Facebook Shuts Down AI System After It Continued To Communicate In A Language Humans Can’t Understand

This is why we can’t have nice things. Did you ever have the feeling that people are talking behind your back, but you can’t quite make out what they’re saying? Imagine for a minute if instead of people, there were artificial intelligence (AI) bots plotting and scheming in the background — and to make matters worse, they’ve been communicating in their own language.

That’s exactly the dilemma that Facebook ran into when it found that its AI bots were communicating in a shorthand mutation of English. For example, Facebook provided the passage from two of its bots — Bob and Alice — while communicating with each other:

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.”

Taken at face value, there’s really no way for humans to make sense of such verbiage. However, research scientist Dhruv Batra, from the Facebook AI Research (FAIR), says that just like humans often use “shortcuts” with the English language that is easily understood by other humans, AI can use similar methods to get their point across more efficiently. Why should computers be forced to work within the confines of the English language if they can communicate with each other faster using a seemingly [to them] better language?

Mark Zuckerberg F8
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

“Agents will drift off understandable language and invent codewords for themselves,” says Batra. “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.”

“It’s definitely possible, it’s possible that [language] can be compressed, not just to save characters, but compressed to a form that it could express a sophisticated thought,” Batra added.

After being stymied by the bots’ penchant for using their own specially-crafted language, Facebook decided to crack the “digital whip” so to speak, forcing the AI to speak only in English so that humans could understand what they were up to at any given moment. After all, the last thing that we need is a Skynet uprising to threaten mankind.

It’s this sort of uncertainty that prompted Tony Stark Elon Musk to note that we should be very careful around AI, and be aware of its potential risks. "With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon. You know all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water and he's like... yeah, he's sure he can control the demon—it doesn't work out," said Musk at MIT's Aeronautics and Astronautics Department's Centennial Symposium in 2014.

Elon Musk
Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk

More recently, Musk again stepped up his skepticism of AI. “I have exposure to the very cutting edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it,” said Musk at the recent National Governors Association. “I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react, because it seems so ethereal.”

This prompted a visceral reaction from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who stated, “I think people who are naysayers and try to drum up these doomsday scenarios — I just, I don't understand it. It's really negative and in some ways I actually think it is pretty irresponsible.

"Whenever I hear people saying AI is going to hurt people in the future, I think yeah, you know, technology can generally always be used for good and bad, and you need to be careful about how you build it and you need to be careful about what you build and how it is going to be used.”

Elon Musk seemingly got the last word in on the subject, posting via Twitter:

Nerd rage!!

(Top Image Source, Insomnia Cured Here/Flickr)