One of the coolest AI systems I’ve ever seen may also be the one that will kick me out of my job.

SwissCognitiveOne of the coolest AI systems I’ve ever seen may also be the one that will kick me out of my job.

Earlier this week, I attended a demo with a research team at OpenAI, the San Francisco nonprofit that’s right up there with top tech companies in conducting impressive new research on the frontiers of AI. The system they showed me was a language-learning model that writes the news, answers reading comprehension problems, and is beginning to show promise at tasks like translation.

In a paper released Thursday , the OpenAI team demonstrates that we can get those results from an “unsupervised” AI — meaning the system learned from reading 8 million internet articles , not from being explicitly trained for the tasks. Their AI advances the state of the art — in some cases, by a lot. The OpenAI team says their system sets a record for performance on so-called Winograd schemas, a tough reading comprehension task; achieves near-human performance on the Children’s Book Test , another check of reading comprehension; and — most thrillingly to me — generates its own text, including highly convincing news articles and Amazon reviews.

Here’s what happens when you give the system a one-sentence prompt and invite it to write the rest of this article:

The AI selects words one at a time and then considers what the next one should be. It takes a few seconds to add sentences. It’s by no means perfect: The prose is pretty rough, there’s the occasional non-sequitur, and the articles get less coherent the longer they get. “The model still does seem to drift off topic eventually, and the output is capped at a few hundred words,” Sam Bowman, who works on natural language processing and computational linguistics at NYU, told me in an email.

And to be clear, while the AI can write news articles that are sometimes convincing enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the newspaper, it can’t write true news articles; the quotes and statistics are all made up. […]

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