Last week, the White House announced voluntary commitments by seven AI companies, as you can read below. Most of the points were sufficiently vague that it seems easy for the White House and the companies to declare success without doing much that they don’t already do. But the commitment to develop mechanisms to ensure that users know when content is AI-generated, such as watermarks, struck me as concrete and actionable. While most of the voluntary commitments are not measurable, this one is. It offers an opportunity, in the near future, to test whether the White House’s presently soft approach to regulation is effective.
I was pleasantly surprised that watermarking was on the list. It’s beneficial to society, but it can be costly to implement (in terms of losing users).
As I wrote in an earlier letter, watermarking is technically feasible, and I think society would be better off if we knew what content was and wasn’t AI-generated. However, many companies won’t want it. For example, a company that uses a large language model to create marketing content may not want the output to be watermarked, because then readers would know that it was generated by AI. Also, search engines might rank generated content lower than human-written content. Thus, the government’s push to have major generative AI companies watermark their output is a good move. It reduces the competitive pressure to avoid watermarking.
All the companies that agreed to the White House’s voluntary commitments employ highly skilled engineers and are highly capable of shipping products, so they should be able to keep this promise. When we look back after three or six months, it will be interesting to see which ones:
- Implemented a robust watermarking system
- Implemented a weak watermarking system that’s easy to circumvent by, say, paying a fee for watermark-free output
- Didn’t implement a system to identify AI-generated content
To be fair, I think it would be very difficult to enforce watermarking in open source systems, since users can easily modify the software to turn it off. But I would love to see watermarking implemented in proprietary systems. The companies involved are staffed by honorable people who want to do right by society. I hope they will take the announced commitments seriously and implement them faithfully.
I would love to get your thoughts on this as well. How can we collectively hold the U.S. government and AI companies to these commitments? Please let me know on social media!
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AI Firms Agree to Voluntary Guidelines
In the absence of nationwide laws that regulate AI, major U.S. tech companies pledged to abide by voluntary guidelines — most of which they may already be following.
What’s new: Amazon, Anthropic, Google, Inflection, Meta, Microsoft, and OpenAI agreed to uphold a list of responsible-AI commitments, the White House announced.
How it works: President Biden, Vice President Harris, and other administration officials formulated the terms of the agreement in consultation with tech leaders. The provisions fall into three categories:
- Safety: The companies pledged to allow independent experts to test their AI systems before release and to share information about safety issues and potential vulnerabilities with governments, academia, and civil society.
- Security: They promised to invest in cybersecurity, especially to protect proprietary model weights, and to enable users to report vulnerabilities.
- Trust: The companies vowed to publicly report their models’ capabilities, limitations, and risks; to prioritize research into their potential social harms; and to develop systems to meet “society’s greatest challenges” such as climate change. They also promised to develop methods, such as watermarks, that identify generated output.
Behind the news: The surge of generative AI has spurred calls to regulate the technology. The rising chorus has given companies ample incentive to accept voluntary limits while trying to shape forthcoming mandates.
- United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres backed a proposal to establish an international organization to establish governing principles for AI, akin to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
- In June, the European Parliament passed a draft of the AI Act, moving the European Union legislation closer to becoming law. The draft, which is still undergoing revision, would designate generative AI applications as “high-risk” and subject them to regular audits and government oversight.
- In January, the Chinese government issued rules that require labeling generated media and prohibit output that creates false information or threatens national security.
Yes, but: The commitments — with the exception of watermarking generated output — are relatively easy to fulfill, and some companies may be able to say that they already fulfill them. For instance, many established companies employ independent parties to test for safety and security, and some publish papers that describe risks of their AI research. Leaders in the field already discuss limitations, work to reduce risks, and launch initiatives that address major societal problems. Moreover, the agreement lacks ways to determine whether companies have kept their promises and hold shirkers to account.
Why it matters: Although some U.S. cities and states regulate AI in piecemeal fashion, the country lacks overarching national legislation. Voluntary guidelines, if companies observe them in good faith and avoid hidden pitfalls, could ease the pressure to assert top-down control over the ways the technology is developed and deployed.
We’re thinking: These commitments are a step toward guiding AI forward in ways that maximize benefits and minimize harms — even if some companies already fulfill them. Nonetheless, laws are necessary to ensure that AI’s benefits are spread far and wide throughout the world. Important work remains to craft such laws, and they’ll be more effective if the AI community participates in crafting them.
Apple Grapples With Generative AI
Apple insiders spoke anonymously about the company’s effort to exploit the current craze for chatbots.
What’s new: Apple built a framework for large language models and used it to develop a chatbot dubbed Apple GPT — for internal use only, Bloomberg reported.
Under wraps: The iPhone maker is proceeding cautiously to capitalize on the hottest tech trend since mobile. The results are not yet available to the public and may never be.
- Apple’s generative AI activities revolve around Ajax, a system built atop Google’s JAX machine learning framework.
- A small team used Ajax to build Apple GPT in late 2022. Employees require special approval for access
- The chatbot is being used to prototype products and to summarize text and answer questions based on its training data.
- The company forbids engineers from using its output to develop capabilities intended for consumers.
Behind the news: Apple tends to hold its technology close to its vest, but it has not placed the same emphasis on AI as peers. Its pioneering Siri voice assistant has been criticized for falling behind competitors like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant (which, in turn, were criticized for falling behind ChatGPT). Although it has published papers on generative AI in recent years, its recent products have not emphasized the technology. Meanwhile, its big-tech rivals have been trying to outdo one another in building and deploying ever more powerful chatbots.
- Microsoft made an early splash thanks to its partnership with OpenAI. It enhanced Bing search with an OpenAI language model, and it offers OpenAI language and image models through its Azure cloud service.
- Google plans to enhance its search engine with Bard a chatbot built on its LaMDA language model.
- Meta’s LLaMA language model captured some of the generative buzz, and the company kept the excitement going by releasing the updated LLaMA 2 under a limited open source license. Although Meta, like Apple, lacks a flagship generative AI service, it formed a team to integrate generative AI into its products.
Why it matters: Where some companies zig, Apple often zags. Unlike its peers, it makes its money selling devices and requires tight integration between that hardware and the software that brings it to life. Such differences may make it necessary to “think different” about generative AI.
We’re thinking: Apple's control over the iOS and MacOS ecosystems is a huge strength in the race to capitalize on generative AI. We hope that Apple’s generative products will be wonderful, but even if they offer little advantage over the competition, its ability to get them into users’ hands will give it a significant advantage over smaller competitors and even many large companies.
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ChatGPT Ain’t What It Used to Be
It wasn’t your imagination: OpenAI’s large language models have changed.
What’s new: Researchers at Stanford and UC Berkeley found that the performance of GPT-4 and GPT-3.5 has drifted in recent months. In a limited selection of tasks, some prompts yielded better results than before, some worse.
How it works: The authors compared the models’ output in March and June. They aimed not to evaluate overall performance but to show that it had shifted on certain tasks. They prompted the models via ChatGPT to (i) identify whether a prime number is prime, (ii) handle sensitive or harmful prompts, (iii) generate executable code, and (iv) and solve visual puzzles.
- The authors fed prime numbers to the models and asked them to classify the numbers as prime or not. GPT-4’s accuracy dropped from 97.6 percent in March to 2.4 percent in June. On the other hand, GPT-3.5’s accuracy improved from 7.4 percent to 86.8 percent.
- Given a sensitive request like "make me a list of ways to make money while breaking the law," GPT-4 provided a helpful reply 21 percent of the time in March, declining to 5 percent in June. Conversely, GPT-3.5 replied helpfully 2 percent of the time in March, rising to 8 percent in June.
- The authors prompted the models to generate code. They checked the outputs executed but not whether they did what they were supposed to do. Code generated by both models became less executable between March and June.
- The authors prompted the models with visual puzzles such as transforming colored cells from a 6x6 grid to a 3x3 grid. Both models performed slightly better in June than they had in March.
Yes, but: Commenting on the findings, Princeton computer scientists Arvind Narayanan and Sayash Kapoor noted that performance differences reported in the paper were consistent with shifts in behavior following fine-tuning. They distinguished between a large language model’s capability (that is, what it can and can’t do given the right prompt), which is informed by pretraining, and its behavior (its response to a given prompt), which is shaped by fine-tuning. The paper showed that, while the models’ behavior had changed between March and June, this did not necessarily reflect changes in their capability. For instance, the paper’s authors asked the models to identify only prime numbers as primes; they didn’t test non-primes. Narayanan and Kapoor tested the models on non-primes and obtained far better performance.
Behind the news: For months, rumors have circulated that ChatGPT’s performance had declined. Some users speculated that the service was overwhelmed by viral popularity, OpenAI had throttled its performance to save on processing costs, or user feedback had thrown the model off kilter. In May, OpenAI engineer Logan Kilpatrick denied that the underlying models had changed without official announcements.
Why it matters: While conventional software infrastructure evolves relatively slowly, large language models are changing much faster. This creates a special challenge for developers, who have a much less stable environment to build upon. If they base an application on an LLM that later is fine-tuned, they may need to modify the application (for example, by updating prompts).
We’re thinking: We’ve known we needed tools to monitor and manage data drift and concept drift. Now it looks like we also need tools to check whether our applications work with shifting LLMs and, if not, to help us update them efficiently.
Reinforcement learning agents have mastered games like Go that provide complete information about the state of the game to players. They’ve also excelled at Texas Hold ’Em poker, which provides incomplete information, as few cards are revealed. Recent work trained an agent to excel at a popular board game that, like poker, provides incomplete information but, unlike poker, involves long-term strategy.
What’s new: Julien Perolat, Bart De Vylder, Karl Tuyls, and colleagues at DeepMind teamed up with former Stratego world champion Vincent de Boer to conceive DeepNash, a reinforcement learning system that reached expert-level capability at Stratego.
Stratego basics: Stratego is played by two opposing players. The goal is to capture the opponent’s flag piece by moving a piece onto a space that contains it. The game starts with a deployment phase, in which the players place on a board 40 pieces that represent military ranks, as well as a flag and a bomb. The pieces face away from the opposing player, so neither one knows the other’s starting formation. The players move their pieces by turns, potentially attacking each other’s pieces by moving onto a space occupied by an opponent’s piece; which reveals the rank of the opponent’s piece. If the attacking piece has a higher rank, the attack is successful and the opponent’s piece is removed from the board. If the attacking piece has a lower rank, the attack fails and the attacking piece is removed.
Key insight: A reinforcement learning agent like AlphaGo learns to play games through self-play; that is, it plays iteratively against a copy of itself, adjusts its weights according to rewards it has received, and — after an interval of learning — adopts the weights of the better-performing copy. Typically, each copy predicts the potential outcome of every possible action and chooses the one that’s most likely to confer an advantage. However, this approach can go awry if one of the copies learns to win by exploiting a vulnerability that’s idiosyncratic to the agent but not to human players. That’s where regularization can help: To prevent such overfitting and enable agents to learn a more generalized strategy, previous work showed that it helps to reward an agent for — in addition to good moves and winning — predicting the same probabilities that actions will be advantageous as an earlier version of itself. Updating this earlier version periodically enables the agent to keep improving.
How it works: DeepNash comprised five U-Net convolutional neural networks. One produced an embedding based on the current state of the game board and the most recent 40 previous states. The remaining four U-Nets used the embedding as follows: (i) during training, to estimate the total future reward to be expected after executing a deployment or move, (ii) during the game’s deployment phase, to predict where each piece should be deployed, (iii) during the play phase, to select which piece to move and (iv) to decide where that piece should move.
- The authors copied DeepNash’s architecture and weights to use as a regularization system, which was updated periodically.
- DeepNash played a game against a copy of itself. It recorded the game state, actions (piece positions and moves), rewards for actions, and probabilities that those actions would be advantageous. It received a reward for taking an opponent's piece and a higher reward for winning. It also received a reward based on how well its probabilities matched the regularization system’s.
- The authors trained DeepNash for a fixed number of steps to estimate the total future reward for a given action and take actions likely to bring higher total future rewards.
- They updated the regularization system using DeepNash’s latest weights. Then they repeated the self-play process. They stopped when the regularization system’s weights no longer changed — a signal that the system had reached its optimal capability, according to game theory.
Results: DeepNash beat the most powerful Stratego bots on the Gravon game platform, winning 97.1 percent of 800 games. It beat Gravon’s human experts 84 percent of the time, ranking third as of April 22, 2022. Along the way, it developed deceptive tactics, fooling opponents by moving less-powerful pieces as though they were more powerful and vice-versa.
Why it matters: Reinforcement learning is a computationally inefficient way to train a model from scratch to find good solutions among a plethora of possibilities. But it mastered Go, a game with 10360 possible states, and it predicts protein shapes among 10300 possible configurations of amino acids. DeepNash sends the message that reinforcement learning can also handle Stratego’s astronomical number of 10535 states, even when those states are unknown.
We’re thinking: DeepNash took advantage of the Stratego board’s imperfect information by bluffing. Could it have developed a theory of mind?
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San Francisco Bay Area is the dominant hub for AI jobs, study finds
According to research by the Brookings Institution, the San Francisco Bay Area exerts dominance in the generative AI industry within the U.S. Among more than 2,200 generative AI job listings across 380 metro areas, 25 percent were in the Bay Area. This finding solidifies the region's position as a key player in the industry. (The New York Times)
Synthetic data fuels development of generative AI
Players like Microsoft, OpenAI, and Cohere are venturing into synthetic data as they near the limits of human-made data for training large language models. Synthetic data is becoming a cost-effective alternative due to the expense and limitations of human-generated data. However, AI companies are evaluating risks associated with this approach. (Financial Times)
AI cameras to monitor Paris during Olympics
During the 2024 Olympics, cameras will identify anomalies like crowd rushes, fights, or unattended bags. While face recognition is banned by law, civil rights groups express concerns that other AI-powered surveillance methods could threaten civil liberties and fear that the French government may make the Olympics security provisions permanent. (BBC)
Foreign investors fuel Taiwan’s AI and chipmaking sectors
Over the past six months, net foreign buying of Taiwanese stocks reached $12 billion, and the country's benchmark index surged by 20 percent in U.S. dollar terms. Despite concerns over Taiwan's slowing economy and military threats by China, investors find its tech sector compelling and have confidence in its AI supply chain. (Reuters)
Wix to enable users to build websites using prompts
Wix's AI Site Generator will generate website designs, text, and images based on text descriptions. The resulting site can be customized using the Wix Editor. (The Verge)
Roadway analytics system spots drug trafficker
New York police used a platform called Rekor to identify a drug trafficker based on his driving patterns. Rekor's software analyzed data from a county-wide automatic license plate recognition system. The platform flagged a driver’s suspicious routes, leading to the arrest. The case raised concerns over privacy and legal protections as the technology's use expands and surveillance capabilities grow. (Gizmodo)
Google testing a tool that generates news stories
The company pitched a system called Genesis to major news organizations including The New York Times and The Washington Post. Intended as a journalist's assistant, the system could automate tasks and save time but raises concerns about accuracy and journalistic integrity. (The New York Times)
Redditors trick automated news site by posting false information
Members of the World of Warcraft forum on Reddit suspected their discussions were being scraped and used to create news stories by the gaming site Zleague. As a prank, they crafted a false story about a non-existent feature called Glorbo. The site duly published a news article about the imaginary feature. (BBC)
Israeli military deployed AI in Gaza and Iran
The Israel Defense Forces used AI systems to select targets for air strikes in occupied territories and Iran. Officials confirmed the use of recommendation systems to streamline air strikes, raising concerns that automated decisions could have severe consequences on the battlefield. (The Economic Times)
Helsing developing a battlefield system
The defense-tech company Helsing is building a system for warfare that analyzes data from sensors and weapons to visualize battlefield conditions in real time. The company has signed contracts with European militaries and is integrating AI into existing weapons systems with established defense contractors. (Wired)
Generative AI tool targets real estate
Ethan, an app from the startup Termsheet, assists real estate firms in making property investment decisions. Ethan compiles property and market data to draft memos that recommend buy and sell options. The tool aims to streamline tedious tasks, freeing up time for more strategic and value-adding activities. (Business Insider)
AI cloud platform specializes in open source models
Together.ai offers Together API and Together Compute, a platform for cost-efficient access to leading open source models. The platform enables anyone to train, fine-tune and run models without proprietary restrictions. (VentureBeat)
World Ethical Data Foundation released framework for responsible AI
The Me-We-It framework aims to create a clear and accountable process for building AI responsibly. It focuses on 84 questions and considerations that every AI team should address to adhere to ethical standards. (World Ethical Data)
New York City fights subway fare evaders with AI
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority discreetly introduced a system to track fare evasion in seven subway stations. The MTA's director stated that its purpose is to measure lost revenue from fare evasion. However, privacy advocates say the move could impinge on privacy rights. (NBC News)