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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

What Happens When AI Has Read Everything?

Ross Anderson
The Atlantic
Originally posted 18 JAN 23

Here is an excerpt:

Ten trillion words is enough to encompass all of humanity’s digitized books, all of our digitized scientific papers, and much of the blogosphere. That’s not to say that GPT-4 will have read all of that material, only that doing so is well within its technical reach. You could imagine its AI successors absorbing our entire deep-time textual record across their first few months, and then topping up with a two-hour reading vacation each January, during which they could mainline every book and scientific paper published the previous year.

Just because AIs will soon be able to read all of our books doesn’t mean they can catch up on all of the text we produce. The internet’s storage capacity is of an entirely different order, and it’s a much more democratic cultural-preservation technology than book publishing. Every year, billions of people write sentences that are stockpiled in its databases, many owned by social-media platforms.

Random text scraped from the internet generally doesn’t make for good training data, with Wikipedia articles being a notable exception. But perhaps future algorithms will allow AIs to wring sense from our aggregated tweets, Instagram captions, and Facebook statuses. Even so, these low-quality sources won’t be inexhaustible. According to Villalobos, within a few decades, speed-reading AIs will be powerful enough to ingest hundreds of trillions of words—including all those that human beings have so far stuffed into the web.

And the conclusion:

If, however, our data-gorging AIs do someday surpass human cognition, we will have to console ourselves with the fact that they are made in our image. AIs are not aliens. They are not the exotic other. They are of us, and they are from here. They have gazed upon the Earth’s landscapes. They have seen the sun setting on its oceans billions of times. They know our oldest stories. They use our names for the stars. Among the first words they learn are flow, mother, fire, and ash.