Facebook didn't kill its language-building AI because it was too smart, but it was actually too dumb

Aug 02, 2017, 11:00 AM

Humans are weak and fleshy, while machines are big and metal and good at math—it’s easy to think that they’d want to kill us.

Recent headlines and news articles have depicted research from Facebook’s artificial intelligence lab as the sci-fi beginnings of killer AI: one bot is learning to talk to another bot in a secret language so complex that it had to shut down. A BGR headline reads “Facebook engineers panic, pull plug on AI after bots develop their own language,” and Digital Journal claims in its article that “There’s not yet enough evidence to determine whether they present a threat that could enable machines to overrule their operators.” Dozens of similarly misleading articles have been written.

I get it.

Humans are weak and fleshy, while machines are big and metal and good at math—it’s easy to think that they’d want to kill us.

Recent headlines and news articles have depicted research from Facebook’s artificial intelligence lab as the sci-fi beginnings of killer AI: one bot is learning to talk to another bot in a secret language so complex that it had to shut down. A BGR headline reads “Facebook engineers panic, pull plug on AI after bots develop their own language,” and Digital Journal claims in its article that “There’s not yet enough evidence to determine whether they present a threat that could enable machines to overrule their operators.” Dozens of similarly misleading articles have been written.

“While the idea of AI agents inventing their own language may sound alarming/unexpected to people outside the field, it is a well-established sub-field of AI, with publications dating back decades,” Facebook researcher Dhruv Batra wrote in a blogpost last night, calling recent coverage irresponsible. “Simply put, agents in environments attempting to solve a task will often find unintuitive ways to maximize reward.”

That’s to say: Machines don’t think or talk like humans, so calm down. Perhaps the more concerning piece of news should be not that Facebook’s bots invented a machine-readable language, but rather that its successful English-speaking bot eventually learned to lie.