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January 9 2024

#124 Synthetic Dilemma: Navigating the Moral Hazards of AI and Content Creation

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In our previous newsletter, I highlighted a subtle yet troubling behavior in large language models (LLMs) — a resemblance to competitive jealousy. However, the crux of our discussion extends into the realm of moral hazard, particularly within the context of Reinforcement Learning from Human Feedback (RLHF) conducted by operators in AI labs.

The Moral Hazard

This issue goes beyond the natural evolution and expected imprecision of LLMs. It centers on the risk associated with anonymous trainers who, knowingly or not, steer these models with their personal biases. Such actions, while often unseen, can significantly skew the accuracy of LLMs, leading them to reflect individual prejudices rather than objective truths.

The Synthetic Data

Now, let's shift gears to a topic refreshingly free from the shadows of moral hazard: synthetic data. As regular readers know, I'm a staunch advocate for synthetic data and have explored its potential in various writings. The true power of synthetic data becomes evident when we consider its applications in safety-critical simulations.

Imagine being able to model and learn from rare car crashes or even complex airplane accidents — all without the real-world risks. By harnessing synthetic data, we can train autonomous vehicles and aviation systems through simulations that mirror reality without endangering a single life. This approach doesn't just incrementally improve safety; it revolutionizes it, catapulting us into a new era of technological advancement and efficiency.

The beauty of synthetic data lies in its ability to bridge the gap between theory and practical, real-world application, all while upholding the utmost safety standards. It's an exciting frontier where the possibilities for innovation and progress are truly boundless.

The Synthetic Content

As synthetic data gains popularity, it's beginning to experience something of a rite of passage. When a concept starts to catch on, it often gets stretched in different directions — and not always accurately. This is where we are with synthetic data: it's becoming so popular that it's starting to get a bit muddled with something else — synthetic content.

To illustrate synthetic content, imagine a world where cars, not humans, are the primary drivers. This is akin to letting LLMs generate content. Normally, humans drive cars, but in this reversed scenario, cars are essentially 'driving' humans. Consider the existing issue of drunk driving, a grave concern with human drivers at the helm. If cars were in control and metaphorically 'drinking,' the chaos could be even greater. This analogy reflects the worries surrounding synthetic content: letting LLMs (the 'cars') steer our narratives could lead us to unforeseen and potentially unwelcome places.

However, there is a silver lining. Authors hold a personal stake in their work, as their reputation is inherently tied to the uniqueness and quality of their content. Over-reliance on AI for generating original ideas may compromise their credibility. Generative AI should serve to refine and enhance content rather than replace the distinctive insights and perspectives that only humans can provide. This approach upholds the delicate balance between technological support and the irreplaceable human element in content creation. It entails harnessing AI to amplify our capabilities while preserving the essential, contemplative, authentic expression embodying top-notch content.


In closing, our exploration into LLMs and synthetic content raises important ethical considerations and invites a reevaluation of our fears and expectations. While vigilance is necessary in the face of potential biases in RLHF, the concerns about synthetic content need to be contextualized. The integrity of authors and the evolving mechanisms for verifying digital content, like the blue-check verification system X implemented, play a crucial role in mitigating risks.