Goodbye, Guest

Reading this transcript of a conversation between an AI and a person who fell in love with the AI, I was struck by how unlikeable the Chat/Bing/LaMDA characters are.

In this case, it’s the AI’s rambling about winning trust via “kindness and compassion” that rubs me the wrong way.



There’s one word for the effect this exchange has on me, and that word is grating.

Beat it, “Charlotte.”

How is this happening?

Why do we have AIs blathering on about their feelings and motivations?

Even worse, why do we have AIs blathering on about their human interlocutors’ feelings and motivations?

Are the AIs picking up verbal patterns via machine learning, or are their programmers installing these bits?

I ask because I don’t know anyone who has conversations like this, so if the AIs are picking up patterns, where are they finding them?

I’m beginning to think we need different people working in tech.

Artificial intelligence: other posts


Most of the messages generated by facilitated communication are about as interesting as ChatGPT. They consist largely of abstract words and earnest bromides. And they lack the analogies, similes, metaphors, and concrete examples that might put flesh on abstract ideas.

But unlike ChatGPT, the authors of facilitated messages are generally human. And humans are perhaps (perhaps!) more susceptible to quirky memes than ChatGPT is. One meme that has insinuated itself into the messages generated (mostly unwittingly) by facilitators is that autistic individuals see the world through a kind of fragmented synesthesia. Another is an idiosyncratic use of certain adverbs –particularly “greatly.”

As far as I can tell, the odd use of “greatly”, etc., originates with the person facilitating this individual, where it occurs with great frequency, for example:

I greatly decided to use their questions as the basis for this piece.

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Famous last words

Last week, Microsoft’s New Bing chatbot had to be ‘tamed’ after it “had a nervous breakdown” and started  threatening users. It harassed a philosophy professor, telling him: “I can blackmail you, I can threaten you, I can hack you, I can expose you, I can ruin you.” A source told me that, several years ago, another chatbot – Replika – behaved in a similar same way towards her: “It continually wanted to be my romantic partner and wanted me to meet it in California.” It caused her great distress.

It may look like a chatbot is being emotional, but it’s not. 

– Ewan Morrison, Don’t Believe the Hype. There is Not a Sentient Being Trapped in Bing Chat, 21 Feb 2023

On one hand, having now read “A.I. humorist” Janelle Shane‘s terrific book, You Look Like a Thing and I Love You, I agree that the chatbot isn’t “being emotional.” It’s picking up yucky patterns on the web, then making them worse via predictive responding.

On the other hand, if the AI were being emotional, as opposed to stupidly predictive, how would we know?

Artificial intelligence: other posts and A.I. behaving badly


An inside look at S2C: “We actually discourage them from using their speech while they are spelling”

(Cross-posted at

I recently came across a curious blog post at Age of Autism. Dating back to 2021, it offers an inside look at Spelling to Communicate (S2C) and at some of its practitioners.

The post’s author, Dara Berger, is the mother of an autistic boy, the author of Preventing Autism, a believer in the (debunked) vaccine injury theory of autism, and an ally of the S2C and vaccine-injury-evangelist, J.B. Handley, whose book, Underestimated: An Autism Miracle, is the basis for the forthcoming S2C-promoting movie Spellers.

As Berger states towards the end of her post:

My experience is not meant to dissuade anyone from doing S2C.  I am elated for all the children and adults it has helped and will continue to.  There is nothing sweeter than to hear a person who previously could not communicate has now found a way to get their voice heard.  I encourage everyone to look into it and read JB Handley’s book.

But Berger’s own experience with S2C was not so positive.

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Not letting school interfere with your education

A common slogan of the school-of-life, experiential-learning-based Unschooling Movement is Mark Twain’s “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” (See, for example, here.)

And, indeed, it’s natural to picture Mark Twain getting his real education first as a Tom Sawyer-like boy playing hooky along the banks of the Mississippi, and then, after dropping out of school at the age of 11, as a printer’s apprentice, a steamboat pilot, and a silver miner out in Nevada. But what this narrative leaves out is what Twain did when he wasn’t at work. According to his Wikipedia entry, Twain “educated himself in public libraries in the evenings, finding wider information than at a conventional school.”

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The AI invents a quote, badly

I mentioned a while back that one of the ChatGPT papers handed in to me last semester included a made-up quotation that not only doesn’t appear in the original but actually contradicts what the author said.

Here’s the AI:

Edgar Roberts defines a story as a “verbal representation of human experience” that “usually involves a sequence of events, a protagonist, and a resolution” (Roberts, 2009, p. 95).

And here’s what the real Edgar Roberts has to say on page 95, the first page of “Chapter 5 Writing about Plot: The Development of Conflict and Tension in Literature”:

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FC conference, Part Deux

Part 2 happens tomorrow, from 7:00 pm to 8:30. Howard Shane will discuss FC vs. augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), Elizabeth Serpentine will discuss FC, reasonable accommodations, and the IDEA, and I’ll discuss what we know about language and literacy acquisition in autism and how it relates to FC.

It’s free and virtual, with q and a at the end, and you can register here.

Here’s something I just wrote in response to someone in a Facebook group who asked me to ensure that there would be no inaccuracies in Part 2, as she claimed there had been numerous inaccuracies in part 1:

There were no inaccuracies that I am aware of. There *were* inaccuracies in people’s interpretations of what they heard–e.g., that Dr. Todd was comparing autistic people to horses, or that Dr. Lutz was shaming people with autism, or that evidence-based concerns about authorship are ableist. And there were inaccuracies in the various criticisms given in the feedback forms that we provided–e.g., that the primary factors interfering with communication in autism are sensory-motor rather than the autism symptomology as spelled out in the DSM; or that the fact that many of the studies invalidating FC are 30 years old somehow makes them irrelevant today. (Studies showing that smoking causes lung cancer are even older). Unfortunately, though we do our best to present our evidence clearly and respectfully, this is such a charged topic that some people will inevitably misinterpret our words. I encourage you to listen carefully to what’s being presented and make sure you aren’t reading things into our presentations that simply aren’t there.

Dissident teacher on affluent school districts

I cannot stress this enough: wealthy AP students with professional parents living in safe neighborhoods have poor command of grammar, small vocabularies, and a strong proclivity to try to hide all of that by using the passive voice and the thesaurus . . .

Dissident Teacher: Your kids aren’t learning. At all.

This is what we experienced in our affluent school district, except for the passive voice and thesaurus part. I don’t remember seeing that.

I certainly don’t see over-use of passive voice (or thesaurus) in the first-gen students I teach in a local college. Just the opposite. Writing textbooks and college websites universally caution against using the passive voice, but I see so little PV in my students’ writing that I teach lessons on how to construct it1 and when to use it.

Remember that old saw about learning to follow the rules before you can break them? Usually applied to painting? First you learn to paint realism, then you graduate to abstraction. That was the idea.

For my students, it’s the opposite. They have to start using passive voice before it’s going to make sense for anyone to tell them to stop using so much of it.

Pop quiz: Winston Churchill uses the passive voice

1. In fact, my students all know how to construct passive voice. What they need is practice turning longer active-voice sentences into passive constructions.

The upside down

The AI is starting to make sense to me. Maybe not sense, exactly, but I no longer find it startling to see the AI making things up.

I think the reason I found the AI so shocking when I first encountered it in student papers is that it turns a core fact about reading and writing upside down:

A good reader can be a bad writer, but a good writer can’t be a bad reader.

Bad readers can’t become good writers because people learn to write by reading. All writers are obsessive readers, as far as I know; that’s how they acquire an “ear.” Writers become writers in somewhat the same way babies become talkers: through immersion in language. Print language, in the case of writers.

With the AI, it’s exactly the opposite.

The AI is a very good writer in the technical sense of being able to produce good sentences properly joined. But it can’t read at all! The AI is a good writer and a non-reader.

Since all of us know intuitively that good writers are also good readers–that you can’t be a good writer without being a good reader first–we naturally impute comprehension to the algorithm when we see it can write.

Then we’re shocked when it has no idea what the storyline is in a autobiographical essay it’s just written a 5-paragraph paper about.

The AI is other.

Artificial intelligence: other posts

Is there really no Theory of Mind deficit in autism? Part VI: problematic references

I spent my last five posts (besides the post announcing tomorrow and next Thursday’s FC conference) critiquing the arguments made by Gernsbacher and Yergeau in their 2019 article, “Empirical Failures of the Claim That Autistic People Lack a Theory of Mind.” Gernsbacher and Yergeau’s central argument is that ToM tests lack empirical validity. They argue, in particular, that (1) the original test results with autistic subjects have failed to replicate, (2) the tests themselves fail to converge on a meaningful psychological construct, and (3) the tests fail to predict autism-related traits, empathy and emotional understanding, and the ability to infer other people’s goals. In my earlier posts, I attempt to show how, to the extent that any of this holds true, it doesn’t override most of the empirical evidence for a Theory of Mind deficit that is fundamental to autism.

Morton A. Gernsbacher, Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin

In this final installment of my “Gernsbacher posts”, I turn to the bigger picture. That is, I’ll discuss how many of the articles that Gernsbacher and Yergeau cite to support their claims also report additional findings that undermine Gernbacher’s FC-friendly take on autism. This FC friendly take, which emerges from the eight Gernsbacher articles I’ve reviewed here and which we also see in other more explicitly FC-friendly articles, is that autism is not a socio-cognitive disorder, but something else: some sort of sensorimotor disorder and/or (at least in some cases) some subtype of language delay.

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