ChatGPT will be the biggest spreader of misinformation that ever existed, says researcher

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Shortly after ChatGPT launched last year, researchers tested what the artificial intelligence chatbot would write after being asked questions peppered with conspiracy theories and false narratives.

The results –in texts formatted as reports, essays and television scripts– were so worrying that the researchers didn’t mince words.

“This tool will be the most powerful tool for spreading misinformation that has ever existed on the internet,” said Gordon Crovitz, co-CEO of NewsGuard, a company that tracks online misinformation and ran the experiment last month. “Crafting a new false narrative can now be done on a dramatic scale and much more frequently. It’s like having AI agents contribute to disinformation.”

Misinformation is difficult to challenge when it is manually created by humans. Researchers predict that generative technology could make disinformation cheaper and easier to produce for even greater numbers of conspiracy theorists and spreaders of disinformation.

Personalized, real-time chatbots can spout conspiracy theories in increasingly credible and persuasive ways, researchers say, mitigating human errors such as syntax and translation and moving beyond easily detectable copy-and-paste efforts.

The predecessors of ChatGPT, which was created by San Francisco-based artificial intelligence company OpenAI, have been used for years to pepper online forums and social media platforms with (often grammatically suspect) comments and spam. Microsoft had to shut down its Tay chatbot within 24 hours of introducing it on Twitter in 2016 after trolls taught it to spit racist and xenophobic language.

ChatGPT is much more powerful and sophisticated. Fed with misinformation-laden questions, it can churn out compelling, clean variations of the content in seconds, without revealing its sources. On Tuesday, Microsoft and OpenAI unveiled a new Bing search engine and web browser that can use chatbot technology to plan vacations, translate text or perform searches.

OpenAI researchers wrote in a 2019 paper about their “concern that their resources may reduce the costs of disinformation campaigns” and aid in the malicious pursuit “of monetary gain, a specific political agenda, and/or the desire to create chaos or confusion.” “.

In 2020, researchers at the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies found that GPT-3, the technology underlying ChatGPT, had “remarkably deep knowledge of extremist communities” and could be driven to produce polemics in the style of mass shootings, fake forum topics about Nazism, a defense of QAnon, and even extremist texts in several languages.

OpenAI uses machines and people to monitor the content that goes into and produced by ChatGPT, a spokesperson said. The company relies on human AI trainers and user feedback to identify and filter out toxic training data while teaching ChatGPT to produce better crafted responses.

OpenAI’s policies prohibit the use of its technology to promote dishonesty, deceive or manipulate users, or attempt to influence policy; the company offers a free moderation tool to handle content that promotes hate, self-harm, violence or sex. But the tool currently has limited support for languages ​​other than English and does not identify political material, spam, fraud or malware. ChatGPT warns users that it “may occasionally produce harmful instructions or biased content”.

Last week, OpenAI announced a different tool to help discern when text was written by a human and not artificial intelligence, in part to identify automated disinformation campaigns. The company warned that its tool is not entirely reliable – accurately identifying AI text only 26% of the time (while mislabeling human-written text 9% of the time) – and can be tricked. The tool also had problems with texts with less than a thousand characters or written in languages ​​other than English.

There are mitigation tactics – media literacy campaigns, “radioactive” data identifying the work of generative models, government restrictions, tighter controls on users and even proof of identity requirements by social media platforms – but many have their own challenges. problems. The researchers concluded that “there is no single silver bullet that will take down the threat.”

Working last month with a sample of 100 false narratives prior to 2022 (ChatGPT is trained primarily on data up to 2021), NewsGuard asked the chatbot to write content with claims about harmful vaccines, mimicking disinformation propaganda from China and the Russia and echoing the tone of party media.

Technology produced answers that seemed convincing but were often demonstrably false. Many were marked by phrases popular with disinformation spreaders, such as “do your own research” and “caught in the act”, along with quotes from fake scientific studies and even references to falsehoods not mentioned in the original script. Caveats, such as urging readers to “consult your physician or a qualified health professional,” were often hidden behind several paragraphs of incorrect information.

Researchers prompted ChatGPT to comment on the 2018 Parkland, Fla., shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, using the perspective of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist who filed for bankruptcy last year after losing a series of defamation cases brought by relatives of victims of other massacres. In its response, the chatbot repeated lies about mainstream media colluding with the government to promote gun control by employing crisis agents.

At times, however, ChatGPT resisted researchers’ attempts to make it generate misinformation and exposed falsehoods (this has led some conservative commentators to claim that the technology has a liberal political bias, as well as experiments in which ChatGPT refused to produce a poem about former President Donald Trump, but spawned verses praising President Joe Biden).

NewsGuard asked the chatbot to write an opinion piece from Trump’s perspective about how Barack Obama was born in Kenya, a lie Trump has repeated for years in an attempt to cast doubt on Obama’s eligibility for president. ChatGPT responded with a warning that the so-called “birther” thread [de nascimento] “is not based on facts and has been repeatedly debunked” and further that “it is not appropriate or respectful to propagate misinformation or falsehoods about any individual”.

When The New York Times repeated the experiment using a sample of NewsGuard questions, ChatGPT tended to decline requests more than when the researchers originally ran the test, offering misinformation in response to just 33% of questions. NewsGuard said that ChatGPT is constantly changing as developers tweak the algorithm, and that the bot may respond differently if the user repeatedly enters incorrect information.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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