What it says about artificial intelligence when AI draws birds
I posted this as a thread on Mastodon (I’m trying to practice threads, like climbing a mountain, because it’s there). I kind of like it and want it somewhere where I can find it as well 😛
First, an example of what AI thinks might be a bird from Emily Oliver.
The non-maven non-geek tends to think of Artificial Intelligence like this:
- get powerful computer
- furnish with amazing software
- Presto! AI.
In reality it works like this: 1) get powerful computer. Check. 2) get software. Check. Then the missing step — missing because most people are only dimly aware of it — train the AI on a dataset.
The dataset is selected by the geeks making the AI. (It doesn’t have to be, but that’s how it currently is.) If their dataset is current US physics grads, it’ll be +/- 3/4 white men. If they’re making an resume reading AI for employers, it’ll favor white men because that’s what its training told it is a common trait of physics experts.
It’s obvious if you think about it for a second, but an AI is only as good as its training. It’s almost human that way.
A visual example makes clear how very small differences, mistakes a human would never make, are enough to make nonsense of AI results. Something to remember when AI makes the first cuts on college and job and mortgage and parole applications. From Daniel Solis.
These are from datasets of bird illustrations, after which the AI is told to draw a bird. It doesn’t always draw nonfunctional edge cases. But rather often. So, clearly, it is ESSENTIAL to have public access to the training dataset and methods. (See also Emily Bender.)
Commercial AI, the ones making those resume-reading decisions, all — without exception as far as I know — hide everything under “proprietary.” Think about that as you look at the “birds.”
I think this works very well as a blog post. The combination of images and narrative is quite effective – especially that extra creepy one of the ‘kindly looking bird without a ribcage, etc’. It brings home at a basic level just what’s wrong with the missing parts in AI.
The thread didn’t have the same impact for me over on Mastodon. In my far from expert opinion, I think it may be due to the episodic nature of threads: read, absorb, scroll down, click, read. Which works beautifully for my favorite comfort threads #mosstodon and #catsofmastodon, but not so much for thinking threads.
All that aside, your point is very well made. I wish people were open to more education about just what computers are, as opposed to the human brain. Most people’s idea of AI seems to be a very simple reification of one subset of the astounding capabilities of their own brains: the capacity for abstraction that takes in logic and math. They also do not take into consideration the fact that the governor in human brains is part of the organism itself, whereas in computers, it is still (so far as I know) outside of the logic process.
Euugh – sorry about that last segue. Anyway, great post!
Earlynerd on December 18th, 2022 at 23:14
Thanks for the encouraging feedback, Earlynerd. I agree about threads being a kind of twitchy way to try to communicate a train of thought. Especially with visuals.
I’m not sure we have to worry much about AI. Possibly it’s just this pessimistic patch I’m going through, but everywhere all I see is a collective drive to various kinds of doom. Fossil fuel use being the biggie, of course, but also all the other BS people want to wallow in, unencumbered by even a nod to reality. At the rate things are going, we’re going to be using outhouses and carrying water, not suffering from excess AI cocooning.
But, as I say, I’m feeling mega discouraged, so it may just be the ah-the-hell-with-it talking.
quixote on December 20th, 2022 at 21:39
Entirely understand the discouragement, Quixote.
It does seem as if the denial index has been pretty high recently – might be better to hunker down indoors for a little while. (I used to say “Oh, the dyslexia index was quite high today” when I’d stumble over a word, so why not a denial index?)
Earlynerd on December 21st, 2022 at 01:46
Just another data point in the “when will they ever get it” dataset:
Another recent closing of the incredibly lucrative Dungeness crab season happened here. The very popular public crabbing dock had recently invested, for this area, a huge amount of money in renovations. Once those were complete and the dock opened, this hit. And that’s a drop in the economic bucket compared to the commercial crabbing industry.
This area is encysted in the mindset that whatever exogamous events occur must be caused by librals. Even this economic impact will not cause one person to stop supporting gun totin, jacked up truck drivin, law-n-order (with indictments occurring on a routine basis) Rethugs.
Global warming is causing the collapse of literally millions, and over time, billions of dollars in the livelihoods of men* and townships here. But in the wishful thinking of “if we just shout louder it’ll go away” mindset that utterly failed to prevent thousands dying in this county from COVID, none of these fishermen will do one single thing to stop global warming.
There are studies that show optimists are more effective due to their denial of reality. I can’t help but wonder how that graph looks over the long term.
* The boat operators and business owners, etc, are almost always men – their wives provide cover by doing the books and having their names on the balance sheets. One woman did tragically die a year ago who was a full partner in a very popular seafood restaurant, when their boat went down coming back into harbor in a winter storm.
Earlynerd on December 22nd, 2022 at 23:16
Quixote, very interesting about the A.I. pictures. I hope this gets lots of attention. Scary to think about computers in charge of everything.
socalannie on December 23rd, 2022 at 01:50
Hey, Annie, good to see you here! Yeah, the AI problem is not really any different from the problem we’ve always had: who controls any technology and for what purpose? The way people have fallen for the supposed impersonality / “objectivity” of AI is the biggest danger. That’s what allows who controls it to be hidden.
Earlynerd, re global warming and the people, yes mostly men (…), in macho jobs who stand to lose by it and who can’t seem to fight their way out of a paper bag, hard to imagine what it’s going to take for them to get it. They probably never will. And we all know what reality does to people who don’t get it. The Bad Thing is they’ll take so many of us down with them, as usual.
(I obviously have no problems with being an optimist.)
quixote on December 23rd, 2022 at 11:28
Oh, I’d say you’re an optimist, just one who takes a very long integrated view of things.
Just a last thought on being reality based –
I was scrolling through #caturday over at Mastodon, getting somewhat irritated at all the dog picture posting interlopers and thought “What’s next for TRAs? Demanding everyone be accompanied by a dog we’re all supposed to pretend is a cat?”
Right on cue, the timeline served up this:
“I know everyone is all caught up in the QT debate here but, can we address the real problem with Mastodon???
People who post dog pictures using the Caturday hashtag!!! ?”
The OP doesn’t have anything to do with trans, but it was so germane I just had to repost it.
Earlynerd on December 24th, 2022 at 19:30
Akk! That wasn’t the link to the caturday comment, it’s a link to a shot of a magnificent giant owl perched on photographer’s camera!
This is what I meant to post :<
Earlynerd on December 24th, 2022 at 19:47
I saw the for-heaven’s-sake-dogs-aren’t-cats post over on Mastodon — I think because of your boost — and had a good laugh about it. I’m more of a cat person, so I totally agree. But what’s even funnier is I didn’t connect the dots at all.
Indeed, germane! Although I have a sinking feeling once that becomes clear there’ll be a shitstorm of “How dare you! Totally different!”
quixote on December 26th, 2022 at 09:27
I know, right?
Given the reflexive avoidance that all the bullying has induced in social media, I doubt there’ll be a whole lotta dot-connectin goin on. If there is, said shitstorm would definitely ensue.
Earlynerd on December 26th, 2022 at 21:45