Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis


close up of calculation table, printed in an old book

An Illusion of Emergence, Part 2

A figure can tell a story but, intentionally or unintentionally, the story that is told may be fiction

I recently wrote about how graphs that use logarithms on the horizontal axis can create a misleading impression of the relationship between two variables. The specific example I used was the claim made in a recent paper (with 16 coauthors from Google, Stanford, UNC Chapel Hill, and DeepMind) that scaling up the number of parameters in large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT can cause “emergence,” which they define as qualitative changes in abilities that are not present in smaller-scale models but are present in large-scale models; thus they cannot be predicted by simply extrapolating the performance improvements on smaller-scale models. They present several graphs similar to this one that seem to show emergence: However, their graphs have the logarithms of Read More ›

chalk graph
businessman hand writing a business graph on a touch screen inte

A Graph Can Tell a Story—Sometimes It’s an Illusion

Mistakes, chicanery, and "chartjunk" can undermine the usefulness of graphs

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. A graph can be worth a thousand numbers. Graphs are, as Edward Tufte titled his wonderful book, the “visual display of quantitative information.” Graphs should assist our understanding of the data we are using. Graphs can help us identify tendencies, patterns, trends, and relationships. They should display data accurately and encourage viewers to think about the data rather than admire the artwork. Unfortunately, graphs are sometimes marred (intentionally or unintentionally) by a variety of misleading techniques or by what Tufte calls “chartjunk” that obscures rather than illuminates. I have described elsewhere many ways in which mistakes, chicanery, and chartjunk can undermine the usefulness of graphs. I recently saw a novel Read More ›