The ones who could solve the problem didn’t appear any “brighter” in conversation than the ones who couldn’t

Monday, March 27th, 2023

When OpenAI released GPT-2, S.R. Constantin remarked that it was disturbingly good:

The scary thing about GPT-2-generated text is that it flows very naturally if you’re just skimming, reading for writing style and key, evocative words.


If I just skim, without focusing, they all look totally normal. I would not have noticed they were machine-generated. I would not have noticed anything amiss about them at all.

But if I read with focus, I notice that they don’t make a lot of logical sense.


The point is, if you skim text, you miss obvious absurdities. The point is OpenAI HAS achieved the ability to pass the Turing test against humans on autopilot.

The point is, I know of a few people, acquaintances of mine, who, even when asked to try to find flaws, could not detect anything weird or mistaken in the GPT-2-generated samples.

There are probably a lot of people who would be completely taken in by literal “fake news”, as in, computer-generated fake articles and blog posts. This is pretty alarming. Even more alarming: unless I make a conscious effort to read carefully, I would be one of them.

Robin Hanson’s post Better Babblers is very relevant here. He claims, and I don’t think he’s exaggerating, that a lot of human speech is simply generated by “low order correlations”, that is, generating sentences or paragraphs that are statistically likely to come after previous sentences or paragraphs.


I’ve interviewed job applicants, and perceived them all as “bright and impressive”, but found that the vast majority of them could not solve a simple math problem. The ones who could solve the problem didn’t appear any “brighter” in conversation than the ones who couldn’t.

I’ve taught public school teachers, who were incredibly bad at formal mathematical reasoning (I know, because I graded their tests), to the point that I had not realized humans could be that bad at math — but it had no effect on how they came across in friendly conversation after hours. They didn’t seem “dopey” or “slow”, they were witty and engaging and warm.


Whatever ability IQ tests and math tests measure, I believe that lacking that ability doesn’t have any effect on one’s ability to make a good social impression or even to “seem smart” in conversation.

If “human intelligence” is about reasoning ability, the capacity to detect whether arguments make sense, then you simply do not need human intelligence to create a linguistic style or aesthetic that can fool our pattern-recognition apparatus if we don’t concentrate on parsing content.


The mental motion of “I didn’t really parse that paragraph, but sure, whatever, I’ll take the author’s word for it” is, in my introspective experience, absolutely identical to “I didn’t really parse that paragraph because it was bot-generated and didn’t make any sense so I couldn’t possibly have parsed it”, except that in the first case, I assume that the error lies with me rather than the text. This is not a safe assumption in a post-GPT2 world. Instead of “default to humility” (assume that when you don’t understand a passage, the passage is true and you’re just missing something) the ideal mental action in a world full of bots is “default to null” (if you don’t understand a passage, assume you’re in the same epistemic state as if you’d never read it at all.)


  1. Dan Kurt says:

    RE: High School Teachers to be

    Place: A State College

    Students: All White, almost

    Class: Linear Algebra circa twenty five years ago

    1st test being returned

    Professor: As he is handing back graded tests he said: the six student who don’t get a test come up at the end of today’s class. At that time after cllas the six students were in front of the professer who asked: “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

    Education Student: We are education students who will be teaching high school science and math. Our advisor said to take a course in the Math department so we selected Linear Algebra since we were all well versed in Algebra. Note: in the school of education the math and science is taught by professsors of education not mathematicians.

    Professor: The highest score on the test taken by your group of Education Students is a SIX out of 100. The course is only going to get progressively harder so you all should drop the Linear Algebra and return back to the School of Education and join a course there this semester.

    Education Students: murmering heard and one student said: “if you would spend the time and teach to us the subject at our level we could learn the subject.

    Professor: if you don’t want to Flunk the class drop out now. They did.

    Professor to his friends in the department: “You will not believe the quality of the students, TOP STUDENTS, in the Education College. Then he told the story shaking his head.

    And one may wonder why American students are so ill prepared for college–the answer in a large part because of the fraud of Teacher’s Colleges.

    Dan Kurt

  2. Jim says:

    Dan Kurt:

    Absolutely, unimpeachably true. People have absolutely no idea how bad it is. The teachers are, to a woman, illiterate, innumerate, and utterly uncultured. If you have children and you are sending them to school, public or private, you are aiding and abetting your blood’s intellectual defenestration and otherwise committing heinous child abuse. I was, as a child, sent to both, and I speak from firsthand experience: the paramount aim of the school system is to waste the youth of the youth. A greater crime against humanity can be scarcely imagined—the Holocaust’s lampshades, soap, and bears and eagles are as nothing in comparison. Avoid at any cost.

  3. McChuck says:

    Even the mentally retarded can hold conversations. Speaking without thought is what most people do on a regular basis.

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