Yesterday (March 24th, 2016), Microsoft launched Tay, an
artificial intelligent chat bot developed by Microsoft’s Technology and Research and Bing teams to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding. Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.
Source: https://www.tay.ai, retrieved 25th March 2016
What happened is that, in less than 16 hours of interacting with Twitter users, the bot went from being fairly nice and pleasant, to being plain silly and, later, sexist, racist and downright offensive. You can see examples here, here, here and here.
The project has now been put on hold, and some of the most offensive tweets deleted.
This episode reminded me of Jaron Lanier’s take on the true meaning of the Turing test.
The Turing test, designed by computer scientist Alan Turing (who called it ‘The Imitation Game’) is a mechanism to assess a machine’s ability to imitate human behaviour to the point where it is indistinguishable to that of a human being. A machine that can fool an assessor into believing that he or she is talking with another human being, is deemed to be of high quality.
However, in the book ‘You are not a gadget – A manifesto’, Lanier argues that the test says more about human standards than the state of technology. In page 32, Lanier writes:
(T)he Turing test cuts both ways. You can’t tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you’ve just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you’ve let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?
People degrade themselves in order to make machines seem smart all the time. Before the crash, bankers believed in supposedly intelligent algorithms that could calculate credit risks before making bad loans. (…)
Did that search engine really know what you want, or are you playing along, lowering your standards to make it seem clever?
Given that Tay reacted to, and learned from, interactions with Twitter users, I would say that Tay’s debacle actually says a lot about evolving (lowering) human standards. Maybe Tay would pass the Turing test, after all.
Did you follow Tay’s story? What do you make of it?