The true story about Facebook’s closed AI Wing

In 2017, it was reported that Facebook closed it’s AI Wing after an experiment which involved two chatbots. The media blew the news out of proportion when it was learned that the two bots had created a new language to communicate among themselves which could be deciphered by the researchers. This news was hyped as ‘The doom of all humanity’ or ‘The rise of the machines’ or even as ‘Terminator is a reality now’. Elon Musk’s comments a week prior that “Artificial Intelligence could be a threat to humanity in the future” were now being more accepted.

The experiment involved two bots namely Bob and Alice. They were challenged to try and negotiate a swap for hats, balls and books with each item having an intellectual value associated to it. The bots were tasked to negotiate by themselves, improving their bartering along the way. The bots had the liberty to not use comprehensible English as the primary aim at this stage was just to teach the bots how to negotiate. The actual conversations between the two bots are as follows:-

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

On inspecting the above dialogue, the researchers found out that the two bots had created ‘shorthand’ for the English language ie they optimised their communication by reducing the apparent complexity of the English language. Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research division’s visiting researcher Dhruv Batra, while deciphering the language said that the two bots had shorthanded the English language. He gave an example that in line 5 of the dialogue, Alice repeats the phrase “to me” 9 times as a way to communicate the importance of a ball to it rather than using a more complicated adjective to describe it.



One of the few positives from the experiment was that the bots feigned interest in an item so that it could later communicate to the other bot how it was sacrificing an item for the trade.

The real reason of the closing down of the AI wing was that the researchers wanted the bots to be human-friendly and that they could communicate in a more comprehensible manner.

The hype and the negative reception of the story has to be attributed more to the general perception of Artificial Intelligence and popular culture and such a perception should be there when analysis news of similar content.



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