Archive for March, 2023

2023/03/26

Creativity, how does it work?

This is a random brainstorming post, I have no particular conclusions at the moment as I write the first sentence here, but I might develop something as we go along.

So far, I just have this “meme” that I made:

Critics: AI art tools can't create anything new, just copy and paste from existing art!

People using AI art tools:
Here there is what looks like a charcoal drawing of a maniacally-smiling woman with wild hair and an extra set of lower teeth, immersed to just below the shoulders in a whitecapped ocean. There is an odd sailing ship on the ocean in the background, and two more vessels (ships? dirigibles?) in the sky.

There are two obvious reactions to this. Someone who likes AI art tools might say “haha, yeah, this shows how creative and crazy this art can be!”. And someone who agrees with the critics might say “omg, totally, that’s obviously sooo derivative!”.

The first thing to wonder is whether there is a particular image, set of images, or artist out in the world somewhere of which this image is obviously derivative. Pointers in the comments are extremely welcome! :)

Google (reverse) image search doesn’t come up with anything especially obvious. There are some images (like, at the moment, this one) that involve somewhat stylized faces with prominent hair and ocean waves and one or more ships, but the arrangement and overall style and impact are, I think, significantly different. In the past when I asked a couple of people who were all “oh, yeah, I can usually identify the particular artist or artwork that one of these AI images was taken from”, to do that with one of my images, they suddenly became very quiet. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If there isn’t a specific image or small set of images or an artist that one can point to and say “see, this is where this came from!”, what does that mean? I’m not an art critic (hahaha), but I think it would be pretty uncontroversial that, if a person had created that image above there entirely with real-live paper and charcoal, or even with a tablet and Photoshop, we’d say that it displayed sort of average human creativity; nothing incredible, but easily beyond (for instance) the “modicum of creativity” required by US copyright case law, enough that it could be entered in an art competition, and so on.

Once we know that it was created by a person using an AI art tool (Midjourney, in this case, with a particular prompt and engine settings and so on), is it reasonable to say something different? Does it still display creativity, or not? Does it do it differently, or in the same way? What is creativity? How is it displayed? In what does it inhere? Is it for that matter the kind of thing that inheres in things? Are there facts of the matter about it, or is it a purely squishy and subjective thing?

There are a bunch of theories that one might put together:

  • One might hold that it’s just as creative, and in the same way, as the counterfactual no-AI version, and that the creativity comes from the same place: the human who made it. One version of narrative would say that the difference between the no-AI and the with-AI version, creativity-wise, is not different in kind from a person making it with paper and charcoal and a person making it with tablet and Photoshop, or a board and little mosaic tiles. It might be objected that the activity of choosing engine parameters and prompt strings and then culling the results is just obviously (or by dint of some specific plausible theory) different from the activities in the other cases, since those involve something like choosing a particular color for particular parts of the image, whereas the AI-tool case doesn’t.
  • One might hold that it’s just as creative (or at least that it is creative, if perhaps to a different degree), and the creativity still comes from the human, although it’s implemented (delivered, displayed, exercised, used, manifest) in a different way. One might say in this theory that the difference between the real paper and charcoal version and the Midjourney version is like the difference between a realistic drawing of a scene and a photograph of the same scene. Both born of human creativity, but through very different means, and perhaps to different degrees. And then we can get into lots of questions about the creative element(s) in various kinds of photography!
  • The two takes above can, I think, go either way on the question of whether creativity is inherent in the end result, the image, in a sort of death-of-the-author way, or whether it’s in the overall process. At the other end of some spectrum, one could say that the image made with the AI tool does not in fact display (involve, require, contain) any creativity; that our initial impression that it did just turns out to have been mistaken, and now that we know how it came to exist, we know that it didn’t involve creativity. This sort of claim pretty much rules out the position that creativity is inherent in the finished product, unless one is willing to take the (facially untenable, I think) position that this image could not in principle have been created by a human without using an AI, and that inversely no purely human-created image could in principle have been created with an AI tool.
  • That is, if you think there is no creativity in this image because it was made with an AI tool, you pretty much have to take the position that it’s not possible to tell how much creativity there is in an artwork (or a putative artwork) just by looking at it; that the creativity is not displayed by / doesn’t inhere in solely the image or object. Which seems sensible in at least one obvious way: I might think that something involved lots of creativity, until I see that it is an exact copy of something that existed before, just with a little line drawn on it. More nuancedly, we’d say that you can’t tell how much new creativity is in a thing, until you see how it was made (because it might be, say, a copy).
  • So now we have a potential claim that images made with AI tools don’t have any (or much) new creativity, because they are just processed / stolen / noisily compressed and expanded / copy and pasted, versions of the material that they were trained on. Sure there might be a little creativity in choosing the prompt or whatever, but that’s not much. The program itself can’t add any creativity because “they can’t, they just can’t” (a phrase I’ve heard from a couple of people talking on videos lately, but of course can’t find at the moment).
  • Humans also process things that they’ve seen / experienced when producing new things. I’d say we can’t really require creativity to mean “those aspects of a work that spring purely from the artist’s soul, and that would still have been there had the artist been a brain in a vat with no experience of the world or other artworks, only its own thoughts”, because then there wouldn’t be any creativity anywhere, and when common words turn out to have no referent in a theory, it generally (if not always) means that that theory is wrong.
  • Or maybe we do want to require that “sprung from the soul alone” thing, because we want to set a very high bar for True Creativity, and we are confident that there will be at least a few glorious shining examples if only we knew the truths of people’s souls! In which case we can say that a marvelous few humans have displayed true creativity through the ages, and no computer ever has (having no soul and all), and neither have the vast majority of people we loosely call “artists”. This is a theory, but not a popular one, and it means that most art displays no creativity, which again feels sort of like a reductio. It’s certainly not compatible with what the Copyright Office means by “creativity”.
  • The question of how much creativity is in the selection of prompts and engine settings and images to keep is one we can put aside (in the drawer next to the question of the creativity in a cellphone snapshot, as alluded to above). And it seems we are left with having a theory about how much creativity comes from the AI tool itself, and how much of that is what we’ve called new creativity. Possible answers include “none, there’s lots of new creativity, but it’s all from the human user”, “none, there’s no new creativity in this at all, it’s all stolen / copied from the creativity in the training set”, “about the same amount that comes from the human, they are in some sense equals in the new creation”, and “the human just types a few words, and then the software adds lots of new creativity to it, so it’s the AI”.
  • This leaves us mostly with the question of “under what circumstances is it true that a person, or a piece of software, adds new creativity to a work, when that work is to a degree influenced by other prior works that that person, or piece of software, has been exposed to?”. Or other words to that general effect. One set of answers will not especially care whether it’s a person or a piece of software; the other set (“they just can’t”) will either think that it’s important which it is, or have a set of criteria which (they will claim) only people and not software can for whatever reason satisfy.

And I’ll leave it there for now, having perhaps not been especially productive :) but having written a bunch of words and focused in (if in fact it’s a focusing) on the question of what it means to add new creativity when making something, even though the entity doing the creating is influenced by other works that existed before. People talk a lot about things like reflecting one’s lived experience, having a thought that the work will (may? is intended to?) cause the viewer to also have (some version of?), and like that. None of those seem likely to be any kind of complete explanation to me at the moment.

In legal news, of course, the US Copyright Office has issued a Copyright Registration Guidance on “Works Containing Material Generated by Artificial Intelligence”, which I gather (I have not had the mental energy to think about this very hard) just repeats the statements in the Zarya (I always want to write Zendaya) memo we briefly discussed the other day, using various phrases that are putatively synonymous but as far as I can tell are subtly different and introduce all sorts of new uncertainty to the subject.

I’m going to continue not thinking about that very hard for now, because that part of my brain is still tired.

Also! You can get onto the waiting list for the Google LLM thing (and I hear varying stories about how quickly one gets access; apparently it is sometimes quite quick). In case you’re, like, collecting those, or otherwise interested.

2023/03/16

Stills from the Cult Hit of 1977!

Lost for decades, now rediscovered and presented here for the first time!

A handsome young man with a 70's haircut. Behind him, blurred by depth of field, are more young 70's style people and some trees and grass.
Mike and the Gang
A man in an odd leather helmet working in some odd devices (perhaps small bombs), in a room with a harsh light and a couple of mysterious racks.
The Mysterious Mr. G in his Secret Lab
Four 70s style people, two men in suits and two young blonde women. The man and woman in the foreground are talking on bakelite telephones, sitting at a table crowded with 70s looking technology (perhaps modems).
The legal team in action
Three women in white nun's habits sitting around a table in a room with leaded-glass windows, doing something enigmatic. Behind them on the wall is a portrait of a man with a large sword or something.
What is happening at St. Agnes?
Five 70's style people standing outdoors. At our left a man with a typical moustache and "soul patch". With him four young women with long straight hair.
The Outsiders
Three people, a man and two women, in white kitchen attire (the women with hats, all three with shirts and probably aprons) sit around a silver cylindrical machine of some kind. The women are holding orange objects
In the kitchen at St. Agnes
Four 70s style people, a man in an orange jumpsuit in the back, and three women in white gradually closer to us. The women have long straight blonde hair, and white clothing. Each of the women has a white cloth cap, or part of one, on her head.
Under Control
Close-up of a man's face. He has a 70's mustache, and 70's sunglasses. There are other people barely visible behind him (his face takes up almost the entire image).
The Discovery!

Courtesy, of course, of the early v5 version of Midjourney.

2023/03/16

So much new!

As I’m sure you’ve heard there’s a new level of GPT in the world. Friend Steve has been playing with it, and says that it does seem to do some stuff better, but also still make stuff up amusingly and all. At the moment for whatever reason I can’t be arsed to investigate, or even read yet more hype / analysis about it. Similarly, Google announced a thing, and Microsoft is putting LLMs into various products whose names I don’t recognize, and I’m not reading about any of that. NovelAI‘s good old open-source model works fine for all of the telling-weird-stories stuff that I need right now.

And there’s a test version of a new Midjourney engine out! Being tested! And it seems pretty cool. Hands in particular seem much more likely to have five fingers when you’d expect them too, which is a whole thing.

And I spent too much time arguing with people on the Twitter, which isn’t at all new. And I definitely shouldn’t do because it is not healthy. So I’m trying to stop that.

Now I’m just making pretty pictures! And not thinking very much until later on sometime!

A black and white photo of grassy prairie land with hills in the distance. The sky is thick with storm clouds, and two long bolts of lightning reach from the clouds to the horizon.
Colorful artistic image of a city street in the rain, with a woman in a raincoat and umbrella walking away from the viewer, and lots of cars and buses and traffic lights and things. There are impressionistic reflections in the wet pavement.
A photo of trees standing apart from each other, all thickly covered with snow, in a snowy landscape. A sunburst shines at the center of the image, and above and around it is a plume of bright cloud or ice.

Lots of weather in those, eh? Hadn’t noticed that. :)

2023/03/10

Chomsky declares: LLMs icky!

Friend Steve wrote us today about this New York Times opinion piece, “Noam Chomsky: The False Promise of ChatGPT” (this link may be free for everyone for some time or something). Despite the title, it’s by Chomsky, Roberts, and Watumull.

Steve commented inter alia on the authors’ apparent claim that ChatGPT can say that the apple you’re holding will fall if you open your hand, but unlike humans it can’t explain the fact. The trouble with the argument is that, as anyone who’s actually used ChatGPT can tell you, it will happily explain the fact, go into the history of the notion of gravity, talk about other things people have thought about it over time, and explain various situations in which the apple wouldn’t fall, given the slightest provocation.

My reply, lightly edited:

I am pretty unimpressed with the article as a piece of science or philosophy; fine as a nice polemic by a greybeard I suppose. :)

I’m amused at how LLMs are “lumbering” and “gorged”, while human minds are “elegant” and even “efficient”. I doubt there is any useful sense in which these adjectives are anything more than bigger words for “icky” and “nice” in this context.

Chomsky brings in the innateness of language, because of course he does, but I’m not at all clear how it’s relevant. Even if humans do have innate language scaffolding, and LLMs don’t have the same kind, it’s far too early to say that they don’t have any, and even if they didn’t, so what? Does the ability to learn a wider variety of languages than humans can, mean that LLMs don’t really understand, or can’t really think, or are harmful or dangerous? None of that makes sense to me; it seems just an even longer way of saying that they’re icky.

He (well, they, there being multiple non-Chomsky authors) claims that LLMs don’t have the ability to say “what is not the case and what could and could not be the case.” And I can’t imagine what they think they mean by that. As with the flaw you point out in the apple example, it’s simply wrong, and suggests that they haven’t really used an LLM much. ChatGPT (let alone a less heavily defanged system) will expound at length about what is not the case and what could and could not be the case, given any halfway decent prompt to do so. They may intend something deeper here than they actually say, but I don’t know what it could be (beyond that they can’t do it non-ickily).

“Whereas humans are limited in the kinds of explanations we can rationally conjecture, machine learning systems can learn both that the earth is flat and that the earth is round.” Um, what? There are certainly humans who believe each of these things. They can’t just be saying that humans can’t conjecture that the earth is flat “rationally” because so what; that’s exactly as true of an LLM. If they mean that the same LLM can make one of those claims one minute and the other the next, whereas humans can’t hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time, I’d like to introduce them to some humans. :)

Similarly for whatever it is they are trying to say about moral reasoning. The suggestion seems to be that, simultaneously, ChatGPT is icky because it cannot stay within moral boundaries, and also icky because it stays stubbornly within anodyne moral boundaries. As pretty much throughout the piece, stuff that humans do all the time is cited as reasons ChatGPT isn’t as good as humans.

Tay became toxic by listening to people, therefore it’s not like people? It had to be heavily censored to keep it from talking trash, therefore it’s not like people? Um?

It might be interesting to try to tease a set of actual significant truth-claims out of this article, and see which ones are arguably true. But I’m not sure that’s the point really.

As far as I can tell, this piece is just a longer and nicely phrased version of “Boo, LLMs! Icky!”

But maybe that’s just me. :)

2023/03/04

AI is terrible at almost everything [a rant]

I am annoyed with many “AI” things this morning, so this is a rant with no pretense of objectivity or overall wisdom.

AI call directors are terrible. Especially Intuit’s.

Here I will just reprint a rant that I posted to both qoto and Twitter; I was so annoyed!

Wow, #Intuit #TurboTax is just awful.

I mean, I do know that they’ve been lobbying against tax simplification in the US for years, because it would cut into their business, and that’s pretty evil.

But their customer service is apparently also terrible!

I need to file a particular New York State #tax form this year, and apparently they just don’t support it, and aren’t planning to.

Which seems to mean that I would have to manually enter the data, which seems to mean that I couldn’t then e-file or get their correctness guarantee. And if one uses software to prepare the return, one is required by law to e-file!

So it seems like I just can’t use their software at all. Which is maybe good!

When I tried to call them to ask if they support the form, their robot call director asked me what I wanted, mis-heard me, and insisted on knowing whether I wanted the irrelevant information it had found sent by text or email; “no” was not a valid choice.

Then it insisted on knowing my last name, but failed to understand me when I tried to pronounce or spell it (and I have a pretty ordinary voice, and not all that unusual a name!) and eventually it said goodbye and HUNG UP ON ME when it couldn’t.

I had to call back and pretend that its incorrect guess at my last name was correct, before it would pass me to a representative. And the first thing the human rep (who was very nice!) asked me was for my first and last name, so the whole robot torture conversation was useless as well as annoying.

I think they’re just trying to get people to give up on calling them.

Which in my case probably means switching to #freetaxusa which is cheaper anyway, and does support the forms that I need.

Sheesh!

I hate this Roomba (at least while it’s running).

Leaving aside the fact that it’s a mobile Internet-attached camera that could almost certainly be accessed by random hax0rs in Kekistan, and may already be sending all sorts of images of private life to iRobot / Amazon / the NSA, it’s just annoying.

It has an app of course, but for some unaccountable reason the app is rather terrible. For a long time it offered not much more than the little “CLEAN” button on the robot does; no way to tell it to avoid certain areas or do a certain room right now, let alone a Direct Drive mode where you could just pilot it around vacuuming (which I would have thought would have been the Minimum Viable Product or whatever the kids are calling it these days), no insights into what was going on in the little beggar’s mind that makes it buzz around in the front hallway for half of its runtime and pay only cursory attention to any actual room. Lately it’s been enhanced somewhat, so you can see a version of it’s internal map, tell it to do a certain area, and a few other things.

But it still went under my chair this morning while I was having my coffee, and got into some kind of infinite loop at the edge of the nest of power and data lines off the side of the chair where it doesn’t really need to go at all. It sat there trying to charge forward and running into something with a loud whir, turning slightly right, whirring again, turning back slightly left, whirring again, repeat forever and ever, with loud irritating whirs every time. I gave it a slight nudge to try to get it away, and it faffed about a little and then charged back into the same corner again, whirring as loud as ever.

Why isn’t there a “don’t try the same thing more than a dozen times” feature in the thing? Maybe because it’s some black-box AI that can’t be explicitly programmed not to do certain things, but just does whatever comes out of the mysterious tangle of weights and things. And maybe because they couldn’t be bothered to add that because it hasn’t made it into a sprint yet. Who knows!

But it’s really annoying. It’s chased me out of my chair (again) and I’m sitting in the living room where it isn’t currently whirring in annoying ways.

Fekking thing.

Look how fast it can be wrong!

All of the excitement about LLMs also has lots and lots of really annoying properties. Having suffered from them for awhile now, I think the basic problem is that LLMs are good at certain small and easily-testable unimportant things that, until now, were good indicators of being good at other things, some of them larger and more important.

In particular, we’re used to only people being good at giving natural-sounding answers to questions in human language, and when someone is especially good at that (“eloquent” or “intelligent” or “legit-sounding”), we are used to that same person being good at saying true things, or being able to write a couple of pages of consistent argument, or caring about the truth of what they are saying.

Large Language Models (like GPT-3 and ChatGPT and Bing’s AI and Google’s Bard and on and on and on) are good at the small things, but bad at the large things. They can give natural-sounding replies to all sorts of questions / statements in human languages, but they have no notion whatever of truth or fact, their input windows are so small that they can’t generate a significant amount of output without losing track of the plot entirely and either going off-topic or contradicting themselves or forgetting their initial instructions and trying to persuade someone to leave their spouse.

So when we see people putting up some trivial “app” that feeds user-input and a paragraph of additional prompt into some random LLM, and billing the result as “AI Medical Evaluation!”, it’s terrifying. (I think that particular one has been taken down since I expressed worries about it on qoto, but there’s still a zillion like say this “Jesus” one, and no doubt scads of other extremely dangerous medical / psychological / legal ones being created every day by people who don’t understand malpractice or law or liability or LLMs.)

And when someone posts to reddit saying “After poring over garbage Google results and documentation that didn’t answer my question for literally an hour, Bing checked the SOURCE CODE and gave me an instant answer. Remind me, why would I ever want to use Google again?”, the obvious reply is that the “instant answer” was in fact wrong, as someone with a name similar to mine pointed out in the reddit thread. (The person says that the answer did eventually lead them to a right answer, but I wonder if it was significantly faster than the “literally an hour” spent in good old search; it certainly wasn’t “instant”.)

And lest anyone think that I have a Conflict of Interest acting here (I do work for Google, but not in the AI or Search departments), I don’t think that Google’s LLMs are any better except in the extremely significant property that they haven’t been released in a form integrated into a general-public web-search tool, in a way that leads people to think their extremely confident answers are in fact reliable.

One of the things I find most irritating in the world are people who are extremely confident and also wrong. So now that we have an entire category of software that is essentially all that way, it’s (again) extremely annoying.

(LLMs are wonderful, as I mentioned the other day, as a sort of crazy friend who you can bounce ideas off of and get bizarre prose to help break a writer’s block, and amuse yourself with fake Elizabethan love poetry or whatever. But in contexts that are framed as likely to produce true statements, they are entirely out of their milieu, and should really just stop. I look forward to the technological breakthroughs that will allow these systems to have usually-true output, but I haven’t seen that yet!)

So anyway! I feel somewhat better now. :) End-rant, comme on dit.