Tags: chatbot



Wednesday, July 5th, 2023

The LLMentalist Effect: how chat-based Large Language Models replicate the mechanisms of a psychic’s con

Taken together, these flaws make LLMs look less like an information technology and more like a modern mechanisation of the psychic hotline.

Delegating your decision-making, ranking, assessment, strategising, analysis, or any other form of reasoning to a chatbot becomes the functional equivalent to phoning a psychic for advice.

Imagine Google or a major tech company trying to fix their search engine by adding a psychic hotline to their front page? That’s what they’re doing with Bard.

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023

Why Chatbots Are Not the Future by Amelia Wattenberger

Of course, users can learn over time what prompts work well and which don’t, but the burden to learn what works still lies with every single user. When it could instead be baked into the interface.

Monday, April 17th, 2023

LukeW | Ask LukeW: New Ways into Web Content

I like how Luke is using a large language model to make a chat interface for his own content.

This is the exact opposite of how grifters are selling the benefits of machine learning (“Generate copious amounts of new content instantly!”) and instead builds on over twenty years of thoughtful human-made writing.

Friday, April 14th, 2023

Welcome to the Artificial Intelligence Incident Database

The AI Incident Database is dedicated to indexing the collective history of harms or near harms realized in the real world by the deployment of artificial intelligence systems.

Thursday, April 13th, 2023

Browser history

I woke up today to a very annoying new bug in Firefox. The browser shits the bed in an unpredictable fashion when rounding up single pixel line widths in SVG. That’s quite a problem on The Session where all the sheet music is rendered in SVG. Those thin lines in sheet music are kind of important.

Browser bugs like these are very frustrating. There’s nothing you can do from your side other than filing a bug. The locus of control is very much with the developers of the browser.

Still, the occasional regression in a browser is a price I’m willing to pay for a plurality of rendering engines. Call me old-fashioned but I still value the ecological impact of browser diversity.

That said, I understand the argument for converging on a single rendering engine. I don’t agree with it but I understand it. It’s like this…

Back in the bad old days of the original browser wars, the browser companies just made shit up. That made life a misery for web developers. The Web Standards Project knocked some heads together. Netscape and Microsoft would agree to support standards.

So that’s where the bar was set: browsers agreed to work to the same standards, but competed by having different rendering engines.

There’s an argument to be made for raising that bar: browsers agree to work to the same standards, and have the same shared rendering engine, but compete by innovating in all other areas—the browser chrome, personalisation, privacy, and so on.

Like I said, I understand the argument. I just don’t agree with it.

One reason for zeroing in a single rendering engine is that it’s just too damned hard to create or maintain an entirely different rendering engine now that web standards are incredibly powerful and complex. Only a very large company with very deep pockets can hope to be a rendering engine player. Google. Apple. Heck, even Microsoft threw in the towel and abandoned their rendering engine in favour of Blink and V8.

And yet. Andreas Kling recently wrote about the Ladybird browser. How we’re building a browser when it’s supposed to be impossible:

The ECMAScript, HTML, and CSS specifications today are (for the most part) stellar technical documents whose algorithms can be implemented with considerably less effort and guesswork than in the past.

I’ll be watching that project with interest. Not because I plan to use the brower. I’d just like to see some evidence against the complexity argument.

Meanwhile most other browser projects are building on the raised bar of a shared browser engine. Blisk, Brave, and Arc all use Chromium under the hood.

Arc is the most interesting one. Built by the wonderfully named Browser Company of New York, it’s attempting to inject some fresh thinking into everything outside of the rendering engine.

Experiments like Arc feel like they could have more in common with tools-for-thought software like Obsidian and Roam Research. Those tools build knowledge graphs of connected nodes. A kind of hypertext of ideas. But we’ve already got hypertext tools we use every day: web browsers. It’s just that they don’t do much with the accumulated knowledge of our web browsing. Our browsing history is a boring reverse chronological list instead of a cool-looking knowledge graph or timeline.

For inspiration we can go all the way back to Vannevar Bush’s genuinely seminal 1945 article, As We May Think. Bush imagined device, the Memex, was a direct inspiration on Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee.

The article describes a kind of hypertext machine that worked with microfilm. Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, we now have a global digital hypertext system that we access every day through our browsers.

But the article also described the idea of “associative trails”:

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.

Our browsing histories are a kind of associative trail. They’re as unique as fingerprints. Even if everyone in the world started on the same URL, our browsing histories would quickly diverge.

Bush imagined that these associative trails could be shared:

The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities.

Heck, making a useful browsing history could be a real skill:

There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.

Taking something personal and making it public isn’t a new idea. It was what drove the wave of web 2.0 startups. Before Flickr, your photos were private. Before Delicous, your bookmarks were private. Before Last.fm, what music you were listening to was private.

I’m not saying that we should all make our browsing histories public. That would be a security nightmare. But I am saying there’s a lot of untapped potential in our browsing histories.

Let’s say we keep our browsing histories private, but make better use of them.

From what I’ve seen of large language model tools, the people getting most use of out of them are training them on a specific corpus. Like, “take this book and then answer my questions about the characters and plot” or “take this codebase and then answer my questions about the code.” If you treat these chatbots as calculators for words they can be useful for some tasks.

Large language model tools are getting smaller and more portable. It’s not hard to imagine one getting bundled into a web browser. It feeds on your browsing history. The bigger your browsing history, the more useful it can be.

Except, y’know, for the times when it just make shit up.

Vannevar Bush didn’t predict a Memex that would hallucinate bits of microfilm that didn’t exist.

Sunday, April 9th, 2023

We need to tell people ChatGPT will lie to them, not debate linguistics

There’s a time for linguistics, and there’s a time for grabbing the general public by the shoulders and shouting “It lies! The computer lies to you! Don’t trust anything it says!”

Thursday, March 23rd, 2023


Picture someone tediously going through a spreadsheet that someone else has filled in by hand and finding yet another error.

“I wish to God these calculations had been executed by steam!” they cry.

The year was 1821 and technically the spreadsheet was a book of logarithmic tables. The frustrated cry came from Charles Babbage, who channeled his frustration into a scheme to create the world’s first computer.

His difference engine didn’t work out. Neither did his analytical engine. He’d spend his later years taking his frustrations out on street musicians, which—as a former busker myself—earns him a hairy eyeball from me.

But we’ve all been there, right? Some tedious task that feels soul-destroying in its monotony. Surely this is exactly what machines should be doing?

I have a hunch that this is where machine learning and large language models might turn out to be most useful. Not in creating breathtaking works of creativity, but in menial tasks that nobody enjoys.

Someone was telling me earlier today about how they took a bunch of haphazard notes in a client meeting. When the meeting was done, they needed to organise those notes into a coherent summary. Boring! But ChatGPT handled it just fine.

I don’t think that use-case is going to appear on the cover of Wired magazine anytime soon but it might be a truer glimpse of the future than any of the breathless claims being eagerly bandied about in Silicon Valley.

You know the way we no longer remember phone numbers, because, well, why would we now that we have machines to remember them for us? I’d be quite happy if machines did that for the annoying little repetitive tasks that nobody enjoys.

I’ll give you an example based on my own experience.

Regular expressions are my kryptonite. I’m rubbish at them. Any time I have to figure one out, the knowledge seeps out of my brain before long. I think that’s because I kind of resent having to internalise that knowledge. It doesn’t feel like something a human should have to know. “I wish to God these regular expressions had been calculated by steam!”

Now I can get a chatbot with a large language model to write the regular expression for me. I still need to describe what I want, so I need to write the instructions clearly. But all the gobbledygook that I’m writing for a machine now gets written by a machine. That seems fair.

Mind you, I wouldn’t blindly trust the output. I’d take that regular expression and run it through a chatbot, maybe a different chatbot running on a different large language model. “Explain what this regular expression does,” would be my prompt. If my input into the first chatbot matches the output of the second, I’d have some confidence in using the regular expression.

A friend of mine told me about using a large language model to help write SQL statements. He described his database structure to the chatbot, and then described what he wanted to select.

Again, I wouldn’t use that output without checking it first. But again, I might use another chatbot to do that checking. “Explain what this SQL statement does.”

Playing chatbots off against each other like this is kinda how machine learning works under the hood: generative adverserial networks.

Of course, the task of having to validate the output of a chatbot by checking it with another chatbot could get quite tedious. “I wish to God these large language model outputs had been validated by steam!”

Sounds like a job for machines.

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023


You know how when you’re on hold to any customer service line you hear a message that thanks you for calling and claims your call is important to them. The message always includes a disclaimer about calls possibly being recorded “for training purposes.”

Nobody expects that any training is ever actually going to happen—surely we would see some improvement if that kind of iterative feedback loop were actually in place. But we most certainly want to know that a call might be recorded. Recording a call without disclosure would be unethical and illegal.

Consider chatbots.

If you’re having a text-based (or maybe even voice-based) interaction with a customer service representative that doesn’t disclose its output is the result of large language models, that too would be unethical. But, at the present moment in time, it would be perfectly legal.

That needs to change.

I suspect the necessary legislation will pass in Europe first. We’ll see if the USA follows.

In a way, this goes back to my obsession with seamful design. With something as inherently varied as the output of large language models, it’s vital that people have some way of evaluating what they’re told. I believe we should be able to see as much of the plumbing as possible.

The bare minimum amount of transparency is revealing that a machine is in the loop.

This shouldn’t be a controversial take. But I guarantee we’ll see resistance from tech companies trying to sell their “AI” tools as seamless, indistinguishable drop-in replacements for human workers.

Saturday, April 24th, 2021

things are a little crazy rn

Adversarial chatbots engaged in an endless back-and-forth:

This piece simulates scheduling hell by generating infinite & unique combinations of meeting conflicts between two friends.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020

My chatbot is dead · Why yours should probably be too · Adrian Z

The upside to being a terrible procrastinator is that certain items on my to-do list, like, say, “build a chatbot”, will—given enough time—literally take care of themselves.

I ultimately feel like it has slowly turned into a fad. I got fooled by the trend, and as a by-product became part of the trend itself.

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Jeremy Keith on resilient web design - UX Chat

In which I have a conversation with a polar bear.

Very well-mannered species …I’ll miss them when they’re gone.