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Meet Bob and Alice, Facebook’s AI chatbots

Facebook shut down an artificial intelligence (AI) experiment after two chatbots began communicating in machine “shorthand”. How quickly is AI progressing and should we be worried?

Writers and film directors have long speculated about what will happen when robots begin to develop artificial intelligence (AI).

Now, in a scene reminiscent of a sci-fi movie, Facebook has been forced to shut down a chatbot experiment after two artificial intelligence (AI) models began communicating in their own language.

Artificial Intelligence - Compelo
Image: Ociacia

AI chatbots learn to negotiate

The social media company was trying to teach two AIs named, rather creepily, Bob and Alice, how to negotiate. They were encouraged to swap hats, balls and books, each with a specific value.

However, scientists discovered they had rejected the script and invented strange new phrases on their own. Facebook’s Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR) said they were attempting to imitate human speech but instead created their own machine “shorthand”.

Moreover, the AI creations had no help from humans.

Here’s what they said:

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

Bob: i i can i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me

Bob: i . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

Bob: you i i i i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Alice: balls have 0 to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to

Bob: you i 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

Artificial Intelligence - Compelo

Rules to machine speech

No need to fear for the future of humankind just yet, then.

However, there appear to be rules to the speech. The chatbots’ repetition of their own name seems to a part of their negotiations. In addition, some of the negotiations in the machine language were concluded successfully.

“Agents will drift off understandable language and invent codewords for themselves,” FAIR’s visiting researcher Dhruv Batra said. “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.”

Bob and Alice also reportedly feigned interest in a specific item. As a result, they could later pretend they were making a big sacrifice in giving it up.

FAIR researcher Mike Lewis said Facebook chose to shut down the chats because “our interest was having bots who could talk to people” – not for any sinister reason.

AI research is moving at a rapid pace across multiple industries. In 2016 it emerged that that the AI Google uses for its Translate tool had created its own language.

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