LLMs as System 1 Thinkers

Sep 24, 2023

The distinction between fast and slow thinking, or system 1 and system 2 thinking, made popular by Daniel Kahneman's book *Thinking Fast and Slow*, might be a helpful lens to view LLMs.

System 1 is fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic, and subconscious. Examples of System 1 from Kahneman's book:

  • determine that an object is at a greater distance than another
  • complete the phrase "war and ..."
  • think of a good chess move (if you're a chess master)
  • understand simple sentences

System 2 is slow, effortful, infrequent, logical, calculating, and conscious. Examples of system 2:

  • prepare yourself for the start of a sprint
  • count the number of A's in a certain text
  • solve 17 × 24
  • direct your attention towards someone at a loud party

LLMs have mainly been used to augment human tasks. Maybe even as a cognitive prosthetic, but not a replacement. But we're seeing the first glimpses of how LLMs will be used for system 1 tasks. It can already do most of Kahneman's examples (GPT3.5 Instruct is an 1800 ELO chess player), and "completing the phrase" is just a simplification of an autoregressive transformer.

System 2 thinking is still reserved for humans. We might use LLMs to get a first draft, but we don't have the tools to do analytical thinking with LLMs (yet). Asking it to solve a complex equation will fail. Asking ChatGPT to spell" mayonnaise" backward or count the number of letters in a complex text might fail.

We're in the process of building out the scaffolding for Systems 2 thinking with LLMs.

Both modes are important. And we might accomplish both with LLMs one day.