Bob: “I can 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.”
To you and I, that passage looks like nonsense. But what if I told you this nonsense was the discussion of what might be the most sophisticated negotiation software on the planet? Negotiation software that had learned, and evolved, to get the best deal possible with more speed and efficiency–and perhaps, hidden nuance–than you or I ever could? Because it is.
This conversation occurred between two AI agents developed inside Facebook. At first, they were speaking to each other in plain old English. But then researchers realized they’d made a mistake in programming.
“There was no reward to sticking to English language,” says Dhruv Batra, visiting research scientist from Georgia Tech at Facebook AI Research (FAIR). As these two agents competed to get the best deal–a very effective bit of AI vs. AI dogfighting researchers have dubbed a “generative adversarial network”–neither was offered any sort of incentive for speaking as a normal person would. So they began to diverge, eventually rearranging legible words into seemingly nonsensical sentences.
“Agents will drift off understandable language and invent codewords for themselves,” says Batra, speaking to a now-predictable phenomenon that Facebook as observed. “Like if I say ‘the’ five times, you interpret that to mean I want five copies of this item. This isn’t so different from the way communities of humans create shorthands.”
Indeed. Humans have developed unique dialects for everything from trading pork bellies on the floor of the Mercantile Exchange to hunting down terrorists as Seal Team Six – simply because humans sometimes perform better by not abiding to normal language conventions.