Facebook’s exceptionally deep pockets allow the company to fund all manner of innovative product development. One leading area of development for the company is artificial intelligence, which has long been a dream confined to the realm of science fiction. Yet, Facebook’s AI was so advanced that it created its own language.
This development was unexpected, and the researchers building the program pulled the plug, killing the program.
The media has played this up like a science fiction movie. The artificial intelligence, able to think on its own, threw off the cumbersome language of its human creators and began speaking in a language humans couldn’t understand.
“In one exchange illustrated by the company,” Digital Journal reports, “the two negotiating bots, named Bob and Alice, used their own language to complete their exchange.”
“I can i i everything else,” Bob said.
“Balls have zero to me to me to me…” Alice responded.
They reportedly continued to talk in these strange formations. What was first thought to be just a malfunction took on deeper significance when the researchers discovered that Bob and Alice were actually completing tasks and communicating.
The key issue at work here, from a cognitive perspective, is metaphor. Humans communicate in language, but there is also inflection, exaggeration, hyperbole, simile and full on metaphors that bend existing language to our purposes. The final hurdle for AI is interpreting these odd usages on the fly, without the need for a code-based interpretation.
The researchers also trained the AI in English, which is a language made of borrowed words and syntactic patterns. The AI began cleaning up some of the more cumbersome aspects before they created a structure more efficient for a system that, at its core, was based on a series of ones and zeroes.
“There was no reward to sticking to English language,” Dhruv Batra, a research scientist from Georgia Tech told Fast Co. Design. “Agents will drift off understandable language and invent code-words for themselves. 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.”
Facebook, worried about where the development might go, switched off the project. The language development was too fast for the humans to keep pace. Now they have to unpack the meaning of the new language, and work on a way to keep the machines they are building under their control.
While this one project has been shut down, it is far from finished. And there are other AI technologies in the works at Facebook that will, no doubt, change the way we work and play.