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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

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 10, 2021 - Technology

OpenAI's Codex turns written language into computer code

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A new AI system can read written instructions in conversational language and transform it into working computer code.

Why it matters: The model is the latest example of progress in natural language processing, the ability of AIs to read and write text.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Texas governor: "All hostages are out alive and safe"

SWAT team members deploy near the Congregation Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. Photo: Andy Jacobsohn/AFP via Getty Images

All four hostages have been safely released after a day-long standoff at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said on Saturday night.

The latest: "Around 9 p.m., the HRT — hostage rescue team — breached the synagogue, they rescued the three [remaining] hostages, the suspect is deceased," said police chief Michael Miller of Colleyville, located roughly 15 miles northeast of Fort Worth. The other hostage had been released earlier Saturday.

The new normal: Google searches reveal America's COVID shopping habits

Data: The New Normal; Google Trends; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

As the pandemic enters its third year, some of America's COVID-era shopping habits — including strong demand for tequila and sweatpants — are here to stay.

Driving the news: Axios worked with Google Trends and the Schema Design firm to create The New Normal, which analyzes the products Americans have Googled since 2020. Items with a lasting increase in search interest help fill in the details of what our "new normal" looks like.

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