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Facebook shuts down to AI robots after they begin communicating in their own language

It might sound like the plot of a Sci-fi movie, but it’s true. Facebook were recently forced to shut down two artificial intelligence chatbots after they began a discussion in a language only they seemed to understand.

This came as Facebook challenged the chatbots to begin a negotiation over a trade where they attempted to swap hats, balls and books, each of which were given a certain value. The robots had been instructed to figure out how to negotiate between themselves and to improve their bartering skills as they went along.  In time however, the robots began to break down chanting in a language that only they seemed to understand, remaining incomprehensible to humans.

Here is a transcript of the actual negotiations, none of which seems particularly useful. To humans, anyway….

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

There does appear to be some rules in the speech. Chatbots keep stressing their own name and this seems to be part of the negotiation rather than a simple glitch. Some of this bizarre language even successfully concluded their negotiation.

FAIR visiting researcher Dhruv Batra suggested that the robots may have established a type of shorthand, allowing them to talk more efficiently.  “Agents will drift off understandable language and invent codewords for themselves,” he 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.”

Additionally, linguist Mark Liberman said that it is unlikely that the language is a precursor to new forms of human speech. “In the first place, it’s entirely text-based, while human languages are all basically spoken (or gestured), with text being an artificial overlay,” he wrote on his blog. “And beyond that, it’s unclear that this process yields a system with the kind of word, phrase, and sentence structures characteristic of human languages.”

Facebook’s decision to shut down the bots was because it was their interest to “[have] bots who could talk to people.” Nonetheless, they did learn to negotiate in a way that was human. For example, they would pretend to be interested in a specific item before later pretending that they were making a big sacrifice giving it up. All of this was reported by the Facebook Artificial Intelligence division.  

This isn’t the first time that AI has invented new forms of language. Late last year, Google revealed that the AI it uses for its Translate tool had created its own language whereby it would translate things into and out of.

Who knows, perhaps Elon Musk’s billion dollar crusade to stop the “AI apocalypse” isn’t such a far-fetched idea after all.

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