TTT #20: AI Limitations: Maneuvering the Boundaries of Language Models

Stephen CollinsNov 25, 2023

Welcome to this week’s issue of The Tech Toolbox! This week I am talking about large language models and their limitations. As we continue to integrate applications with LLMs more and more, it’s crucial to recognize what these advanced systems can and cannot do.

1. Understanding Context and Knowledge

One of the primary limitations of large language models (LLMs) like GPT-4 is their understanding of context and the bounds of their knowledge. While they can generate information based on a vast database of pre-April 2023 text, their comprehension of recent events, nuanced human experiences, and deep technical expertise is limited. They also cannot access or incorporate real-time information (unless using an external datas source like vector databases), leading to potential gaps in current affairs or latest research findings.

2. Misinformation and Bias

Despite advancements, LLMs can inadvertently perpetuate misinformation and bias. They generate responses based on patterns in the data they were trained on, which may include biased or incorrect information. They were trained to generate plausible text, and while there is often much overlap with plausible and correct generated text… plausible and correct are not the same. This is a significant concern, emphasizing the need for human oversight in critical applications.

3. Lack of Common Sense and Reasoning

LLMs often struggle with tasks requiring common sense or advanced reasoning. LLMs are often thought to have “system one” only thinking, essentially instinctive responses to stimuli (e.g., user prompt), but they struggle with “system two” thinking, which is for higher level, more abstract thinking. They can make logical leaps and connections between topics, but these are based on statistical correlations rather than a human-like understanding. This can result in outputs that, while linguistically correct, may be nonsensical or impractical in real-world scenarios.

4. Creativity and Emotional Intelligence

Creativity and emotional intelligence are inherently human traits that LLMs attempt to mimic but cannot authentically replicate. They can generate creative text or simulate empathy, but these are echoes of human input rather than genuine creativity or emotional understanding.

5. Language and Cultural Nuances

Language is deeply intertwined with culture, and understanding subtle nuances can be challenging for LLMs. They may not always grasp the cultural context or the emotional weight of certain words and phrases, which can lead to misunderstandings or inappropriate responses.

6. Dependence on User Input

The quality of an LLM’s output is heavily dependent on the quality of the input it receives. Vague or poorly structured prompts may lead to less accurate or relevant responses. Users need to learn how to interact effectively with these models to get the best results.

7. Ethical Considerations

The use of LLMs raises ethical questions, particularly around privacy, consent, and the potential for misuse. The development and deployment of these models must be guided by ethical frameworks to ensure they benefit society as a whole.

Closing Thoughts

As we continue to integrate LLMs into various aspects of our digital lives, it’s important to approach them with a clear understanding of their capabilities and limitations. By acknowledging these boundaries, we can work towards more responsible and innovative uses of AI technology.