Why the Evolution of Facebook’s Bots Should be No Surprise

Recent reports have discussed the goings-on at Facebook HQ, where the social media giant’s researchers were forced to shut down their artificial intelligence (AI) to prevent them from talking to one another and inventing their own unknown language.

While the tabloids have reported this in a rather more alarmist fashion than necessary, Dhruv Batra, part of Facebook’s AI Research group, insisted that it was nothing more than a routine exercise. Batra said that although it is reasonable for this piece of news to sound alarming to some who are unfamiliar with the field of AI, it is not uncommon for AIs to create their own “language”. In fact, it has been widely reported by researchers for decades.“Simply put, agents in environments attempting to solve a task will often find unintuitive ways to maximize reward. Analyzing the reward function and changing the parameters of an experiment is NOT the same as ‘unplugging’ or ‘shutting down AI’”, continued Batra. “If that were the case, every AI researcher has been ‘shutting down AI’ every time they kill a job on a machine.”

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The evolution of AI should not be a surprise to anyone. In fact, it should be embraced. There are many other recent examples of AI agents developing their own way of doing things.

Earlier this year, an experiment involving two AI programs managed to defeat the popular poker game Texas Hold’em, overcoming a group of poker pros for the very first time. AI has long been able to conquer strategy games such as chess, but it has always struggled to adapt to human behaviour enough to prevail at the poker tables. That’s understandable, considering that poker involves bluffing, choosing how much to bet, and reading opponents’ strategy and body language. The popularity of poker remains as high as ever, with downloadable software available to play at dozens of leading poker sites that offer cash game and multi-table tournament action. The AI poker experiment was a simple sit n’ go tournament, which saw deep machine learning eventually conquer human nuances over 20 gruelling days of action. Libratus, the AI program devised by Carnegie Mellon University, eventually won $1.5m worth of chips from the humans.

Smart devices are also playing increasingly important roles in our everyday lives. Virtual assistants such as Siri, Cortana and Alexa are built to use speech to text recognition and perform commands such as loading the latest news stories or play your favourite music, enriching everything we do. AI is also designed to personalize everything we do online. Algorithms are used to deliver targeted online ads that are relevant to topics you’re interested in across Google and various social media platforms. But, in true AI fashion, these algorithms also learn and evolve.

The role of customer support or service is also evolving in front of our very eyes. Increasingly, websites are adopting AI to respond to customer queries and attempt to cross reference them with possible solutions to a problem. Humans aren’t quite rendered useless in the customer support department just yet, as those queries that don’t have a simple solution are still forwarded on to customer care agents.

It’s important to acknowledge that we live in a world today where machines have the ability to carry out tasks which only humans used to be able to do. Embracing this shift in the coming decades will help shape our way of life for generations to come.

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