Author: Cameron Harwick

What Computer-Generated Language Tells Us About Our Own Ideological Thinking

Earlier this year, the San Francisco-based artificial-intelligence research laboratory OpenAI built GPT-3, a 175-billion-parameter text generator. Compared to its predecessor—the humorously dissociative GPT-2, which had been trained on a data set less than one-hundredth as large—GPT-3 is a startlingly convincing writer. It can answer questions (mostly) accurately, produce coherent poetry, and write code based on verbal descriptions. With the right prompting, it even comes across as self-aware and insightful. For instance, here is GPT-3’s answer to a question about whether it can suffer: “I can have incorrect beliefs, and my output is only as good as the source of my input, so if someone gives me garbled text, then I will predict garbled text. The only sense in which this is suffering is if you think computational errors are somehow ‘bad.’” Naturally, this performance improvement has triggered a great deal of introspection. Does GPT-3 understand English? Have we finally created artificial general intelligence, or is it just “glorified auto-complete”? Or, a third, more disturbing possibility: Is the human mind itself anything more than a glorified …

Worry About Piety Contests, Not ‘Virtue Signaling’

To accuse someone of virtue signaling usually means something like, “you don’t actually believe this, you’re just posturing.” There are real and troubling aspects of moral posturing, but ‘virtue signaling’ is a misnomer. Instead, by exploring how the process of internalizing genuine virtue can go wrong, I’d like to suggest the alternative term ‘piety contest,’ which, in addition to being a better description of the problem, also suggests ways to combat it. The Problems of ‘Virtue Signaling’ There are a couple of problems with the term ‘virtue signalling.’ The first is that, strictly speaking, it isn’t signaling at all. As Sam Bowman pointed out in a recent post at the Adam Smith Institute, ‘signaling’ is a term with a specific meaning and, as understood by biologists and economists, it is credible because it costs something. The kind of posturing we call ‘virtue signaling,’ on the other hand, usually costs nothing and so is actually closer to what economists call cheap talk. Everyday usage, however, doesn’t necessarily need to conform to scientific usage. The more important problem is that, in …