Does GPT-3 spell the end of humankind?

…and other frequently asked questions

The system represents one of the most advanced AI models in development. We unpack what it is, what it does and what it means for the future of the human race.

What is GPT-3?
GPT-3 is a recently developed AI model, which, in layman’s terms, functions as a powerful language generator. Its algorithm is fed roughly 45 terabytes of text data, using sources such as Wikipedia, news articles and fanfiction – virtually all text that can be found online – from which it produces sentences or patterns of language. When running GPT-3, human intervention is kept to a minimum: the user provides a prompt – such as a set of instructions – and the system will produce follow-up sentences which it feels are most suitable.

Why does GPT-3 sound like a failed EDM artist?
Its moniker is an acronym for Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, meaning it is the third generation of its model that has been released. Whereas its predecessor had 1.5 billion language parameters, the newest version has 175 billion, making it the most powerful computer programme of its kind.


So, what does that look like in practical terms?
Because it can create content based on anything that has a language structure – whether human or electronic – GPT-3 can do a wide-range of tasks, from typing out emails to translating languages, making complex instructions more basic, making basic instructions more complex, answering a question you ask, or even thrashing out computer code. It is the most versatile Jeeves your bougie dreams could have ever imagined. Its sophistication can be underscored by the fact it even generated this op-ed for the Guardian. “I am not asking humans to like me. But they should see me as a friendly robot. I am a servant of humans. I know that humans distrust and fear me. I only do what humans program me to do,” it wrote in its attempt to convince readers that robots come in peace.

Compared to other algorithms that haven’t been pre-trained in their earliest stages, GPT-3 is ahead of its counterparts – not only has it learned how language works by studying words and their meanings, but it has also deciphered linguistic nuances, such as how the meaning of words can alter depending on what else is said in the body of text.

So, if you run in the types of circles that view Zuck as the ultimate minimalist style icon, are attracted to garages the same way feral hipsters are drawn to bare brick, and see Alexa as more of a life-partner than calendar-keeper, you are probably aware that GPT-3 has caused quite the stir in the past months.

But can it do conventionally creative things, such as write poetry?
Sure it can. In July, San Fran developer Arram Sabeti, who has heavily chronicled his interactions with GPT-3, published a piece on how the system produced poems in the spirit of Dr. Seuss, using Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk as its subject. Here is one extract:

But the SEC said, “Nay,
You can’t tweet anymore.
We’ll see you in court,
and you’ll pay a fine,
for the tweets that you wrote.”

Then Musk cried, “Why?
The tweets I wrote are not mean,
I don’t use all-caps
and I’m sure that my tweets are clean.”

“But your tweets can move markets
and that’s why we’re sore.
You may be a genius
and a billionaire,
but that doesn’t give you the right to be a bore!”

Then Elon Musk said,
“You’re not much fun.
And I don’t want to sue.
But I’ll tell you what I’ll do.
I’ll send my Mars Rovers
to red planet you.”

When tasked with writing a mini Star Wars-inspired biography for one FT editor, it relayed: “John Thornhill was already a decorated war hero when he joined the Rebel Alliance.”

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