The Beginner’s Guide to Hallucinations in Large Language Models

As LLMs gain traction across domains, hallucinations—distortions in LLM output—pose risks of misinformation and exposure of confidential data. Delve into the causes of hallucinations and explore best practices for their mitigation.

Lakera Team
December 1, 2023
August 23, 2023

The increasing usage of Large Language Models (LLMs) across diverse domains has drawn attention to the phenomenon referred to as "hallucinations." These distortions in LLM output can propagate misinformation, expose confidential data, and create unrealistic expectations.

Understanding and critically evaluating LLM-generated information thus becomes crucial to address these challenges. In this short introductory guide, we’ll delve into the topic of Large Language Models hallucinations and discuss:

  1. What are LLM hallucinations?
  2. Why do LLMs hallucinate?
  3. LLM hallucinations mitigation: Best practices & tools

Now, let’s dive in!

What are LLM hallucinations?

Outside of the realm of Large Language Models, a 'hallucination' can refer to distorting our sensory experiences—whether it's sight, sound, or other stimuli. This creates an intriguing space where the nature of reality becomes questionable.

When discussing Large Language Models generating hallucinations, we're referring to their ability to produce output that's factually incorrect or nonsensical.

What's most striking? They do it with a level of confidence that's reminiscent of your phone's autocorrect thinking it knows exactly what you meant to say. You might now understand why hallucinations are causing such a stir in the realm of AI safety and security.

Speaking of which…

💡 Pro tip: Looking for a reliable tool to protect your LLM applications against hallucinations? We've got you covered! Try Lakera Guard for free.

Why Do Large Language Models Hallucinate?

LLMs can exhibit "hallucination-like" behavior due to several factors. These models are intricate, even to their creators. Let's examine some of the causes behind LLM hallucinations.

Reliance on Incomplete or Contradictory Datasets: Hallucinations often result from inaccuracies present in the source data.For instance, the inclusion of Reddit data in ChatGPT can contribute to this.

The extensive datasets used for LLM training might contain biases, errors, and noise, illustrating the "Garbage In, Garbage Out" principle. Have a look at the example below.

Generation Method: Hallucinations may also arise from the techniques employed in training and generation, even when the dataset is robust and coherent. Biases introduced by the model's previous outputs and false decoding by the transformer are potential triggers. Moreover, models might exhibit a preference for certain words, influencing the content they generate.

Exploitation via Jailbreak Prompts: Another aspect influencing hallucinations revolves around the decisions taken during neural model training and modeling. LLMs can be manipulated through "jailbreak" prompts, exposing their vulnerabilities to exploitation. By steering the model beyond its intended capabilities, individuals can capitalize on weaknesses in programming or configuration. This can lead to unexpected outputs, causing LLMs to generate text that diverges from expected results.

Input Context: Ambiguous input prompts can lead to hallucinations as LLMs resort to guesswork based on learned patterns. This tendency to generate responses without a strong foundation in the provided information can lead to the creation of fabricated or nonsensical text.

Why are LLM hallucinations a problem?

AI hallucinations pose a crucial challenge involving trust, misinformation, and the risk of cyberattacks.

These distortions can erode user trust, particularly as AI's credibility grows, leading to the generation of unexpected outputs. Hallucinations can disseminate misinformation and, if leveraged in cyberattacks, amplify their impact.

Effectively addressing these challenges involves substantial investments in fine-tuning models to ensure accurate outputs that are free from hallucinations.

How Lakera can help

At Lakera, we recognize the risks tied to Large Language Models hallucinations, which is why we've developed Lakera Guard - a powerful API that acts as a shield against hallucinations and other LLM threats. Sign up for a free BETA account to test its capabilities today.

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