2022 has been the year that AI tools have become accessible to the public. 2023 is going to get strange.
Across social media, people have been sharing stories about using ChatGPT to write code, draft blog posts, compose college essays, compile work reports, and even improve their chat-up game (okay, that last one was definitely done as a joke, but the prospect of AI-augmented rizz is still tantalizing). As a reporter who covers this space, it’s been basically impossible to keep up with everything that’s happening, but there is one overarching trend that’s stuck out: AI is going mainstream, and we’re only just beginning to see the effect this will have on the world.
There’s a concept in AI that I’m particularly fond of that I think helps explain what’s happening. It’s called “capability overhang” and refers to the hidden capacities of AI: skills and aptitudes latent within systems that researchers haven’t even begun to investigate yet. You might have heard before that AI models are “black boxes” — that they’re so huge and complex that we don’t fully understand how they operate or come to specific conclusions. This is broadly true and is what creates this overhang.
“Today’s models are far more capable than we think, and our techniques available for exploring [them] are very juvenile,” is how AI policy expert Jack Clark described the concept in a recent edition of his newsletter. “What about all the capabilities we don’t know about because we haven’t thought to test for them?”
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