There's a literal elephant in machine learning's room

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I’m sorry, that is not how the word ‘literally’ works.


“The presence of the unexpected item throws the classifiers into dire confusion”
That sounds rather human.

The actual presence of a literal elephant is not how “literally” works? Am confuse.


At least it didn’t say umbrella stand

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It took me about 2 minutes to find the elephant, and even then I have a hard time seeing what it is.

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Agree, and also I thought the colloquial decision is in favor of literally meaning literally or figuratively and that all the linguistic foot-stomping in the world won’t put baby in the corner?


Came to say the same. The real question is whether their performance is better, worse, or just different than human performance.

I seem to recall a certain video of people passing a ball around that may be relevant.


This is sort of the inverse of the gorilla video, where the unexpected item gets totally ignored (also something that machine learning systems do). It’s the situation where you notice that one weird thing which is totally unexpected in the picture, and it makes you think, “Wait, what am I looking at here?”


And it’s hardly the only word in English that ended up meaning one thing and its opposite at the same time. Given how some other words have ended up, it could very well only end up meaning “figuratively,” even. But since it’s currently both the actual and figurative, this is, in fact, very much how “literally” works - all usages in one.


I mean, if I saw a 1 meter tall elephant floating in my dining room, I’d think I was hallucinating, which is pretty much the human version of throwing an exception.


True. Human brains subconsciously edit out unexpected data often, whereas ML systems try to classify it and can’t


Literally speaking, there’s a masked image of an elephant superimposed on a picture of a room.

And the popular etymology will be that it’s derived from the word “literature”.

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Though I do see a third usage cropping up that threatens to take it in a rather different direction. I see young people say things like, “And then I literally got mad at him.” Since one can’t figuratively get mad at someone, neither of the usual usages makes sense. So it’s like they’re using it to mean “really” or just add a sort of general emphasis.

But it is actually a “literal elephant,” as per the headline. It’s not just a figurative “elephant in the room” that’s not actually an elephant. The elephant in the room involves a literal elephant, even if the elephant isn’t literally in the room.


This hit a nerve, because it reminds me of what seems to happen in my poor brain when something incongruent item is thrown into my field of view or non-sequitur topic introduced in a conversation.

Yes I agree. I kept looking for the elephant - not a small photo of an elephant against a bigger person.

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