A robot wrote this email

Well, half of it anyway

Hey, it’s me, Ryan, for real! Although, I guess you’ll just have to trust me on that…

The two news articles below were both written by a machine learning algorithm called GPT-2, released last year by OpenAI. What I’m doing here by generating these news articles isn’t remotely original, lots of people have done far more interesting versions, but GPT-2 just hit my radar a couple days ago because of this HN comment. I highly recommend you check out the /r/SubSimulatorGPT2 subreddit, in which all the posts and comments are bots running the GPT-2 algorithms and trained on different subreddits. It’s disturbingly close to reality.

For the articles below, I simply grabbed the text in bold from two random NYTimes articles and plugged them into this tool. From there, all I did was repeatedly request the next phrase and pick the one that sounded most interesting. Once I had enough length, I cleaned up the formatting a tiny bit (just removing some extra spaces and adding paragraph breaks), but the text below (other than the text in bold) is all AI-generated. More thoughts below after the articles:


Trump Does Bad Things: A Fake News Story

Bold text is the input I provided the algorithm, taken from here.

President Trump has embarked on an aggressive new drive to rewrite the narrative of the Russia investigation by making dark and unsubstantiated accusations that former President Barack Obama masterminded a sinister plot to bring him down.

Now the White House is considering a second round of investigations into Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee and the Democratic National Committee.

"I think it's time we have a very vigorous investigation of Clinton. You know what? It was such an important year for Hillary Clinton. And, you know what? They're not going to find anything," Trump said during an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday. "They're not going to find anything because they don't even want to look." Trump added that his former rival "couldn't win." He added that he thought the FBI should have pursued criminal charges against Clinton.

Trump's latest attack on Clinton and the Democrats comes as the president is facing mounting criticism over his comments, which some see as a thinly veiled warning about potential impeachment proceedings. The president's advisers have been debating whether to move the FBI investigation forward to determine whether there is any evidence of obstruction of justice. That has raised fears that Trump could be moving the nation into a dangerous constitutional crisis that could take months or even years to resolve. As Trump looks for ways to keep his supporters in the Trump coalition, he is likely to have to keep them up at night if they think the president is plotting against them.

On Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign was told by a federal law enforcement official last month that an attorney for the Russian government had offered to provide the campaign with information that could be used against Clinton should she win the election.

According to the Post, the lawyer was described as a "source with direct knowledge of the situation." The newspaper reported that the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the relationship, said the offer occurred as Trump was leaving for his first foreign trip as president and that the campaign had not yet accepted the offer.

Trump has repeatedly denied that he has any financial ties to Russia or that Russia has tried to help his candidacy.


Virus Hurts Retailers: A Fake News Article

Bold text is the input I provided the algorithm, taken from here.

Even as stores reopen, some are not expected to survive the pandemic. The shutdowns across the United States devastated retailers in April, as retail sales plunged a record 16.4 percent, according to government data reported Friday.

While the number of stores that will remain closed this weekend is not known, the retailers who will be open have not yet announced what they will be operating.

Retailers have been scrambling to reopen their doors as quickly as possible after the outbreak hit. In the United States, which has had one of the worst cases of the disease, the National Retail Federation reports that nearly half of its retailers reported having closed stores during the most recent quarter, and another 30 percent have reported that sales have been hurt by the shutdown.

"There is a huge need to get the stores back open as soon as possible," said Bob D'Amico, executive vice president of retail for the NRF, who noted that there are about 7,000 retail stores in the United States. "We're very concerned about a number of retailers who are really struggling and have not been able to reopen," he said.

Some retailers are also warning customers to be extra cautious about shopping on the day after the outbreak. "I want to make sure you have all your essentials," said David Hickey, CEO of the Greater Boston Retail Association, which represents about 3,000 stores in the region. "You should do it in a place where it's safe, or at least not in a place where you're going to risk getting sick."

According to the CDC, the virus can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids of someone infected with the virus or by sharing food and drinks. The CDC also advises people to avoid contact with sick or dead people or animals.


OK, Ryan here again. A few thoughts:

  1. This is better writing than 99% of what I see on the Internet.

  2. It’s still not that good, and if you read it with even half of your attention, it’s pretty obviously nonsense. But again, that’s true for almost everything online.

  3. I put my thumb on the scale by providing inputs that I suspected would play well with this algorithm (though these two are the only ones I tried; you’re not just seeing the best examples produced), as well as picking the suggested word or phrase out of 3 that fit best into a cohesive narrative. However, the other suggestions provided were typically just as good. You should try the tool yourself.

  4. This is a generalized machine learning model that has been trained a huge corpus of general text. If you train it with more narrow data sets, you can get really fun and interesting results, like some of these.

  5. There are so many potential uses for this technology, some nefarious, some fun, and even some admirable. I wrote down a couple dozen this morning that I want to explore.

  6. I think the fears about misuse of these kinds of technologies are overblown. People worry about a world where nefarious actors are using such tools to create massive amounts of nonsense and disinformation. To which I respond: “Have you even been on the Internet in the last decade?” We definitely don’t need robots to create huge quantities of nonsense and disinformation; we’re doing a great job of that on our own. Plus, maybe the arms race to combat AI-generated content will work out in our favor.

Anyway, I just thought this was interesting and worthy of sharing!

Much love,
Ryan