AI Shocker? Automatic Indexing Does Not Work

May 8, 2023

Vea4_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb_tNote: This essay is the work of a real and still-alive dinobaby. No smart software involved, just a dumb humanoid.

I am tempted to dig into my more than 50 years of work in online and pull out a chestnut or two. l will not. Just navigate to “ChatGPT Is Powered by These Contractors Making $15 an Hour” and check out the allegedly accurate statements about the knowledge work a couple of people do.

The write up states:

… contractors have spent countless hours in the past few years teaching OpenAI’s systems to give better responses in ChatGPT.

The write up includes an interesting quote; to wit:

“We are grunt workers, but there would be no AI language systems without it,” said Savreux [an indexer tagging content for OpenAI].

I want to point out a few items germane to human indexers based on my experience with content about nuclear information, business information, health information, pharmaceutical information, and “information” information which thumbtypers call metadata:

  1. Human indexers, even when trained in the use of a carefully constructed controlled vocabulary, make errors, become fatigued and fall back on some favorite terms, and misunderstand the content and assign terms which will mislead when used in a query
  2. Source content — regardless of type — varies widely. New subjects or different spins on what seem to be known concepts mean that important nuances may be lost due to what is included in the available dataset
  3. New content often uses words and phrases which are difficult to understand. I try to note a few of the more colorful “new” words and bound phrases like softkill, resenteeism, charity porn, toilet track, and purity spirals, among others. In order to index a document in a way that allows one to locate it, knowing the term is helpful if there is a full text instance. If not, one needs a handle on the concept which is an index terms a system or a searcher knows to use. Relaxing the meaning (a trick of some clever outfits with snappy names) is not helpful
  4. Creating a training set, keeping it updated, and assembling the content artifacts is slow, expensive, and difficult. (That’s why some folks have been seeking short cuts for decades. So far, humans still become necessary.)
  5. Reindexing, refreshing, or updating the digital construct used to “make sense” of content objects is slow, expensive, and difficult. (Ask an Autonomy user from 1998 about retraining in order to deal with “drift.” Let me know what you find out. Hint: The same issues arise from popular mathematical procedures no matter how many buzzwords are used to explain away what happens when words, concepts, and information change.

Are there other interesting factoids about dealing with multi-type content. Sure there are. Wouldn’t it be helpful if those creating the content applied structure tags, abstracts, lists of entities and their definitions within the field or subject area of the content, and pointers to sources cited in the content object.

Let me know when blog creators, PR professionals, and TikTok artists embrace this extra work.

Pop quiz: When was the last time you used a controlled vocabulary classification code to disambiguate airplane terminal, computer terminal, and terminal disease? How does smart software do this, pray tell? If the write up and my experience are on the same wave length (not surfing wave but frequency wave), a subject matter expert, trained index professional, or software smarter than today’s smart software are needed.

Stephen E Arnold, May 8, 2023


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