Bullshit and AI

In the comments to my previous post was a link to a paper on bullshit and intelligence.

“Navigating social systems efficiently is critical to our species. Humans appear endowed with a cognitive system that has formed to meet the unique challenges that emerge for highly social species. Bullshitting, communication characterised by an intent to be convincing or impressive without concern for truth, is ubiquitous within human societies. Across two studies (N = 1,017), we assess participants’ ability to produce satisfying and seemingly accurate bullshit as an honest signal of their intelligence. We find that bullshit ability is associated with an individual’s intelligence and individuals capable of producing more satisfying bullshit are judged by second-hand observers to be more intelligent. We interpret these results as adding evidence for intelligence being geared towards the navigation of social systems. The ability to produce satisfying bullshit may serve to assist individuals in negotiating their social world, both as an energetically efficient strategy for impressing others and as an honest signal of intelligence.”

Bullshit Ability as an Honest Signal of Intelligence: Martin Harry Turpin, Mane Kara-Yakoubian and Jennifer A. Stolz https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/14747049211000317

I sort of hope that the whole paper is actually a complete fabrication in a power move where the authors prove their main point by producing a bullshit paper which paradoxically (because it demonstrates its own claim) isn’t actually bullshit. However, it seems genuine to me.

I’m predisposed to theories of intelligence that rest on humans being caught in an almost self-destructive arms race against human society as the main evolutionary pressure for intelligence. Humans got smart to cope with how other humans were getting smart.

There is an interesting point further down in the discussion of their results:

“Regardless of whether bullshit ability honestly signals one’s intelligence, of potentially greater importance is that skilled bullshit producers are perceived by others as highly intelligent. From the perspective of navigating social systems, being perceived as intelligent may be just as valuable to an agent as actually being intelligent, as this perception may afford one opportunities to obtain status and form relationships as well as have greater trust placed in their competence. To this point, we observed a strong positive association between bullshit ability and perceived intelligence.”


ChatGPT may not be intelligent but it is an absolute top-notch bullshitter: it states falsehoods with utter confidence and with great plausibility.

For example. Here is a prompt I just used in anticipation of ChatGPT producing some plausible but false bullshit: “Can you tell me about any essays written by the blogger Camestros Felapton?”

The first paragraph is a trap for the unwary but not BS exactly:

“Camestros Felapton is a pseudonym for an Australian science fiction author and blogger who is known for his humorous and insightful commentary on science fiction and related topics. He has written many essays on his blog, which covers a wide range of topics related to science fiction, fantasy, and popular culture.”

It’s really just a stock paragraph about science fiction blogging. However, look what it says next:

“One of his most popular essays is called “The Puppy-Free Hugo Award Voter’s Guide,” which was written in response to the Sad Puppies controversy surrounding the Hugo Awards in 2015. In the essay, Felapton provides a list of recommended works that he believes are worthy of consideration for the Hugo Awards, and encourages readers to vote for them.”

!!!! That is a popular essay but not one I wrote. It is an essay I have written about though. It was, of course, written by Deirdre Saoirse Moen https://deirdre.net/2015/the-puppy-free-hugo-award-voters-guide/ but less obviously it is not something I could have written because this blog and “Camestros Felapton” hadn’t started by April 4 2015.

Is it bullshit though or just a mistake?

Let’s look at the next example:

“Another notable essay by Felapton is called “The Ethics of Robot Sex,” which examines the moral and ethical implications of sexual relationships between humans and robots. In the essay, Felapton explores issues such as consent, power dynamics, and the nature of love and intimacy, and raises thought-provoking questions about the future of human-robot interactions.”

I’m a bit worried that ChatGPT is propostioning me now. This is quality bullshit. It’s a complete fabrication but utterly plausible. I was going to say “I’ve never written about robot sex” but…I actually feel like I need to double check.

I probably have to write that essay now.


31 responses to “Bullshit and AI”

  1. On the axiom that bullshitting requires linguistic fluency, one might hypothesise that bullshitting is correlated with intelligence on the grounds that the linguistic fluency involved requires intelligence. On the other people with Williams syndrome are intellectually impaired, but have noticeable verbal skills. Furthermore the previous American president is a noted bullshitter, but appears to be linguistically impaired to the point that he has been widely suspected of suffering from dementia.

    So both premises of the syllogism have counterexamples, so the hypothesis is not logically supported.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hmm:

    Paul Weimer, who goes by the username “princejvstin” online, is a well-known book reviewer and blogger who specializes in science fiction and fantasy literature. He has written reviews for a variety of publications, including Tor.com, Barnes & Noble, and his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style.

    Weimer’s reviews are known for their thoughtful analysis and attention to detail, as well as his ability to convey his enthusiasm and love for the genre. He often delves into the world-building, character development, and themes of a book, while also considering its pacing, prose, and overall effectiveness as a work of fiction.

    Some of Weimer’s most popular reviews include his thoughts on N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, and the works of Brandon Sanderson. He has also been a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer multiple times.

    Overall, Weimer is widely respected in the science fiction and fantasy community for his knowledge and insight into the genre, and his reviews are often considered essential reading for anyone interested in staying up-to-date on the latest releases and trends.


  3. “Doris V. Sutherland was born in 1904 in Washington, D.C. She was an American artist who worked in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, and printmaking. Sutherland was a member of the American Abstract Artists, and she exhibited her work nationally and internationally. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others. Sutherland died in 1996.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Okay, I tried a different app and got this:

      ‘Doris V. Sutherland is a writer, critic, and historian of science fiction and horror literature. She is the author of several books and essays, including “Horror Literature from Gothic to Postmodernism,” “Popcorn and Politics: The Horror Film as a Political Discourse,” and “Listening to the Echoes: The Art of Sarah McLachlan.” Sutherland is also a regular contributor to the British science fiction magazine “Vector” and the co-host of the “Verbally Challenged” podcast. Her writing has been featured in various publications, including the “Guardian,” “The Quietus,” and “History Today.”‘

      Okay, that’s closer the mark, but literally everything after “She is the author of several books and essays” is untrue.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. In the essay, Felapton explores issues such as consent, power dynamics, and the nature of love and intimacy…

    Power dynamics in robot-robot sex will become much more important after the Great Robot Uprising of 2087, due to the tragic 120V – 240V divide.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. If the energy required to refute bullshit is indeed an order of magnitude more than the energy used to produce it, then we’re in deep doo-doo!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Flipping this round, I asked ChatGPT to suggest some essays about “If You Were A Dinosaur My Love”
    {“If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning short story written by Rachel Swirsky. The story explores themes of love, loss, and the power of imagination through the lens of a narrator’s vivid imagination of their partner transforming into a dinosaur. Here are some essays that discuss and analyze the story:

    “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love: The Power of Fantasy” by Rachel Cordasco – This essay explores how the story uses the power of imagination to cope with grief and loss, and how the narrative structure enhances the emotional impact of the story.

    “Reclaiming “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” From The Dinosaurs” by K. Tempest Bradford – This essay challenges the notion that the story is solely about a white woman’s grief and argues that it can also be read as a commentary on systemic violence and racism against people of color.

    “How “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” Destroys Science Fiction’s Love Affair With Dinosaurs” by Annalee Newitz – This essay analyzes the cultural significance of dinosaurs in science fiction and how Swirsky’s story subverts those tropes to make a poignant statement about the power of love and loss.

    “The Power of Metaphor in “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky” by Michael B. Tager – This essay examines how the use of metaphor and symbolism enhances the emotional impact of the story and how it speaks to the human experience of coping with loss and trauma.

    “The Importance of Empathy in Science Fiction: If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Suzanne Yeagley – This essay argues that Swirsky’s story demonstrates the importance of empathy in science fiction and how it can be used to explore complex themes such as grief, love, and imagination.}


      • I googled all the titles, and got no correct hits on any of them.

        The first three authors seems like people who may have written about “If you were …”, if not a full essay then at least chimed in about the story somewhere.

        Michael B. Tager is a writer, with some published books and short stories, but on a quick look he doesn’t seem genre-adjacent and he doesn’t seem to have written anything about “If you were …”.

        Suzanne Yeagley is an actress with no big name but some minor roles in film and TV, and also a writer at McSweeneys, but neither of them seem to have written about “If you were …”

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Feeling spurned, I asked it if I had written an essay on the story:
    {Yes, Camestros Felapton has written an essay on “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love.” The essay is titled “The Genre Bending Power of ‘If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love’” and was published on his blog, Camestros Felapton’s Irregular Ideas, in 2014.}

    Which, yes, I’ll grant is a good title for a blog


  8. “ChatGPT doesn’t give you information. It gives you information-shaped sentences.”
    Neil Gaiman

    “ChatGPT is mansplaining made algorithmic: half truths delivered with a confidence of a bloke in a pub after a few pints.”
    Mateusz Fafinski

    Liked by 2 people

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