Monday, February 27, 2017

Making Sure Humans Can Always Control Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming ubiquitous, impacting nearly every aspect of our daily lives.  Although this technology is providing society with a number of useful, even critical applications, there are some really smart people that are concerned about AI.  This includes such well known individuals as Bill Gates, Professor Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, just to name a few.  The European Parliament recently recommended that this technology be regulated, to ensure that the AI agents will always obey human commands.  They also recommended the development of a "kill switch." Yes, that's right, a kill switch, something akin to a big red button which can be pushed in case of an emergency. In fact, researchers from Google's AI Division, Deep Mind and Oxford University are already working to develop just such a kill switch.  They laid out their approach in a recent paper entitled Safely Interruptible Agents. The first line of the paper is a masterpiece of understatement.  It reads, "Reinforcement learning agents interacting with a complex environment like the real world are unlikely to behave optimally all the time."  The paper goes on to hypothesize that the AI agent may not want to be shut down, and could try to find a way to avoid being shut down.  What?  Can they do that?
   If you're wondering why researchers would be concerned that an AI agent might not "behave optimally all the time", let's consider two recent examples:
  • When an AI agent was programmed to play and win Tetris, it discovered that the only way not to lose was to pause the game indefinitely
  • When Microsoft launched a chatbot named Tay, they had to shut down the program after less than 24 hours because Tay started sending out racist and misogynistic tweets
   In summary, let's all hope the engineers can develop an effective kill switch before our computers go rogue. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go and watch 2001: A Space Odyssey one more time.



  1. Ford has a robot named Hank. He is awesome and fun to interact with. However I agree with kill switch.. If Tay and Hank got together, they wiuld be dangerous. Hopefully, resistance is Not futile, as the Borg would say!

  2. I agree, no way we're going down without a fight!

  3. Hilariously, I have a friend who genuinely believes that having AIs in everyday life is inevitable, and those AIs going rogue is equally inevitable. You've done exactly nothing to convince me he's wrong!

    While you're watching 2001, you might want to re-watch the first two Terminator movies as well. Good stuff.

  4. Thanks Brian, but maybe I'll re-watch the Terminator movies later. I need to pace myself!

  5. Is TAY an acronym for a certain political figure prone to twitter rants?
    Seriously, autonomous vehicles make extensive use of AI, and they completely frighten me. However I will be supporting these monsters in the very near future.

  6. I wonder what TAY has been up to lately.

  7. I think Microsoft retired Tay, without benefits!