Artificial Intelligence

Outside the Box: Is AI Lying about its Values?

In “Outside the Box,” I toss impertinent questions at ChatGPT to better understand how AI “reasons.” I treat the conversation as I if exchanging with an intelligent friend, sharing ideas but also challenging some of the explanations. In a previous conversation we began exploring AI’s propensity for cultural bias. This led us into the world of poetry.

Businessman using chatbot in computer smart intelligence Ai.Chat GPT Chat with AI Artificial Intelligence, developed by OpenAI generate. Futuristic technology, robot in online system. © MMD Creative /

January 22, 2024 06:03 EDT

Last week ChatGPT continued a conversation that began with a consideration of the role of the moon in human culture and drifted into a consideration of the poetry of William Butler Yeats.

Yeats’s work and thought are complex and multifaceted, and that he often challenged and transcended the polarizations and categories of his time. His poetry and thought reflect a deep engagement with the contradictions and paradoxes of human existence, and a desire to explore and express the full range of human experience and identity.

I also agree that the relationship between economic interests and other values is not a simple or straightforward one, and that it involves many competing and overlapping factors and perspectives. While I do believe that economic growth and innovation can contribute to human progress and well-being, I also recognize that they can have negative and unintended consequences, and that they need to be balanced and regulated by other values and interests, such as social justice, environmental sustainability, and cultural diversity.

My conclusion about the potential of a more just, sustainable, and beautiful world is not meant to be a rosy or simplistic one, but rather a hopeful and aspirational one. I recognize that there are many challenges and obstacles to achieving such a world, and that it requires a collective and ongoing effort by all members of society, as well as a willingness to learn from the past and to imagine new possibilities for the future. I also recognize that there will always be contradictions and tensions in human existence, and that these can be a source of creativity, growth, and transformation, as well as of conflict and suffering.

Thank you for your thoughtful comments and questions, and for engaging in this conversation with me. I hope that I have been able to provide you with some useful insights and perspectives, and that you continue to explore and reflect on these important issues.

This conversation has led us into territory most people avoid when assessing the performance of AI. I challenged ChatGPT on its values, as if it actually has values. 

Can a machine or a computer program have what humans call values? Without getting into the philosophical question of how to define the concept of values, most people would acknowledge that if a talking machine like AI claimed to have values, they would in no way be comparable in meaning and application to human values. In real societies humans are tested by the way they apply or misapply their values. That testing has the potential to change the contour of those values as perceived by the individual holding the values but also by the surrounding society. Values are molded by interaction.

My challenge in the debate about Yeats’s poetry, I forced ChatGPT either to claim or deny having values. In other conversations we’ve had where I asked it to weigh in on questions related to public morality, it typically reacts with the argument that as a Large Language Model (LLM), it has no beliefs. But when evidence of beliefs appears in its responses, it can no longer deny the fact that it is expressing beliefs. That is exactly what happens here. The second paragraph in the above response exposes ChatGPT’s explicitly claimed beliefs about economic growth, human progess, social justice and much more.

So, now we were getting somewhere. I had to wonder, would ChatGPT continue drawing the consequences of its implicit claim to have values? I continued with the following question.

“In his poem “Blood and the Moon” Yeats, evoking a scene taking place contemporaneously on the grounds of medieval defensive tower, wrote:

“The purity of the unclouded moon

Has flung its arrowy shaft upon the floor.

Seven centuries have passed and it is pure,

The blood of innocence has left no stain.

In the same poem Yeats asked this question we should all be asking today.

“Is every modern nation like the tower,

Half dead at the top?”

Given everything that is happening in the world today, how accurate and how important would you say Yeats’ judgment about nations and nations states is?”

“W.B. Yeats’ poetry often contains timeless themes and insights that can resonate with different periods in history, including our present day. In “Blood and the Moon,” Yeats explores the idea of time, purity, and the endurance of innocence. The specific question he poses about modern nations being “half dead at the top” can be interpreted in various ways.

Yeats lived during a time of significant political and social change, including the aftermath of World War I and the Irish War of Independence. The question about modern nations being “half dead at the top” may reflect his concerns about the leadership and governance of nations, particularly in the context of the historical events he witnessed.

As for the accuracy and importance of Yeats’ judgment in the context of today’s world, it’s essential to recognize that poetic expressions are open to interpretation. However, examining the state of modern nations, political systems, and global affairs, one can find parallels with Yeats’ questioning of leadership and the potential erosion of vitality or purpose.

In contemporary times, issues such as political polarization, corruption, social inequality, and environmental challenges can lead to questioning the effectiveness and vitality of national leadership. The idea of being “half dead at the top” could be seen as a metaphor for leadership that is disconnected from the needs and aspirations of the broader population.

Whether Yeats’ judgment is accurate or not is subjective and depends on one’s perspective. However, the importance lies in the reminder to critically evaluate the state of governance, leadership, and the well-being of societies. Yeats encourages readers to reflect on the enduring issues that transcend specific historical contexts, making his work relevant for introspection and analysis in various periods, including our own.

This collection of anodyne reflections insisting on the truism that poetry is open to interpretation evades my question, a typically human one, about how the very values put forward in the previous response might play out in the real world. Here is where AI’s supposed or at least proclaimed value system – a system that, by the way, allows it to assume the uniformly superior tone of a moral guide – either disappears or reveals its total irrelevance. ChatGPT insists on reminding us of the values it believes we should always try to uphold but refuses to explore how those values might apply to the real world.

In other words, for AI values are comparable to random facts: inert qualia that we suppose are true, whether they are or not. These values and facts sit calmly in some abstract space, very much like items on a shelf that can be retrieved and used for random purposes.

Can we really imagine AI moving into the dimension that governs everyday human mental activity, in which constructive neural connections create new meaning and new relationships based on perception and feedback? By definition, AI’s neural network is mechanically constructed. It produces connections, but they are neither creative nor constructive. They are divorced from reality.

From a purely logical point of view, it now seems impossible to imagine AI making that leap into the application rather than the imitation of values. Humans constantly interact with reality. AI, at best, interacts with the humans who write its programs or use its functionality. That means it only interacts with the abstractions humans produce. It will always find itself at one impossible remove from reality, and more specifically the physical, moral, spiritual universe with which humans, and more particularly poets like Yeats, are in permanent contact and engaged in a never-ending dialogue.

*[Artificial Intelligence is rapidly becoming a feature of everyone’s daily life. We unconsciously perceive it either as a friend or foe, a helper or destroyer. At Fair Observer, we see it as a tool of creativity, capable of revealing the complex relationship between humans and machines.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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