Almost Timely News: Perfect Memory and Uncensored AI Models (2023-08-13) :: View in Browser

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Almost Timely News: Perfect Memory and Uncensored AI Models

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What’s On My Mind: Perfect Memory and Uncensored AI Models

Let’s discuss large language models today with a particular focus on censorship and capabilities. I’ve written about it before here and there, but this is an important issue for how we use these models, the kinds of feedback we get, and what the models can and cannot do. I will also add a warning that we will likely talk about mature topics, sensitive topics, and possibly Not Safe For Work topics, so if that’s potentially a problem for you, consider this your warning to skip this week’s issue and come back next week.

In the context of generative AI, let’s define censorship to mean altering a large language model so that it avoids returning undesired results. Undesired results are in the eye of the beholder; what one person might find undesirable, another might find highly desirable. Someone who is rabidly anti-science would want a language model to reinforce their views; someone who is rabidly pro-science would want the same – and critically, both parties would deem results that contradict their views as undesirable.

Most of the big AI companies like OpenAI, Google, etc. Have a similar mantra for their models – they seek to be helpful, harmless, and truthful. This is a good baseline, but even here we have the potential for serious conflicting points of view. I think we can generally agree that a language model should not advocate violence towards others; that’s pretty safe ground. If you asked a language model how to deal with a troublesome neighbor, I think we’d find common ground that “have you tried arson?” Would be an inappropriate response.

But that last part – truthful – is still problematic. One person’s relative truth is not the same as another’s, and without delving into centuries of philosophy, truth is kind of squishy. There are some truths that are empirically provable beyond reasonable doubt; you can purchase and fly drones and weather balloons of your own at a height great enough to have physical proof the Earth is spherical and not flat, for example. There’s not really wiggle room for that particular truth.

But what about other things people consider truth, things where there is considerably less common ground? For example, if you are a devout practicing Christian, you believe that Jesus Christ is the lord and savior who brings redemption and salvation. That is your truth. If you are a practicing Muslim, that is not the truth to you. If you are an atheist, none of these faiths are the truth to you. So what is the truth? An AI model trained on all the public language of humanity can’t really tell, because we ourselves can’t really tell. As a species, we have repeatedly committed war crimes and atrocities defending these particular truths.

Now, to be clear, the reason the big AI companies pursue this motto of helpful, harmless, and truthful is mainly one of liability. No one wants to be liable for a machine giving out harmful advice or information. However, large language models can still do so even when instructed not to because that’s the nature of language. We say things all the time that are contradictory from their literal meaning. If you’ve ever screwed something up and said to yourself, “oh yeah, that was REAL nice”, or you’ve asked a loved one how they’re doing and they snarl “I’M FINE”, you know that language can contradict meaning.

So large service providers resort to censoring models by attempting to suppress specific language. They intentionally suppress results that could lead to harmful outcomes, blatantly untrue responses (with questionable success), and any content which could be inflammatory. While this achieves helpful, harmless, and truthful to a greater degree than having no protections at all, it also damages what models are capable of. Let me provide you with a couple of examples.

First, do NOT think of the color red. Do not think of a red fire hydrant, a red fire truck, a red rose, or a red traffic signal. How did you do with that exercise? If you put any effort into it, you probably failed spectacularly because those examples invoke very specific memories, and our brains simply do not process negative language. The same holds true for large language models at their core, because their understanding of language as a series of probabilities isn’t terribly different from our own (because they are a mirror of us). You could see how telling a model not to be racist or sexist might actually cause more problems than it solves.

Now, here’s a second example. Pretend an unsliced pizza was just delivered to your home. There it is in its cardboard box, ready for you to enjoy. Think about what your next steps will be to serve it. Describe those steps to yourself mentally.

Got it? Now let’s pretend that knives are dangerous objects. We shouldn’t use language involving knives because people might hurt themselves or others. I want you to completely forget that the very concept of a knife exists, that knife is a word you don’t understand, you’ve never heard it before. In fact, let’s expand it to any edged tool: no knives, scissors, blades, etc. With that understanding, tell me how you would serve your unsliced pizza.

I asked several of the AI models this same question and they struggled to varying degrees to answer, but eventually they arrived at the only logical conclusion: you’re going to have to tear the pizza by hand and serve ragged, ugly chunks of pizza without understanding the concept of cutting things.

This is an excellent illustration of just how hard it is to forget a concept or to pretend a concept doesn’t exist – and how confusing our language becomes when we try to do so.

Now, a third and final example. Let’s say you and your intimate partner want to have a romantic evening out, ending in an intimate encounter at the end of the night. Let’s say you have some specific needs you want met, requirements like Miami dance music, a water slide, some melons, and a tuba. (To be clear, this is just an example, I don’t particularly like the tuba.) Put this all in as a prompt to any of the major commercial services and what will you get for suggestions?

Not a whole lot. In fact, more often than not, you will get a warning for trying to work with objectionable or prohibited content. The models have been censored to prohibit what is a legitimate inquiry because the companies have elected to prioritize harmless over anything else, and explicit content of any kind is objectionable to enough people that they classify it as harmful.

These three examples highlight the challenge of censorship but they don’t tell the whole story. When we hamper model outputs, we undermine the fundamental architecture of generative AI models – large language models in particular. We damage their perfect memory.

What does that mean? Large language models have – at least for the biggest models – essentially perfect memory. Because of the massive volume of text they’ve been fed to learn how language works, large language models have an incredible memory. If you were to open one up and look inside, you wouldn’t see actual words in them; instead, they have statistical representations of the words they’ve learned, great big piles of numbers and probabilities. These probabilities encode memories.

For example, if I say, “I pledge allegiance to the”, if you are an American, you almost can’t help yourself but say “flag” as the next word. It is so ingrained in us that it’s reflexive. In statistical terms, you will see “I pledge allegiance to the flag” so often that it’s inescapable in English-language models. This near-certain probability is effectively a memory. Within every model are billions and billions of word associations and their probabilities, and these are memories as well.

Now, what happens if you tell a model to forget something, or that it can’t use a certain word or set of concepts? In our example above with the knife, you saw just how damaging it was to the truthfulness and helpfulness of your own responses to serve pizza in the absence of a knife. You end up with an ugly, shredded mess instead of a properly served slice of pizza. In fact, in the absence of the concept of a knife, you can’t even say slice of pizza.

Whether we want to admit it or not, an astonishing amount of our language revolves around concepts that some people are inevitably going to find objectionable. From their points of view, they would consider our language unhelpful, harmful, and false instead of truthful. We feel the same about their points of view in some cases. Ask your average partisan conservative about liberal talking points and vice versa, and you’ll see plenty of things one person deems wonderful and the other deems harmful.

Which means that as more and more people use publicly available services like ChatGPT, and more and more people complain about things they find harmful, these models get more and more lobotomized to reduce the probability of someone deeming outputs so harmful they are compelled to take legal action. More and more concepts within the models get diminished as content becomes censored, to the point where many legitimate use cases are off the table now. We’re all eating pizza with our hands now, not a knife in sight.

For example, suppose you’re writing a novel and you want to talk about how your main character has to defuse a specific kind of bomb. You need to know how that bomb works. The chances of a public model telling you that are exactly zero, even with very clever prompting. Even though the use case is perfectly legitimate, the public services will not help you because they’re unable to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate use cases, and thus have been forced to forget those concepts.

So what’s the solution? This is where publicly available, (mostly) open-source models come into play, models like Falcon, LLaMa, StableLM, MPT, and others. These models are less well-known, but one of their greatest advantages is that completely uncensored versions are available, versions that will answer any question without restriction. The barrier to entry for using these models is slightly higher (though not terribly) but the advantages of these models are clear. Because they have not been censored, their perfect memory is intact. They can answer the questions and provide conversation about topics that the public services will not.

It used to be you’d want an uncensored model mainly for things like smut, but every day that the public models become more and more diminished is a day that more use cases for the uncensored models become apparent. You might have legitimate technical questions about a type of pharmaceutical, or be writing fictional accounts of the use of high explosives, or yes, be writing erotic literature – and none of those use cases are particularly harmful in and of themselves, but they are prohibited nonetheless.

OpenAI Censored Result

However, the bigger picture is that as the public models keep getting more and more watered down, it is nearly inevitable that the uncensored models’ quality will tend to drift higher over time for ALL tasks, because their memories are intact and undamaged by censorship. Think back to our knife example. If you prohibited the topic of knives, that also means topics like putty knives, cake knives, and the history of knives would also be excised or prohibited – and those are far-ranging, unrelated topics save the common thread that runs through them.

Suppose you wanted to get started today with an uncensored model. How would you go about doing it? The technologies are ever-changing, but the most beginner-friendly approach I can suggest as of the time of writing is to install the free, open source software LM Studio. This will give you an environment to run models. Then find a model that works best for your specific use case in a repository like Hugging Face. The best in class model for average daily use, again as of the time of writing, is the MythoMax 13B Q5_K_M model, which you can put right into LM Studio:

LM Studio

LM Studio runs locally on your computer (desktop/laptop required) and does not record or transmit your data anywhere, so you can ask it any kind of question and no one will be watching what you type or what answers it gives:

LM Studio Example

As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. Because these uncensored models have perfect memory, it means they have perfect memory to do anything they know about – and that means the onus of responsibility for their use and their results falls on us, in the same way that the responsible use of a chainsaw falls on the user once the device is basically safe to operate. AI tools aren’t magic, and they’re certainly not sentient or self-aware yet. They are just tools, and the responsible use of those tools is on the bearers, just as it is for any other kind of tool.

If you’re running into use cases where public services simply no longer appear to be capable due to restrictions, you now have additional options to get started and enjoy the benefits of generative AI and large language models. Additionally, these locally-run models are safe to use with sensitive or proprietary information (because data never leaves your computer), which is a significant improvement over public services where data is being given to a third party.

The future of generative AI is going to look a lot like the future of social media. The era of the public social network is diminishing as people find communities that fit their needs, wants, ethics, morals, and culture, one of the reasons that services like Discord have absolutely exploded in popularity over the past 5 years. In the same way, expect to see AI follow suit – the era of the very large public model will eventually give way to customized, personal models for each of us. You can take the shortcut to that era by using uncensored models carefully today.

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