In recent weeks, a story about experimental Facebook machine learning research has been circulating with increasingly panicky, Skynet-esque headlines.
“Facebook engineers panic, pull plug on AI after bots develop their own language,” one site wrote. “Facebook shuts down down AI after it invents its own creepy language,” another added. “Did we humans just create Frankenstein?” asked yet another. One British tabloid quoted a robotics professor saying the incident showed “the dangers of deferring to artificial intelligence” and “could be lethal” if similar tech was injected into military robots.
References to the coming robot revolution, killer droids, malicious AIs and human extermination abounded, some more or less serious than others. Continually quoted was this passage, in which two Facebook chat bots had learned to talk to each other in what is admittedly a pretty creepy way.
Bob: I can i i everything else
Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to
Bob: you i everything else
Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me
The reality is somewhat more prosaic. A few weeks ago, FastCo Design did report on a Facebook effort to develop a “generative adversarial network” for the purpose of developing negotiation software.
The two bots quoted in the above passage were designed, as explained in a Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research unit blog post in June, for the purpose of showing it is “possible for dialog agents with differing goals (implemented as end-to-end-trained neural networks) to engage in start-to-finish negotiations with other bots or people while arriving at common decisions or outcomes.”
The bots were never doing anything more nefarious than discussing with each other how to split an array of given items (represented in the user interface as innocuous objects like books, hats, and balls) into a mutually agreeable split.
The intent was to develop a chatbot which could learn from human interaction to negotiate deals with an end user so fluently said user would not realize they are talking with a robot, which FAIR said was a success:
“The performance of FAIR’s best negotiation agent, which makes use of reinforcement learning and dialog rollouts, matched that of human negotiators … demonstrating that FAIR’s bots not only can speak English but also think intelligently about what to say.”