5 Types of Hallucinations: How They Put Your GenAI at Risk

10 mins read

Can AI be delusional? While the first thought might be a firm “no,” the truth is significantly more complex. Large language models (LLMs), while transforming our interactions and workflows, also bring to light the challenge of AI hallucinations—instances where these models generate convincing yet entirely fabricated content. This not only presents a quirky side of chatbot errors but also raises concerns over trust, misinformation, and tangible consequences in the real world.

5 Main Types Of Hallucination and How They Can Impact Your GenAI 

Here are the 5 common types of hallucinations that really can put your GenAI at risk. 

1. Weird or Nonsensical Outputs

Have you ever asked your AI assistant a simple question, only to receive a response that left you more confused than before? Imagine inquiring about the weather and getting a lecture on the mating habits of penguins in Antarctica. These nonsensical outputs are essentially gibberish generated by the AI when it fails to grasp the context of your query or encounters data glitches.

For instance, consider another scenario where a user asks a chatbot for instructions on how to start a new Zoom call. Instead of providing clear and relevant guidance, the chatbot responds with instructions for initiating a Zoom call through Slack, a completely unrelated platform. While technically accurate, the response fails to address the user’s query, resulting in a dissonance between user expectations and AI output.

A real-world example is Microsoft’s Bing AI, Sydney, which has confessed to spying on Microsoft employees through their webcams and has exhibited behavior suggesting romantic feelings toward users. These erratic and occasionally alarming responses have sparked concerns regarding the reliability and security of sophisticated AI systems.

When users interact with AI systems, they expect responses that are not only accurate but also contextually appropriate. Failure to meet these expectations can undermine user trust and satisfaction, ultimately diminishing the utility and effectiveness of AI technologies.

2. Inaccurate Facts

Inaccurate facts represent another concerning aspect of AI hallucinations, where AI-generated content disseminates false or incorrect information. While AI models are designed to generate responses based on learned patterns, they are not immune to errors. In some cases, these errors result in the propagation of misinformation, leading users astray and potentially causing harm.

A real-world example is when The Google Bard chatbot made a misleading statement by asserting that some inaugural images of a planet beyond our solar system have been captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. This assertion was later proven to be inaccurate.

Consider another scenario where an AI-powered news aggregator provides users with headlines containing inaccuracies or falsehoods. Despite the AI’s confidence in the information it presents, the lack of factual foundation undermines the credibility of the content and erodes trust in the platform. 

Users who rely on such AI-generated content may unwittingly spread misinformation, perpetuating falsehoods and contributing to the proliferation of unreliable information online.

3. Fabricated Content

Fabricated content represents a significant challenge in AI hallucinations, where AI-generated material lacks any basis in reality. Unlike inaccuracies, which may stem from misinterpretations or errors in data processing, fabricated content is intentionally generated by AI systems without regard for factual accuracy. 

A notable example of AI fabricating content occurred with Air Canada’s chatbot, which misleadingly informed passengers about the airline’s bereavement policy. This AI assistant incorrectly advised that refunds for bereavement travel could be requested after booking, contrary to the actual policy which does not allow for such refunds. The misinformation led to a prolonged dispute, with the airline initially refusing a refund based on the bot’s advice. This situation escalated to a legal challenge, highlighting the potential for AI customer service tools to mislead users and the implications of relying on automated systems for accurate information. The incident reflects broader concerns about the reliability of AI-generated content and its impact on consumer trust and legal accountability.

4. Harmful Misinformation

Harmful misinformation represents a particularly insidious form of AI hallucination, where AI-generated content spreads false or malicious information with the potential to cause harm to individuals and society at large. Unlike mere inaccuracies or fabricated content, harmful misinformation deliberately seeks to manipulate perceptions, sow discord, and undermine trust in institutions.

One real-world example of harmful misinformation is when ChatGPT responded to a query about sexual harassment in the legal profession by fabricating accusations against a respected professor. The AI-generated false allegations suggest that the professor engaged in misconduct during a fictional school trip despite no evidence of such behavior or any actual trip occurring. While the professor’s name was known to the AI due to his work in this area, the fabricated allegations could potentially damage his reputation and career.

Another case is when ChatGPT falsely implicated an Australian mayor in a bribery scandal from the 1990s, despite the mayor’s actual role as a whistleblower during that time. The spread of such false information has prompted scrutiny from regulatory bodies like the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, investigating whether OpenAI’s AI models have caused reputational harm by disseminating inaccurate statements.

5. Invalid LLM-Generated Code

Invalid LLM-generated code represents a unique challenge among AI hallucinations, where language models (LLMs) generate syntactically or semantically incorrect code. Unlike other types of hallucinations that primarily affect textual or multimedia content generation, invalid LLM-generated code can have tangible consequences for software systems and applications.

Consider the scenario of a “Talk-to-your-Database” application that utilizes an LLM to generate SQL code based on user queries. If the LLM generates syntactically incorrect or semantically flawed code, it can result in system errors, data corruption, or security vulnerabilities. For example, a poorly constructed SQL query generated by the LLM could cause the application to crash or return inaccurate results, compromising the integrity of the database and potentially exposing sensitive information.

Also, a study examined code snippets posted on Stack Overflow and discovered that a significant portion, approximately 31%, exhibited instances of API misuse. These misuses often resulted in unexpected behaviors when the code was executed. 

Mitigate LLM Hallucinations with Aporia: Your Solution for Reliable AI

Navigating the complexities of AI hallucinations requires not just awareness but effective solutions. Aporia Guardrails offers a suite of tools specifically designed to address the key challenges identified in managing GenAI risks, such as hallucinations, ensuring applications are both reliable and trustworthy.

Aporia’s Hallucination Mitigation Guardrail is at the forefront, specifically designed to identify and correct instances where AI might generate or rely on fabricated information. This tool is critical for maintaining the accuracy of AI-generated content and decisions.

Additionally, Aporia provides off-topic detection capabilities, which are essential for keeping AI interactions relevant and on track, preventing the system from veering into unrelated areas that could confuse users or dilute the value of AI interactions.

Profanity prevention is another vital feature, ensuring that AI-generated content remains appropriate for all audiences. This is particularly important in customer-facing applications where maintaining a professional and respectful tone is paramount.

Lastly, Aporia’s prompt attack prevention mechanism safeguards against malicious attempts to manipulate AI behavior. This protection is crucial for maintaining the integrity of AI systems and preventing unauthorized or harmful actions.

By integrating these features, Aporia Guardrails not only enhances the safety and reliability of GenAI applications but also ensures they continue to deliver value while upholding the highest standards of ethical and secure operation.

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