depth that transcends the realm of AI itself.

Large language models (LLMs), such as GPT-3, YUAN 1.0, BERT, LaMDA, Wordcraft, HyperCLOVA, Megatron-Turing Natural Language Generation, or PanGu-Alpha represent a major advance in artificial intelligence and, in particular, toward the goal of human-like artificial general intelligence. LLMs have been called foundational models; i.e., the infrastructure that made LLMs possible –the combination of enormously large data sets, pre-trained transformer models, and the requirement of significant computing power– is likely to be the basis for the first general purpose AI technologies.

In May 2020, OpenAI released GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3), an artificial intelligence system based on deep learning techniques that can generate text. This analysis is done by a neural network, each layer of which analyzes a different aspect of the samples it is provided with; e.g., meanings of words, relations of words, sentence structures, and so on. It assigns arbitrary numerical values to words and then, after analyzing large amounts of texts, calculates the likelihood that one particular word will follow another. Amongst other tasks, GPT-3 can write short stories, novels, reportages, scientific papers, code, and mathematical formulas. It can write in different styles and imitate the style of the text prompt. It can also answer content-based questions; i.e., it learns the content of texts and can articulate this content. And it can grant as well concise summaries of lengthy passages.

OpenAI and the likes endow machines with a structuralist equipment: a formal logical analysis of language as a system in order to let machines participate in language. GPT-3 and other transformer-based language models stand in direct continuity with the linguist Saussure’s work: language comes into view as a logical system to which the speaker is merely incidental. These LLMs give rise to a new concept of language, implicit in which is a new understanding of human and machine. OpenAI, Google, Facebook, or Microsoft effectively are indeed catalyzers, which are triggering a disruption in the old concepts we have been living by so far: a machine with linguistic capabilities is simply a revolution.

Nonetheless, critiques have appeared as well against LLMs. The usual one is that no matter how good they may appear to be at using words, they do not have true language; based on the primeval seminal trailblazing work from the philologist Zipf, criticism have stated they are just technical systems made up of data, statistics, and predictions.

According to the linguist Emily Bender, “a language model is a system for haphazardly stitching together sequences of linguistic forms it has observed in its vast training data, according to probabilistic information about how they combine, but without any reference to meaning: a stochastic parrot. Quite the opposite we, human beings, are intentional subjects who can make things into objects of thought by inventing and endowing meaning.

Machine learning engineers in companies like OpenAI, Google, Facebook, or Microsoft have experimentally established a concept of language at the center of which does not need to be the human. According to this new concept, language is a system organized by an internal combinatorial logic that is independent from whomever speaks (human or machine). They have undermined one of the most deeply rooted axioms in Western philosophy: humans have what animals and machines do not have, language and logos.

Some data: monthly, on average, humans publish about seventy million posts on the content management platform WordPress. Humans produce about fifty-six billion words a month, or 1.8 billion words a day on this content management platform. GPT-3 -before its scintillating launch- was producing around 4.5 billion words a day, more than twice what humans on WordPress were doing collectively. And that is just GPT-3; there are other LLMs. We are exposed to a flood of non-human words. What will it mean to be surrounded by a multitude of non-human forms of intelligence? How can we relate to these astonishingly powerful content-generator LLMs? Do machines require semantics or even a will to communicate with us?

These are philosophical questions that cannot be just solved with an engineering approach. The scope is much wider and the stakes are extremely high. LLMs can, as well as master and learn our human languages, make us reflect and question ourselves about the nature of language, knowledge, and intelligence. Large language models illustrate, for the first time in the history of AI, that language understanding can be decoupled from all the sensorial and emotional features we, human beings, share with each other. Gradually, it seems we are entering eventually a new epoch in AI.


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