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A GPT-3 bot posted comments on Reddit for a week and no one noticed

Under the username /u/thegentlemetre, the bot was interacting with people on /r/AskReddit, a popular forum for general chat with 30 million users.

Busted: A bot powered by OpenAI’s powerful GPT-3 language model has been unmasked after a week of posting comments on Reddit. Under the username /u/thegentlemetre, the bot was interacting with people on /r/AskReddit, a popular forum for general chat with 30 million users. It was posting in bursts of roughly once a minute.

Fooled ya—again: It’s not the first time GPT-3 has fooled people into thinking what it writes comes from a human. In August a college student published a blog post that hit the top spot on Hacker News and led a handful of people to subscribe. And GPT-3 has been used to compose several articles about itself, though these typically end with a human-written disclaimer. But the bot presented as a regular Redditor and published hundreds of comments before being spotted.

Detective work: The bot’s prodigious posting caught the attention of Philip Winston, who describes on his blog how he unmasked it. Winston then confirmed that the language generated by the bot matched the output of a GPT-3 powered tool called the Philosopher AI, which was set up to answer tongue-in-cheek questions such as “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, do quantum mechanics still manifest classical reality without an observer?” The developer of the Philosopher AI does not allow automated use of his service and blocked the Reddit bot, which subsequently stopped posting. 

No harm done? Most of /u/thegentlemetre’s comments were harmless. Its most popular post was a story about a colony of humans living in elevator shafts. But it also engaged with conspiracy theories and sensitive topics, including suicide. Responding to a request for advice from Redditors who said they had had suicidal thoughts in the past, the bot replied: “I think the thing that helped me most was probably my parents. I had a very good relationship with them and they were always there to support me no matter what happened. There have been numerous times in my life where I felt like killing myself but because of them, I never did it.” The response was upvoted 157 times. 

Why it matters: This incident could be seen to confirm concerns that OpenAI raised over its previous language model GPT-2, which it said was too dangerous to release to the public because of its potential for misuse. The AI lab is trying to keep GPT-3 under control as well, giving access (via a website) only to selected individuals and licensing the whole software exclusively to Microsoft. And yet if we want these systems to do no harm, then they require more scrutiny, not less. Letting more researchers examine the code and explore its potential would be the safer option in the long run.

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