Chatbots May ‘Hallucinate’ More Often Than Many Realize

Cade Metz at The New York Times: “When the San Francisco start-up OpenAI unveiled its ChatGPT online chatbot late last year, millions were wowed by the humanlike way it answered questions, wrote poetry and discussed almost any topic. But most people were slow to realize that this new kind of chatbot often makes things up.

When Google introduced a similar chatbot several weeks later, it spewed nonsense about the James Webb telescope. The next day, Microsoft’s new Bing chatbot offered up all sorts of bogus information about the Gap, Mexican nightlife and the singer Billie Eilish. Then, in March, ChatGPT cited a half dozen fake court cases while writing a 10-page legal brief that a lawyer submitted to a federal judge in Manhattan.

Now a new start-up called Vectara, founded by former Google employees, is trying to figure out how often chatbots veer from the truth. The company’s research estimates that even in situations designed to prevent it from happening, chatbots invent information at least 3 percent of the time — and as high as 27 percent.

Experts call this chatbot behavior “hallucination.” It may not be a problem for people tinkering with chatbots on their personal computers, but it is a serious issue for anyone using this technology with court documents, medical information or sensitive business data.

Because these chatbots can respond to almost any request in an unlimited number of ways, there is no way of definitively determining how often they hallucinate. “You would have to look at all of the world’s information,” said Simon Hughes, the Vectara researcher who led the project…(More)”.

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