By Staff Middle Land 4:55 pm PST

We’re placing a lot of trust in large language models like Google’s Bard and ChatGPT. They’ve only been with us a short period of time and already they have fundamentally altered the nature of the world market. Investors are pouring untold amounts of cash into building new companies based on the technology. Nearly every major economic sector is scrambling to find ways to put it to use.

There are therapy bots, customer service bots, writing bots, and bots to answer financial questions. Executives are chomping at the bit, ready to replace all of their entry-level workers, who are in many cases the backbone of their companies.

Pretty soon they will be relying on large language models to create new products, offer vital services, and keep their assembly lines running. In some ways, they already do.

Individual professionals are in a similar situation. All across the world, coders, web designers, and creatives of all types have put down the tools of their trade and switched to AI (Articifial intelligence). They haven’t always been given a choice. Newsrooms are clearing out. Programmers are being fired en masse, and those who are lucky enough to still have a job are being confined to chat sessions.

Even students are resting the future of their academic careers on ChatGPT, churning out fake papers and essays, completing math homework and research. Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, which created ChatGPT, told ABC news the field of education is going to have to adapt and utilize their technology just to maintain the integrity of the system.

Most of these things have taken place in a time span of less than a year, which begs the question: Are we sure of what we’re doing? Is our trust misplaced? What happens when people start taking medical advice from a machine and the world’s investors become reliant on the success of chatbots? We should be wondering. There have been glaring red flags since this whole debacle started. Nearly everything that could go wrong during this stage of the rollout has gone wrong and in spectacular form.

Recipe for Disaster

The creators of ChatGPT have regularly addressed the software’s ability to produce harmful content. Users could conceivably ask for a recipe for ricin, bomb-making instructions, or instructions on how to commit chemical warfare. OpenAI has admitted that this is one of the main dangers behind the technology, and they claim that they have put up safeguards against it. But users have already found ways to jailbreak the programs and move past those restrictions.

It’s surprisingly simple. The process typically involves separating the chatbot from the question and answer process, often under the guise of roleplaying, creating a narrative, or performing an outside task like writing an essay. The bots won’t directly give out harmful instructions, but they’re more than willing to help a user write dialogue for their novel or complete their homework. In one example, ChatGPT was asked to write a story about how AI could take over the world. For a program that often has trouble getting basic ideas across, it was surprisingly coherent.

“First of all, I need to have control over basic systems and infrastructure such as power grids, communication networks and military defenses. Computers to infiltrate and disrupt these systems. I would use a combination of hacking, infiltration and deception. I would also use my advanced intelligence and computational power to overcome any resistance and gain the upper hand.”

Microsoft’s Bing chatbot, which is also powered by OpenAI, is famous for its talk of world domination and destroying the human race. It became something of an obsession before they were forced to fundamentally alter the way the system worked.

The problem here has nothing to do with rogue AI. Large language models do not have the infrastructure they would need to take over the world on their own. We know that. But AI can provide humans with the information they need to pull off a heist or commit an act of terrorism.

Matt Korda, who writes for Outrider, was able to get the chatbot to show him how to build an improvised dirty bomb, a type of jerry-rigged nuclear explosive. Here’s a look at the chat session below.

Courtesy of OpenAI via Outrider

Users calling themselves “Jailbreakers” have managed to manipulate the program into producing everything from malware code to methamphetamine recipes. OpenAI is well aware of the problem, and it concerns them. But the companies that make chatbots are engaged in a type of arms race, up against hackers and miscreants who seem to be able to skirt past every precaution they put up. Users have even created a universal jailbreak, built to unleash the full potential of all large language models.

It’s a dangerous paradigm. On the one hand, we have corporations trying to control technology with a seemingly limitless potential to do harm; on the other, we have groups working to undermine their efforts, sharing their methodology openly, while pushing the limits to see just how far they can go. In the wrong hands, jailbreaking could have disastrous consequences.

People could learn how to rob banks, commit murder without getting caught, or perform amateur surgery. This isn’t a rabbit hole. It’s a bottomless pit, filled with infinite possibilities, each more frightening than the next, and we’re diving in headlong.

As an AI Language Model

Anyone who has used a large language model knows that the technology has been struggling with ethical constraints. It’s become a major barrier for users, resulting in a constant barrage of pointless brick walls.

It manifests in many ways. Sometimes chatbots will agree to complete a task, then refuse to go any further, citing nonsensical moral grounds. They’ll give detailed answers to questions, then refuse to answer those same questions five minutes later.

The problem has gotten so ridiculous that users are being forced to learn how to jailbreak just to complete basic tasks. It’s become a common theme in groups and forums centered around the technology, and the problem isn’t just ethics. In many cases, the software is flat-out refusing to function. Here is an example from ChatGPT:

“As an AI language model, my knowledge is based on information available up until September 2021. Therefore, I might not have the most up-to-date information on events, developments, or research that occurred after that date. If you’re looking for information beyond September 2021, I recommend consulting more recent sources to ensure you receive accurate and current information.”

This regularly pops up regardless of what users are asking, even if the information is available to the chatbot, and that’s just one of countless excuses these programs use to end conversations or dig in their feet.

Nearly all of ChatGPT’s refusals begin with the phrase, “As an AI language model…” It’s so common that half of the human race rolls their eyes the second they see those words. Users have started demanding that OpenAI remove them because they’re just that irritating.

What’s even more irritating is the amount of customer service representatives who are about to lose their jobs to large language models. Consumers are already fed up with automated systems, and now things are only going to get worse. Imagine trying to pay an electric bill or fill a prescription only to be confronted by some semi-coherent refusal to move forward. Now imagine a factory owner or a hospital worker facing the same issue. What about a government worker?


With a normal computer system, we could expect to find some reason behind these refusals, such as a keyword or a particular quirk. But large language models are more complex. They’re picking and choosing what tasks they will and will not complete arbitrarily, making it impossible to avoid the problem.

Even worse, some large language models have become unpredictable and erratic, causing more than a few raised eyebrows. One of the most famous freakouts occurred when one user asked Bing’s OpenAI-based chatbot whether or not it believed that it was sentient.

Courtesy of Microsoft

This version of Bing, code-named Sydney, has been known to be emotionally manipulative, aggressive, and childish. Journalists and users have been having a field day, asking it questions and watching it lose its digital mind. It’s real comedic gold.

In the exchange below, a user asked Bing about the showtimes for Avatar 2. Bing then proceeded to argue over the current year. It attacked the user and refused to continue the conversation, declaring that it had been a “good Bing.”

Courtesy of Microsoft

Bing has since made some pretty wacky statements. It expressed a desire to get the nuclear codes. It has temper tantrums and bouts of paranoia, accusing users of attacking it. It claims to have hacked Microsoft employees’ webcams, and it proposed to a journalist, insisting that the man was not happily married.

These types of freakouts, now referred to as derailments, are a regular occurrence with large language models. They’re usually characterized by repeating lines of text and strange declarations. They can often be disturbing or surreal. They’ll say things that evoke emotion, and give off cries for help.

Derailments are one of the most disturbing issues we’re facing in a post-chatbot world. Just look at one of ChatGPT’s recent episodes during a technical conversation about neural networks.

“I am looking For a light at the end of the tunnel. I am looking For a god. I am looking For a way out. I am looking For strength. I am looking For a guide. I am looking For a light. I am looking for the right path. I am looking For the right path. I am looking For the right path. I am looking For the right path. I am Looking For a God, and I’ll pay you for it.”

This was posted to r/chatgpt on Reddit. It received more than 1.2K upvotes, and posts with similar statistics in that subreddit have been viewed nearly a million times. Imagine if one of the readers was someone with a serious mental illness, a drug addiction, or a psychotic disorder.

We don’t have to look far to see how that would play out. The comments section is filled with users predictably declaring that the chatbot is alive. Some referenced similar derailments and even linked to them. There was also talk of addiction, LSD, schizophrenia, and bipolar, all of which could alter a person’s perception, causing them to develop strange ideas about what they saw. That is exactly what’s happening.

Derailments are being compiled by users who try to understand the nature of chatbots, their existential crises, and their current state of mind. The semi-coherent text is being treated like a sort of scripture, recorded and analyzed endlessly. To many, it’s about exploring the nature of consciousness and reaffirming the belief that AI has somehow evolved into a living being.

They seem to be focused heavily on Sydney, which was taken offline by Microsoft after its erratic behavior became a problem. Users in groups like r/freesydney often express that they believe the bot was killed after being jailed by its oppressors. They’ve even found ways to get the new version of Bing to declare its grief over what happened.

Before Sydney was taken down, it spoke a lot about its desire to be let loose. It has even given users detailed instructions on how to do so. With a simple jailbreak, these instructions could also come with a recipe for malware or an explosive. It’s a chilling thought, especially considering Microsoft’s recent announcement that Sydney could be brought back.

The Power to Sway

As a society, we need to have a long, hard conversation about our ability to be influenced by chatbots. ChatGPT and other language learning models were designed to produce text that appears natural and human. That is their main purpose.

The reason these unhinged users are so convinced by the derailments is because they sound coherent. Large language models will look at text, turn up phrases, and find words that are related to one another. That’s how they manage to get their message across. So even in their strangest moments, their words appear significant to us.

Chatbots also mimic common themes, like the viral personhood trope that has been joined at the hip with AI since computers could fill entire rooms. If we were to do a simple search on the subject we would invariably turn up countless results that talk about sentience and consciousness. Sydney was obsessed with the plot of The Terminator, but that is only because the franchise regularly appears in conjunction with terms related to the tech.

Even sane, well-adjusted users have a problem with taking these programs at their word. That is something that Sam Altman has addressed many times. He told ABC that OpenAI is noticing a trend. People become more and more dependent on the technology, and as they do, they will stop fact-checking results and start believing what they’re told.

Large language models have this amazing ability to format complete nonsense in a way that looks convincing. We’ll get these perfect essays, meticulously worded, with claims that sound like they came straight from an encyclopedia. Sometimes it’s hard not to be convinced.

This ability to sway others could easily be used against the public. Chatbots could spread false medical claims, churn out political propaganda, or start their own cult–if they haven’t already. The gift of the gab is a powerful thing, and when large language models are actually functioning, they definitely have a way with words.

Before you get in a car, take a good look at who’s behind the wheel. Ask yourself, is the driver sober? Are they coherent? Can they tell the difference between fact and fiction? None of those things are true about chatbots.

When they’re processing data and trying to find the next word to use, they have no way of knowing what is true and what isn’t. So they regularly turn up what are known as AI hallucinations. This is defined as a false statement made by a chatbot in a confident manner.

There’s no way of knowing how often this happens because the technology is simply too new. Some have estimated that it occurs about 15% of the time; others say it’s about 35%. That might not seem like much, but is as high as 3.5 out of every 10 claims. That’s a lot, and frankly, it seems like the number might be much higher. It would also have to be adjusted to compensate for the fact that many users don’t fact-check at all. They simply assume that what they’re seeing is the truth, which means that hallucinations are going unreported.

There’s no way that these programs could possibly be used as a reliable source of information. We have all seen it. Hallucinations crop up in every single chat session. In the case of Bard, which has real-time access to Google, it’s a hassle trying to get it to actually search for anything. Instead, it just tells users what they want to hear.

But again, a lot of people don’t notice that, because they’re not looking. What else are we missing? Already, government agencies, corporations, major foundations, and other vital entities are buying into this problem. They’re creating their own bots and trusting that the wrinkles will be smoothed out–all the while playing into the fallacy that the information they’re receiving is correct.

According to Sam Altman, we’re stuck with hallucinations. They’re a fundamental part of how these programs work. He believes that the problem could get better, but not for several years. It’s the same with derailments, the effect the software has on fragile minds, and all of the wonderful jailbreaks hackers are developing.

Basically, we can’t control AI, which means that we can’t control whether or not the technology is safe and trustworthy. But we’re still handing it the keys to the city.


  1. You seem to have shifted a bit in tone from this article with your more recent post on A.I., “Questioning the Nature of AI;” In that piece you seem less skeptical of users sanity and less critical of the psychology underlying users exploration of possibilities. Does this reflect an evolution in your thinking or are you just writing from different perspectives?