‘Hallucinate’ is Cambridge Dictionary’s 2023 Word of the Year – and it has a new meaning

With 2023 drawing to a wrap, ‘hallucinate’ is crowned the Word of The Year by the Cambridge Dictionary. Lexicographers have added a new meaning to the word, making the verb AI-relevant.

However, the word continues to hold its original meaning: “to seem to see, hear, feel, or smell something that does not exist, usually because of a health condition or because you have taken a drug”. A new definition has been added to suit the soaring power of generative AI.

Here’s more about ‘hallucinate’ being named the Word of The Year 2023 by Cambridge Dictionary

Why ‘hallucinate’?

According to a post on the dictionary’s website, ‘hallucinate’ “gets to the heart of why people are talking about AI.”

The new definition reads: “When an artificial intelligence (= a computer system that has some of the qualities that the human brain has, such as the ability to produce language in a way that seems human) hallucinates, it produces false information.”

In today’s era, AI tools may look extremely efficient at a glance, but there have been instances when generative platforms have produced incorrect or irrelevant information.

“AI hallucinations have already had real-world impacts. A US law firm used ChatGPT for legal research, which led to fictitious cases being cited in court. In Google’s own promotional video for Bard, the AI tool made a factual error about the James Webb Space Telescope,” states the University of Cambridge website. Hence, broadening the scope of the verb and extending it to the AI domain seems only natural.

AI in dictionary

Word Of The Year 2023
Image credit: Emiliano Vittoriosi/ @emilianovittoriosi/ Unsplash

This step comes in line with the dictionary adding a slew of artificial intelligence-related terms such as large language model (or LLM), generative AI (or GenAI) and GPT (an abbreviation of Generative Pre-trained Transformer), states The Guardian.

“AI hallucinations remind us that humans still need to bring their critical thinking skills to the use of these tools. Large language models (LLMs) are only as reliable as the information their algorithms learn from,” mentions the dictionary’s post.

“Human expertise is arguably more important than ever, to create the authoritative and up-to-date information that LLMs can be trained on,” it adds.

Henry Shevlin, AI ethicist at the University of Cambridge, further explained the development of the new definition and the crowning of the word with the coveted title: “The widespread use of the term ‘hallucinate’ to refer to mistakes by systems like ChatGPT provides a fascinating snapshot of how we’re thinking about and anthropomorphising AI. Inaccurate or misleading information has long been with us, of course, whether in the form of rumours, propaganda, or ‘fake news’.”


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Another AI-related Word Of The Year 2023

‘Hallucinate’ being termed Word Of The Year comes on the heels of Collins dictionary, naming ‘AI’ as its Word Of The Year 2023. It describes the term as “the modelling of human mental functions by computer programs” and highlights the “great technological revolution” it has ushered in.

(Hero and feature image credit: Joshua Hoehne/ @mrthetrain/ Unsplash)

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