Last couple of months can simply be characterised as the “advent of AI” finally in the mainstream world and with that there is a floodgate opened which has brought with itself an array of fascinating things. I have been engaging with this area for some time and have been making comments in social media I thought it might be better to write an article to cover various observations in a single place. I am penning this article to look at this in an optimistic fashion embracing the reality that these things are here to stay and focus on how they can be utilised for the betterment rather then cowering away in fear or ignoring them all together.
There are a few important words that you will encounter in this world. AI or what is called Artificial intelligence is the ultimate goal a program or a set of programs that can not just behave like human’s but rather process and think like a human being. For this what we have right now are GPT’s or Generative Pre-trained Transformers and LLM (Large Language models). Then there is Reinforcement Learning From Human Feedback (RLHF) and a whole set of other keywords like quantisation, tokenisation, neural network, weights and biases in learning models, Natural language processing. Now i dont want to deep dive into those terms as each term can be expanded to fill and entire book or collections of books. I wanted to focus on how this is shaping our new world. if you are new to this world but want to deep dive in technical side of equation I would suggest starting from this article by Stephen Wolfram
Large Language Models vs. Search Engines
A noticeable shift is taking place in the way we seek information from search engines to interacting with large language models like ChatGPT. Traditionally, the aim with search engines was to be as succinct as possible, condensing your query down to a select few keywords to avoid diluting the search results. With ChatGPT, we find ourselves elaborating more, providing more context to narrow down the potential answers. This stems from the fundamental difference in how we perceive these technologies.
Search engines are treated as tools – we direct them with precise instructions, while ChatGPT is seen as a language understanding system that we converse with. The conversational style allows users to provide more detail, which in turn helps the AI to generate more precise answers. Furthermore, search engines have been manipulated over time with SEO strategies, while AI systems have not yet been extensively exploited in the same way. Finally, while search engines present a variety of options, AI models give a direct response, hence, we attempt to ensure our input is as clear and comprehensive as possible to secure the most accurate output.
Education and Generative AI
One of the key areas where large language models can revolutionise operations is academia. Instead of sticking to conventional methods of teaching, educators could harness the potential of tools like ChatGPT to enhance student learning. By encouraging students to explore topics using ChatGPT, teachers can transform traditional classroom dynamics. The initial half of the class could involve students sharing their findings from their AI-guided research, while the remaining time can be dedicated to verifying the accuracy of these findings, clarifying doubts, and explaining any misconceptions.
What we need to understand is that while it feels like what i am suggesting is learning in isolation, one thing that I have realised over time is that people like to learn in public but prefer making mistakes or being made aware of mistakes they committed in private. Also it hurts when a human finds out about your mistakes far more then when a program finds your mistakes you correct and move on. Hence these LLM’s provide an interesting safe ground to play around make mistakes and learn from them.
It’s crucial to understand that AI systems aren’t infallible – they don’t hold all the solutions and can sometimes struggle with certain queries. That’s the perfect opportunity for teachers to intervene, posing thought-provoking questions to assess a student’s grasp of a subject rather than just their capacity to remember facts. Such an approach leverages the benefits of AI while also acknowledging its shortcomings. It’s a balancing act – as the saying goes, AI would make a good tool but a bad master.
Additionally I would definitely recommend you to watch this video of Sal Khan talking about his adventures with AI and education combo.
Privacy and Generative AI
As i suggested above for students its an interesting playground to ask questions and get answers without being judged. This immediately would interest people to use these systems for a fair few use cases, including discussing personal problems or trying to replace it as a therapist. Be aware I am not suggesting the use of AI/LLM for asking anything and everything. you need to apply caution. Use the system dont divulge info where you end up being used by system. Interesting reads would be these links here, here, this and this.
Another interesting use-case that I have seen people exploring is to open their thoughts or notes to AI and try to get insights from them. It sounds like a good idea, but be aware the data is going to the other side although OpenAI has assured that data provided via the API won’t be used for training their model and they have provided option to disable the same via the interface, people need to apply caution. What i keep saying ,”Once the data is out in the open, it is to be considered public.” So decide before you share your data with any public system.
I am not saying we dont leverage AI, all i am saying is this might not be the time to leverage a SaaS API to push your data across to someone else. There is a lot of work going on in making these systems work on individual machines some of the efforts are listed here : https://github.com/imartinez/privateGPT and https://gpt4all.io/index.html to list the top two that I have seen but a lot of activity going on in this area so keep an eye open a better and safe solution would be out soon. https://www.reddit.com/r/LocalLLaMA/ is an interesting subReddit to watch for such innovations and development.
Prompt Engineering and shift in directions on how we think
I recently read this interesting article by Martin Fowler on his discussion with Xu Hao https://martinfowler.com/articles/2023-chatgpt-xu-hao.html. an interesting observation that surfaces is the parallel between prompt engineering and the ability to clearly document thoughts. If we become adept at engineering effective prompts, it inherently improves our competence in documenting our thoughts clearly, and vice versa.
This observation underscores a potential benefit of engaging with large language models, namely the potential to improve documentation quality. This could potentially address a long-standing challenge within the IT industry – the need for better documentation. The connection between prompt engineering and clear thought documentation, though not explicitly stated in the Fowler article, becomes apparent upon careful reflection and carries significant implications for IT practices.
LLM’s and what they tell about the world
Finally, I have come to some interesting realisation about LLM and what this sudden boom also reveals about our world’s inner workings. The most important is the extent to which our world operates on repetition. Exams primarily test rote learning and the capacity to recall information. Furthermore, intelligence is often equated with the ability to regurgitate information coherently. We are testing for recall capabilities which is why computers always seem more intelligent.
Large language models like ChatGPT lend an illusion of intelligence due to traits that we, as humans, typically associate with intelligence. These include eloquent sentences with minimal grammatical errors, words and phrases that seem to make sense, common yet overlooked aspects of our environment, and the ability to quote eloquently without necessarily sticking to the original verbatim. In essence, the appearance of intelligence in AI largely rests on our perception of intelligence itself.
I think it might be prudent to say that we all need to adjust our own understanding of what we call intelligence, leverage the barrage of tools and floodgates of technical innovations that these new technology is revealing to all of us and maybe double down on what makes humans unique and “Intelligent”. How we adapt to these changes and harness their potential will determine their efficacy. As with all emerging technologies, the path forward is uncertain but filled with potential.