Multi-Headed Attention and Other Halloween Horrors

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Illustration of Andrew Ng, a scary monster coming out of a computer monitor

Dear friends,

Each year, AI brings wondrous advances. But, as Halloween approaches and the veil lifts between the material and ghostly realms, we see that spirits take advantage of these developments at least as much as humans do.

As I wrote last week, prompt engineering, the art of writing text prompts to get an AI model to generate the output you want, is a major new trend. Did you know that the Japanese word for prompt — 呪文— also means spell or incantation? (Hat tip to natural language processing developer Paul O’Leary McCann.) The process of generating an image using a model like DALL·E 2 or Stable Diffusion does seem like casting a magic spell — not to mention these programs' apparent ability to reanimate long-dead artists like Pablo Picasso — so Japan's AI practitioners may be onto something.

Some AI companies are deliberately reviving the dead. The startup HereAfter AI produces chatbots that speak, sound, and look just like your long-lost great grandma. Sure, it's a simulation. Sure, the purpose is to help the living connect with deceased loved ones. When it comes to reviving the dead — based on what I've learned by watching countless zombie movies — I'm sure nothing can go wrong.

I'm more concerned by AI researchers who seem determined to conjure ghastly creatures. Consider the abundance of recent research into transformers. Every transformer uses multi-headed attention. Since when is having multiple heads natural? Researchers are sneaking multi-headed beasts into our computers, and everyone cheers for the new state of the art! If there's one thing we know about transformers, it's that there's more than meets the eye.

This has also been a big year for learning from masked inputs, and approaches like Masked Autoencoders, MaskGIT, and MaskViT have achieved outstanding performance in difficult tasks. So if you put on a Halloween mask, know that you're supporting a key idea behind AI progress.

Trick or treat!



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