Friday, January 6, 2023

Global parameters in a neural net: ChatGPT talks to kids

In my post on ChatGPT as a tutor I asked it to explain digestion to a three-year-old. It did so, rather well I thought. I subsequently added an addendum about a NYTimes article where ChatGPT was asked to write stories as a fourth grader and an eighth grader; it did so well enough to fool experts in such matters – though it didn’t fool me (I guessed 9 out or 10), I suspect because I have more experience with the Chatster than those experts did. I’ve included a somewhat edited version of this material in my most recent working paper, Discursive Competence in ChatGPT, Part 1: Talking with Dragons (pp. 53-57).

There I posed this question:

How does ChatGPT modulate its output to fit the knowledge level of a given interlocutor? For that matter, how do we do it, for we do it all the time? [...] It would seem to be some kind of global constraint on the whole system, one that can be set to various values. Correlatively, how must a system of language and cognition be organized so that such constraints can be readily applied?

That’s what I want to think about at the moment.

Humans, of course, grow and learn. We’ve all been 3, 10, and 14, and all ages before and after. Does growth and development somehow leave “traces” that allows us to move back and forth between various levels of development or sophistication? Even if that is true, how is that transmitted to ChatGPT? Afterall, it does not grow or develop in the way humans do. I wouldn’t have those traces, would it?

But it likely has encountered texts directed at various ages during its training. But how does it “shrink wrap” the whole system to fit texts directed at a certain age range? Assuming that’s what it does?

Let us note, however, that vocabulary develops and differentiates over time. Older children and adults use words and syntax not available to younger people. But the constructions younger people use do not drop out of use. This suggests a way to begin thinking about the problem.

Age, however, is not the only source of such global parameters. We have social class, regional and ethnic dialects, we have different occupations, and so forth. An adult expert in quantum mechanics uses one vocabulary when speaking to other experts and a different one when addressing non-experts. It’s a general problem.

I note, finally, that experience is certainly a factor. The wider a person’s range of experience with others the more they are aware of the need to adjust to those differences.

More later.

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