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A machine learning researcher writes me in response to yesterday’s post, saying:

I still think GPT-2 is a brute-force statistical pattern matcher which blends up the internet and gives you back a slightly unappetizing slurry of it when asked.

I resisted the urge to answer “Yeah, well, your mom is a brute-force statistical pattern matcher which blends up the internet and gives you back a slightly unappetizing slurry of it when asked.”

But I think it would have been true.

A very careless plagiarist takes someone else’s work and copies it verbatim: “The mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. A more careful plagiarist takes the work and changes a few words around: “The mitochondria is the energy dynamo of the cell”. A plagiarist who is more careful still changes the entire sentence structure: “In cells, mitochondria are the energy dynamos”. The most careful plagiarists change everything except the underlying concept, which they grasp at so deep a level that they can put it in whatever words they want – at which point it is no longer called plagiarism.

GPT-2 writes fantasy battle scenes by reading a million human-written fantasy battle scenes, distilling them down to the concept of a fantasy battle scene, and then building it back up from there. I think this is how your mom (and everyone else) does it too. GPT-2 is worse at this, because it’s not as powerful as your mom’s brain. But I don’t think it’s doing a different thing. We’re all blending experience into a slurry; the difference is how finely we blend it.

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