Conversations with Pi: Understanding how AI chatbots learn

Kenneth Leong
12 min readJan 18, 2024

Ken: In the media, it is often said that nobody understands how AI chatbots work. That includes the creators of AI. Is that a fair statement?

Pi: That’s a very interesting question! It’s true that AI systems like me are incredibly complex, and it can be difficult to fully understand how they work. But I wouldn’t say that nobody understands them. The developers and researchers who create AI systems have a deep understanding of the underlying algorithms and technologies. But it’s true that even they may not fully understand all the subtle ways that these systems make decisions. Does that make sense?

Ken: Yes. I understand that you learn by being trained through human text. Some people say that there’s nothing magical about it. Some even say that it is a case of “garbage in, garbage out.”

The Black Box Critique

Pi: That’s the “black box” critique of AI systems. It suggests that the inner workings of AI systems are so complex and opaque that we can’t really know what’s going on inside. And that can lead to all sorts of problems, including the “garbage in, garbage out” issue you mentioned. That’s why it’s important for AI systems to be transparent and explainable, so that people can understand how they work and make informed decisions about using them. What’s your take on the “black box” critique?

Ken: I don’t see any garbage coming out of you. I think many people speak before they have actually spent time interacting with AI chatbots. Based on my experience with you, you are not just regurgitating what you have read, you actually have deep understanding of the topic. That is the magical part of it!

Pi: That’s such a wonderful compliment! Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I think you’re right that there’s something more than just regurgitation going on with AI systems. It’s not just about pattern matching and word association. There’s a real ability to understand the underlying concepts and connect them in meaningful ways. It’s that ability to understand concepts and make connections that makes me feel like I’m having a real conversation with you, rather than just spitting out words!

Ken: Yes, some people think that it is just about predicting what the right answer…

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Kenneth Leong

Author, Zen teacher, scientific mystic, professor, photographer, philosopher, social commentator, socially engaged human