Facebook shuts down AI robots after they begin speaking their own language

Facebook shuts down AI robots after they begin speaking their own language
Facebook artificial intelligence programs created their own language after they were asked to barter a trade with one another. Facebook shut down the programs because they were being designed to speak to humans, not in coded language to each other. (Getty Images)

Social media goliath Facebook shut down an experiment with artificial intelligence, after two AI programs created and began to speak a language only they knew, the Independent reported Tuesday.

Facebook developers were attempting to get the two “chatbots” to barter a trade with one another utilizing hats, balls, and books of varying values, according to the Independent. The two bots quickly resorted to speaking a variation of English between one another that seemed largely incomprehensible to the developers but was seemingly understood clearly by the two bots.

The robots were reportedly told to improve their negotiation tactics as they bartered a trade but were not required to use understandable English, and soon the bots began speaking abnormally.

According to the Independent, a sample of the conversation went like this:

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

According to the Independent, while the conversation initially looked like stuttering or glitching, the bots appeared to be using specific speech rules. For instance, both bots kept stressing their own names, which was thought to be a part of the bartering process.

Developers reported that some of the negotiations carried out with this bizarre language were concluded successfully. They noted that the language was possibly just a shorthand form of English used by the programs to work more efficiently.

Linguist Mark Liberman, who called the chatbots’ language “Facebotlish,” said that while Facebotlish seems like gibberish it counts as a successful language if it’s understood. He explained on his blog what it means for something to “truly count as language”:

We have to start by admitting that it’s not up to linguists to decide how the word “language” can be used, though linguists certainly have opinions and arguments about the nature of human languages, and the boundaries of that natural class.

Are vernacular languages really capital-L languages, rather than just imperfect approximations to elite languages? All linguists would agree that they are. Are sign languages really Languages rather than just ways to use mime to communicate? Again, everyone agrees that they are.

While researchers were fascinated by the development and not worried about the language being a way for the bots to keep secrets from developers, Facebook had to shut down the programs due to the fact that they were being designed to speak to humans, not in coded language to each other.

But while the AI’s language was very strange, inventing varied forms of wording isn’t as odd as some might think. In fact, according to Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research division’s visiting researcher Dhruv Batra, it’s very human.

“Agents will drift off understandable language and invent code words for themselves,” Batra said, highlighting the effectiveness of the adapted communication. “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.”

According to Liberman, however, it’s unlikely that the AI form of shorthand is something humans will adopt.

“In the first place, it’s entirely text-based, while human languages are all basically spoken (or gestured), with text being an artificial overlay,” Liberman 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.”

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