No, Facebook did not shut down AI program for getting too smart

July 22, 2024 | Is there anything to worry about? (WTOP Tech Guy Gregg Stebben on WTOP)

WASHINGTON — Facebook artificial intelligence bots tasked with dividing items between them have been shut down after the bots started talking to each other in their own language.

But hold off on making comparisons to “Terminator” or “The Matrix.”

ForbesBooks Radio host and technology correspondent Gregg Stebben said that Facebook shut down the artificial intelligence program not because the company was afraid the bots were going to take over, but because the bots did not accomplish the task they were assigned to do — negotiate.

The bots are not really robots in the physical sense, Stebben said, but chat bots — “little servers” or “digital chips” doing the responding. The bots were just discussing how to divide some items between them, according to Gizmodo.

But researchers at Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research made a mistake in programming when they did not include a reward for speaking the way a normal person would, Dhruv Batra, a visiting scientist at FAIR, told FastCo Design.

The language the program created comprised English words with a syntax that would not be familiar to humans, Stebben said.

Below is a sample of the conversation between the bots, called “Bob” and “Alice”:

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”

Though there is a method to the bots’ language, FAIR scientist Mike Lewis told FastCo Design that the researchers’ interest was having bots who could talk to people.

“If we’re calling it ‘AI,’ why are we surprised when it shows intelligence?” Stebben said. “Increasingly … we are going to begin communicating with beings that are not humans at all.”

So should there be fail-safes to prevent an apocalyptic future controlled by machines?

“What we will find is, we will never achieve a state where we have absolute control of machines,” Stebben said. “They will continue to surprise us, we will have to do things to continue to control them, and I think there will always be a risk that they will do things that we didn’t expect.”

WTOP’s Dimitri Sotis contributed to this report.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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