Monday 27 May, 2024

Punting, anyone?

Quote of the Day

” I should like to bury something precious in every place where I’ve been happy and then, when I’m old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up and remember.

  • Evelyn Waugh

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Keith Richards | “Cocaine Blues”


So effortless.

Long Read of the Day

There’s an article I shouldn’t tell you about – is contempt law in a losing battle with reality?

Really thoughtful piece by Archie Bland, Editor of the paper’s First Edition newsletter.

Background: Coming back on the train from London last Thursday afternoon I read a long, long article by Rachel Aviv in the New Yorker about Lucy Letby, “the most notorious nurse in Britain, who was found guilty of killing seven babies”, and asking whether she was really guilty of those crimes. It’s a classic New Yorker investigative piece — 15 pages long. It makes a pretty good argument for the view that Letby’s conviction was unsound.

Since my current Press Fellows were due to have a talk by Richard Danbury on the implications for journalism of the UK contempt-of-court law the following day, I thought I would send them the New Yorker link. And then discovered that I couldn’t — the article had been ‘geoblocked. But I could have photocopied the pages in the magazine and handed them out — which I did.

Now, over to Archie:

An article has been published in the New Yorker about the trial of Lucy Letby. It has been geoblocked in the UK, but it can still be accessed by some, or read in print copies of the US magazine. It has been raised in parliament, written up by news providers and discussed on social media. I shouldn’t link to it, describe its contents or tell you anything else about it.

By the letter of the law, I also shouldn’t give you more specific detail about why I shouldn’t give you more specific detail, except to say that Letby has a retrial on one charge of attempted murder scheduled for June. But I can at least tell you about the law in England and Wales that has created this surreal situation: the Contempt of Court Act 1981.

You will be familiar with the laudable concept behind this law, which exists to stop anything that will prejudice a court case and prevent a fair trial…

Later. The Court of Appeal on Thursday rejected Letby’s application for permission to appeal against her convictions in September. She will face a retrial at the same court in June on a single count that she attempted to murder a baby girl, known as Child K, in February 2016.

My commonplace booklet

Are LLMs moral hypocrites?

Yes, according to the most abstruse paper I’ve read in a while.

As a case study, we submitted the Moral Foundation Questionnaire and the Moral Foundation Vignettes to four state-of-the-art LLMs: GPT-4, Claude 2.1, Gemini Pro, and LLAMA-2-Chat-70b. Of those, only GPT-4 and Claude 2.1 generated valid outputs for our stimuli.

We found that, within each instrument, both models were capable of presenting moral values with consistency com- parable to human respondents. However, our results utterly lacked any coherence in the values between abstraction levels. We characterise these models as moral hypocrites, failing to apply declared abstract values to concrete situations.

If LLMs are to play a role in morally relevant situations (as they are already being used), we ought to require them not to be hypocrites, and this should be an important aspect of alignment evaluation for future models. This is also relevant for anyone considering replacing human participants with LLMs. Finally, our results are compatible with mimicry instead of conceptual mastery.

Note last sentence and remember that these machines are all trained on everything humans have written that is machine readable. And humans are, well, masterful at hypocrisy.


Something I noticed, while drinking from the Internet firehose.

  • Crows’ feat. From Nature

Carrion crows (Corvus corone) can reliably caw a number of times from one to four on command — a skill that had only been seen in people. Over several months, birds were trained with treats to associate a screen showing the digits, or a related sound, with the right number of calls. The crows were not displaying a ‘true’ counting ability, which requires a symbolic understanding of numbers, say researchers. But they are nevertheless able to produce a deliberate number of vocalizations on cue, which is “a very impressive achievement”, says neuroscientist Giorgio Vallortigara.

(Apologies for the terrible pun)

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