Analysis & Opinions - Slate

Big Tech Isn't Prepared for A.I.'s Next Chapter

| May 30, 2023

Open source is changing everything.

In February, Meta released its large language model: LLaMA. Unlike OpenAI and its ChatGPT, Meta didn’t just give the world a chat window to play with. Instead, it released the code into the open-source community, and shortly thereafter the model itself was leaked. Researchers and programmers immediately started modifying it, improving it, and getting it to do things no one else anticipated. And their results have been immediate, innovative, and an indication of how the future of this technology is going to play out. Training speeds have hugely increased, and the size of the models themselves has shrunk to the point that you can create and run them on a laptop. The world of A.I. research has dramatically changed.

This development hasn’t made the same splash as other corporate announcements, but its effects will be much greater. It will wrest power from the large tech corporations, resulting in both much more innovation and a much more challenging regulatory landscape. The large corporations that had controlled these models warn that this free-for-all will lead to potentially dangerous developments, and problematic uses of the open technology have already been documented. But those who are working on the open models counter that a more democratic research environment is better than having this powerful technology controlled by a small number of corporations.

The power shift comes from simplification. The LLMs built by OpenAI and Google rely on massive data sets, measured in the tens of billions of bytes, computed on by tens of thousands of powerful specialized processors producing models with billions of parameters. The received wisdom is that bigger data, bigger processing, and larger parameter sets were all needed to make a better model. Producing such a model requires the resources of a corporation with the money and computing power of a Google or Microsoft or Meta.

But building on public models like Meta’s LLaMa, the open-source community has innovated in ways that allow results nearly as good as the huge models—but run on home machines with common data sets. What was once the reserve of the resource-rich has become a playground for anyone with curiosity, coding skills, and a good laptop. Bigger may be better, but the open-source community is showing that smaller is often good enough. This opens the door to more efficient, accessible, and resource-friendly LLMs.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Schneier, Bruce and James Waldo.“Big Tech Isn't Prepared for A.I.'s Next Chapter.” Slate, May 30, 2023.

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