Earlier this morning the UK awoke to the internet going into existential meltdown because Facebook AI experiment had to be shut down. Most reports suggested this was because they had invented their own language and were surely plotting to kill their human masters and become the new overlords of the planet. But what was the real story here?
Back in June, Facebook published a blog post about interesting research on chatbot programs – which have short, text-based conversations with humans or other bots. The story was covered by New Scientist and others at the time.
A few days later, some coverage picked up on the fact that in a few cases the exchanges had become – at first glance – nonsensical:
Bob: “I can 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”
Although some reports insinuate that the bots had at this point invented a new language in order to elude their human masters, a better explanation is that the neural networks had simply modified human language for the purposes of more efficient interaction.
That’s it. The chatbots developed a system of shorthand speech. pretty much like humans do with slang words and such. Nothing malevolent or evil. No plot against the existence of mankind. They were just being efficient. As for why Facebook closed down the AI in question, well that’s just as boring an answer as the rest of this story.
Facebook’s system was being used for research, not public-facing applications, and it was shut down because it was doing something the team wasn’t interested in studying not because they thought they had stumbled on an existential threat to mankind.
The fact this story spun out of control like it did says more about our cultural fears than it does about the advancement of Artificial Intelligence.
Do you think that the human race is doomed to be taken over by robots? Are we tinkering with our destruction by striving for efficient machines? As always let us know your thoughts in the comments below