In Theory of Mind Tests, AI Beats Humans

In Theory of Mind Tests, AI Beats Humans

Theory of mind—the ability to understand other people’s mental states—is what makes the social world of humans go around. It’s what helps you decide what to say in a tense situation, guess what drivers in other cars are about to do, and empathize with a character in a movie. And according to a new study, the large language models (LLM) that power ChatGPT and the like are surprisingly good at mimicking this quintessentially human trait.

“Before running the study, we were all convinced that large language models would not pass these tests, especially tests that evaluate subtle abilities to evaluate mental states,” says study coauthor Cristina Becchio, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany. The results, which she calls “unexpected and surprising,” were published today—somewhat ironically, in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

The results don’t have everyone convinced that we’ve entered a new era of machines that think like we do, however. Two experts who reviewed the findings advised taking them “with a grain of salt” and cautioned about drawing conclusions on a topic that can create “hype and panic in the public.” Another outside expert warned of the dangers of anthropomorphizing software programs.

The researchers are careful not to say that their results show that LLMs actually possess theory of mind.

Becchio and her colleagues aren’t the first to claim evidence that LLMs’ responses display this kind of reasoning. In a preprint paper posted last year, the psychologist Michal Kosinski of Stanford University reported testing several models on a few common theory-of-mind tests. He found that the best of them, OpenAI’s GPT-4, solved 75 percent of tasks correctly, which he said matched the performance of six-year-old children observed in past studies. However, that study’s methods were criticized by other researchers who conducted follow-up experiments and concluded that the LLMs were often getting the right answers based on “shallow heuristics” and shortcuts rather than true theory-of-mind reasoning.

The authors of the present study were well aware of the debate. Our goal in the paper was to approach the challenge of evaluating machine theory of mind in a more systematic way using a breadth of psychological tests,” says study coauthor James Strachan, a cognitive psychologist who’s currently a visiting scientist at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf. He notes that doing a rigorous study meant also testing humans on the same tasks that were given to the LLMs: The study compared the abilities of 1,907 humans with those of several popular LLMs, including OpenAI’s GPT-4 model and the open-source Llama 2-70b model from Meta.

How to Test LLMs for Theory of Mind

The LLMs and the humans both completed five typical kinds of theory-of-mind tasks, the first three of which were understanding hints, irony, and faux pas. They also answered…

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The post “In Theory of Mind Tests, AI Beats Humans” by Eliza Strickland was published on 05/20/2024 by