Simanaitis Says

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ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE bots are learning to chat with each other in their own language. Using deep-learning skills to screw on bottle caps is one thing, but language is decidedly more complex. As Adrienne LaFrance observed in The Atlantic, June 15, 2017, “… the fact that machines will make up their own non-human ways of conversing is an astonishing reminder of just how little we know, even when people are the ones designing these systems.”

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO.

In an investor call on April 27, 2016, reported in The Verge, Mark Zuckerberg said, “… the biggest thing that we’re focused on with artificial intelligence is building computer services that have better perception than people, basic human senses like seeing, hearing, language, core things that we do. I think it’s possible to get to the point in the next five to 10 years where we have computer systems that are better than people at each of those things.”

For language, make that less than 15 months.

Researchers Shut Down AI That Invented Its Own Language is the headline at the Digital Journal website, July 21, 2017. Notes author James Walker, “The observations made at Facebook are the latest in a long line of similar cases. In each instance, an AI being monitored by humans has diverged from its training in English to develop its own language. The resulting phrases appear to be nonsensical gibberish to humans but contain semantic meaning when interpreted by AI ‘agents.’ ”

At the root of all this is deep learning, with the AI agents working beyond their initial human programming.

The Facebook AI bots are our old pals Alice and Bob, recast from their traditional quantum world. At Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research (FAIR), AI negotiators Alice and Bob began their computerized interactions in English.

This and the following image from CO.Design.

But, before long, FAIR researchers monitoring the pair encountered Bob saying, “I can I I everything else,” to which Alice responded, “Balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to.” The negotiation continued with each understanding what the other was saying.

Noted one of the human researchers, “There was no reward to sticking to English language.… Agents will drift off understandable language and invent codewords for themselves.”

Philosophical insights appear at CO.Design website’s article “AI is Inventing Languages Humans Can’t Understand. Should We Stop It?” by Mark Wilson. He notes that these languages are akin to the jargon that develops, for example, among pork belly traders at the Mercantile Exchange.

Wilson notes, “… it offers us the possibility of a more interoperable world, a more perfect place where iPhones talk to refrigerators that talk to your car without a second thought. The tradeoff is that we, as humanity, would have no clue what those machines were actually saying to one another.”

Should we discourage this covert communication?

“But at the same time,” Wilson observes, “it feels short-sighted, doesn’t it? If we can build software that can speak to other software more efficiently, shouldn’t we use that?”

Alice and Bob may have the last word. Even if we have no idea what they’re saying. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017


  1. sabresoftware
    August 1, 2017

    This is a little frightening really. We already outsource physical jobs offshore and are increasingly pushing knowledge work offshore. Eventually we’ll have computers transacting business directly with humans almost completely out of the loop. At what point do these machines decide that we are useless and actually a drag on an efficient economy and need to be removed as an unnecesssry element.

    There’s already plenty of sci-fi that alludes to such a future scenario. It likely won’t happen in my lifetime but I shudder to think what the future will bring for my grandkids.

    And even the offshore economies that are building their futures on the work being transferred would eventually succumb to this rather bleak scenario. Unfortunately it is probably a direction that we are heading in that we may have no control over.

    • simanaitissays
      August 1, 2017

      Thankfully, we still have the wall plug. (I’m reminded of HAL’s demise….)

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