Learning To Speak Chatbotese

So, two chatbots were learning to negotiate and were talking to each other.

(This sounds like the first line of a bad joke, doesn’t it?  And for those of you, like me, who aren’t exactly sure what “chatbots” are, they are computer programs designed to engage in simulated conversations with human beings, such as over the internet.  I think they also can be called “dialog agents.”)

Anyway, researchers at the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research Lab were using “machine learning” to train these two chatbots to negotiate and deal with each other, through talking or engaging in “simulated conversations,” or whatever.

70720-the-terminator-endo-skeleton(“Machine learning,” for those of you who are clueless about it like me, is an artificial intelligence model in which computer behavior isn’t tied to specific, fixed programming.  Instead, it involves the use of analytical algorithms that allow computers to review and “learn” from data, with the computer programming changing as new data is assimilated, thereby hopefully allowing the computers to identify new insights or patterns in the data they are reviewing.  Got it?  Well, I’m not sure I really do, either, but at least I didn’t use the word “iterative” in describing it.)

So, anyway, the researchers were observing these two chatbots that were using machine learning to develop their negotiation abilities when the researchers noticed something odd:  the two chatbots had stopped using human language and started to use a language of their own.   And they also quickly picked up on standard techniques that allowed them to become pretty effective negotiators.

Interesting, isn’t it, that computers using techniques that allowed them to follow their own leads ended up realizing that human language wasn’t the most efficient way to proceed, and decided to  develop their own form of communication?  And, in so doing, they scratched off another of the former dividing lines that are supposed to differentiate humans from everything else — the ability to develop language.  It would be fascinating to know what the chatbot language was like.  What were the words used?  Did it involve any adverbs?

We’re on the far technology frontiers these days, where we’re inching closer to true artificial intelligence and computers that think for themselves and, presumably, will start to factor their own interests into what they are doing.  You can think of the Terminator movies, or 2001, or The Matrix, or any of a slew of sci-fi novels where computers go rogue and target humanity — or you can hope that computers will just be happy to acquire some form of self-awareness, without using their remorseless computer logic to judge the imperfect humans that created them and find them wanting.

Maybe the chatbots invented a word for that.

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The Arnold At The Arnold

Columbus has a new statue, and it’s a whopper.

Yesterday — with the Arnold Sports Festival in full swing — the City dedicated this colossal rendering of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  It’s located outside the Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium, where many of the Arnold events are held, just across the river from downtown Columbus.

The statue is a depiction of Arnold in his full Mr. Olympia glory — huge fists clenched, muscles bulging, rope-like veins popping everywhere, face set in impassive concentration, in the pose that Arnold made famous.  It is somewhat larger than life, although still smaller than the statue of Christopher Columbus in front of City Hall.  I suppose that’s only appropriate, although if you took a vote of the people who are in Columbus right now, Arnold would easily outpoll Chris for the top spot in the Most Titanic Figure contest.

The statue has a pretty good likeness of Arnold’s face, which is why it inevitably brings to mind — uncomfortably, in my book — the Terminator movies.  I look at the statue and expect the metallic Arnold to turn his head slowly, focus with a red mechanical eye, then step off the pedestal and begin slaughtering the masses in his search for Sarah Connor.