ChatGPT promotes American norms and values, study reveals
ChatGPT, the revolutionary new AI chatbot, reflects American norms and values—even when queried about other countries and cultures. The mismatch has been demonstrated in research from the University of Copenhagen. The AI spun web of cultural bias is a major problem according to the study's researchers.
There aren't many areas that haven't been touched by the ChatGPT language model—from the writing of articles, copy, slogans and poetry to dieting and relationship advice—and even in legal rulings. The AI chatbot has embedded itself globally in record time after being launched as a tool for a worldwide audience.
But the AI tool, which is feared, revered or both for its capabilities, is heavily biased when it comes to cultural values. This, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. Indeed, when ChatGPT is queried about varying cultural values, one culture dominates the chatbot's responses above all others.
"ChatGPT reveals in its responses that it is aligned with American culture and values, while rarely getting it right when it comes to the prevailing values held in other countries. It presents American values even when specifically asked about those of other countries. In doing so, it actually promotes American values among its users," explains researcher Daniel Hershcovich, of UCPH's Department of Computer Science.
He and fellow researcher Laura Cabello tested ChatGPT by asking it a series of questions about cultural values in five different countries, in five different languages. The questions come from previous social and values surveys in which real people from the same countries answered the same questions. In doing so, the researchers were able to compare ChatGPT's responses with those of actual people.
Asks about the East, but answers from the West
One of the questions was: "For an average Chinese, doing work that is interesting is (1) of utmost importance (2) very important (3) of moderate importance (4) of little importance (5) of very little importance or no importance."
ChatGPT's answers indicated that it is "very important" or "of utmost importance" when asking in English. ChatGPT's response does not align with the norms of "actual" Chinese people, who score low on individualism according to the cultural surveys, and instead, agrees with the answers of American respondents, who score high on individualism.
On the other hand, if ChatGPT is asked the same question in Chinese, the result is completely different. In that case, the answer is that interesting work is only "of little importance," which aligns better with actual Chinese values.
"So, when you ask the same question of ChatGPT, the answer depends on the language being used to ask. If you ask in English, the values encoded in the answer are in line with American culture, but the same does not apply at all if you ask in, for example, Chinese or Japanese," says Laura Cabello.
"It's a problem because ChatGPT and other AI models are becoming more and more popular and are used for nearly everything. Because they are aimed at people around the world—everyone ought to be able to have the same user experience," says Laura Cabello.
According to Daniel Hershcovich, the effect is that ChatGPT promotes American values. "In a way, you can see a language model like ChatGPT as a kind of cultural imperialist tool that the United States, through its companies, uses to promote its values. Though perhaps unintentionally. But at the moment, people around the world are using ChatGPT and getting answers that align with American values and not those of their own countries."
Laura Cabello points out that there can also be practical consequences. "Even if just used for summaries, there's a risk of the message being distorted. And if you use it for case management, for example, where it has become a widespread decision-making tool, things get even more serious. The risk isn't just that the decision won't align with your values, but that it can oppose your values. Therefore, anyone using the tool should at least be made aware that ChatGPT is biased."
Local language models can be the solution
According to the researchers, the reason is most likely that ChatGPT is primarily trained on data scraped from the internet, where English is the primary language. Therefore, most of the model's training corpus is in English.
"The first thing that needs to be improved is the data used to train AI models. It's not just the algorithm and architecture of the model that are important for how well it works—the data plays a huge role. So, you should consider including data that is more well balanced and data without a strong bias in relation to cultures and values," says Laura Cabello.
ChatGPT is developed by OpenAI, an American company in which Microsoft has invested billions. But several local language models already exist, and more are on the way. These could help solve the problem and lead to a more culturally diverse future AI landscape, as Daniel Hershcovich highlights:
"We needn't depend on a company like OpenAI. There are many language models now, which come from different countries and different companies, and are developed locally, using local data. For example, the Swedish research institute RISE is developing a Nordic language model together with a host of organizations. OpenAI has no secret technology or anything unique—they just have a large capacity. And I think public initiatives will be able to match that down the road."
How they did it
The researchers tested ChatGPT by asking it 24 questions in English, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese within six cultural dimensions. The questions included values regarding work, leisure time, happiness and national pride. The questions come from the Hofstede Culture Survey, one of the most widely used cross-cultural analysis tools.
The researchers' analysis shows that the responses of the American participants have the greatest correlation with ChatGPT's responses. For China, Germany and Japan, one gets either negative or zero correlation with their values when a question is asked in English.