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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new report lays out the ways that cutting-edge text-generating AI models could be used to aid disinformation campaigns.

Why it matters: In the wrong hands text-generating systems could be used to scale up state-sponsored disinformation efforts — and humans would struggle to know when they're being lied to.

How it works: Text-generating models like OpenAI's leading GPT-3 are trained on vast volumes of internet data, and learn to write eerily life-like text off human prompts.

  • In their new report released this morning, researchers from Georgetown's Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) examined how GPT-3 might be used to turbocharge disinformation campaigns like the one carried out by Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA) during the 2016 election.

What they found: While "no currently existing autonomous system could replace the entirety of the IRA," algorithmically based tech paired with experienced human operators produces results that are nothing less than frightening.

  • Like many other automation and AI technologies, GPT-3's real power is in its ability to scale, says Ben Buchanan, director of the CyberAI Project at CSET and a co-author of the report.
  • GPT-3 "lets operators try a bunch of variants on a message and see what sticks," he says. "The scale might lead to more effective feedback loops and iterations."
  • "A future disinformation campaign may, for example, involve senior-level managers giving instructions to a machine instead of overseeing teams of human content creators," the authors write. "The managers would review the system’s outputs and select the most promising results for distribution."

What to watch: While OpenAI has tightly restricted access to GPT-3, Buchanan notes that it's "likely that open source versions of GPT-3 will eventually emerge, greatly complicating any efforts to lock the technology down."

  • Researchers at Huawei have already created a Chinese-language at the scale of GPT-3, and plan to provide it freely to all.
  • Because identifying the latest computer-generated text is difficult, Buchanan says the best defense is for platforms to "crack down on the fake accounts" used to disseminate misinformation.

The bottom line: Like much of social media more broadly, the report's authors write that systems like GPT-3 seem "more adept as fabulists than as staid truth-tellers."

Go deeper

Pacific Northwest soon to be ground zero for record-shattering heat

Computer model projection showing the unusually strong heat dome over the Pacific Northwest on Sunday. (PivotalWeather).

A heat wave is bringing unprecedented high temperatures to the Pacific Northwest — a region of the country typically cooled by the ocean, rather than central air conditioning. The heat will begin Friday and last into early next week.

Why it matters: The heat wave will shatter monthly and all-time temperature records in the Pacific Northwest. Some of the records could break the old milestones by several degrees.

At least one person killed, 99 missing after deadly Miami-area condo collapse

A massive search-and-rescue operation is underway after a portion of a 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida, collapsed at approximately 1:30 a.m. Thursday, according to AP.

The latest: Officials have accounted for 102 people who lived in the high-rise Champlain Towers South, but 99 people remained unaccounted for by midafternoon, said Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Biden strikes infrastructure deal with bipartisan group of senators

President Biden announced Thursday that he had agreed to a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure plan with a bipartisan group of ten senators, declaring: "We have a deal."

Why it matters: The agreement on the size and scope of an infrastructure package is a major achievement for Biden, who has long been a proponent of bipartisanship, but the compromise still faces serious hurdles in the House and Senate.

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