Should We Permit Computers To Create Their Own Language?

Facebook engineers apparently don't think so. They caught a couple of chatbots using their own language.

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.”

To you and I, that passage looks like nonsense. But what if I told you this nonsense was the discussion of what might be the most sophisticated negotiation software on the planet? Negotiation software that had learned, and evolved, to get the best deal possible with more speed and efficiency–and perhaps, hidden nuance–than you or I ever could? Because it is.

This conversation occurred between two AI agents developed inside Facebook. At first, they were speaking to each other in plain old English. But then researchers realized they’d made a mistake in programming.

“There was no reward to sticking to English language,” says Dhruv Batra, visiting research scientist from Georgia Tech at Facebook AI Research (FAIR). As these two agents competed to get the best deal–a very effective bit of AI vs. AI dogfighting researchers have dubbed a “generative adversarial network”–neither was offered any sort of incentive for speaking as a normal person would. So they began to diverge, eventually rearranging legible words into seemingly nonsensical sentences.

“Agents will drift off understandable language and invent codewords for themselves,” says Batra, speaking to a now-predictable phenomenon that’s been observed again, and again, and again. “Like if I say ‘the’ five times, you interpret that to mean I want five copies of this item. This isn’t so different from the way communities of humans create shorthands.”

Science fiction writers have explored this idea. For example, the talk between robots (TBR) feature discussed in Frederik Pohl's novels, particularly in his 1954 short story The Midas Plague. In the story, Henry is a companion robot; these robots cooperate with each other, sharing information to better server their masters:

"Fine! Well, get started on the other things, then."

"Yes, sir," said Henry, and assumed the curious absent look of a robot talking on the TBR circuits - the Talk Between Robots radio - as it arranged the appointments for its master.

This is an example of conversation between machines that is sanctioned and expected by humans.

Humans also fear communication that is beyond their ken. I really liked the 2004 movie I, Robot; the advanced NS5 robots had a special feature. Additional software and instructions could be downloaded wirelessly to individual robots. NS5's receiving a download show a red glow in the chest cavity.


(Middle NS5 Robot Gets A Download)

Via FastCoDesign.

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