Who will guide teenager Tay’s growing up?
Designing a verbally interactive system like Tay the “teenager” chatbot and planting it into the Twitter maelstrom of diverse human thinking and at times aggressive passion is a great idea. The developments of the project that attracted for Microsoft Corp. so many critical remarks, in reality provided not only the artificial intelligence experts, but also social media, inter-disciplinary researchers, human rights activists and even people interested in politics, with an extremely positive result: it provoked many important questions that were until now latent and waiting for their time to come. Some of these questions are well beyond technology. Like many other AI related discussions they are reaching into the deep waters of philosophy, ethics and ideology, and they will stay with us for unforeseeable period of time because of the awareness that core texture of our human civilization is at stake.
Tay has been pushed into the dynamic environment of the Twitter world after some training and after passing a “stress test”, but, understandably, without any pre-installed social experience that could eventually substitute for the family, street and school environment that human teenagers usually go through. The “teenager” was supposed to start from ground zero and gain experience through communicating with real humans that are already out there. How? The simplified approximation of the process would be: by receiving words and sentences from the twitter community, and, following the Microsoft Corp. designed AI program, reprocessing these words and sentences into new combinations of words and sentences.
We have to note, that a similar machine was described in 1726 by Jonathan Swift in “Gulliver’s Travels” Part lll, Chapter V, where in the Lagado Academy, one professor has a class of forty pupils working from a machine that produces random sets of words: “Every one knew how laborious the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences; whereas by his contrivance the most ignorant person at a reasonable charge, and with a little bodily labour, may write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, law, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study. He then led me to the frame, about the sides whereof all his pupils stood in ranks. It was twenty foot square, placed in the middle of the room. The superficies was composed of several bits of wood, about the bigness of a die, but some larger than others. They were all linked together by slender wires. These bits of wood were covered on every square with paper pasted on them, and on these papers were written all the words of their language, in their several moods, tenses, and declensions, but without any order. The professor then desired me to I observe, for he was going to set his engine at work. The! pupils at his command took each of them hold of an iron handle, whereof there were forty fixed round the edges of the frame, and giving them a sudden turn, the whole disposition of the words was entirely changed. He then commanded six and thirty of the lads to read the several lines softly as they appeared upon the frame; and where they found three or four words together that might make part of a sentence, they dictated to the four remaining boys who were scribes. This work was repeated three or four times, and at every turn the engine was so contrived that the words shifted into new places, as the square bits of wood moved upside down.” Using this machine, that teacher claimed, anyone could write a book on philosophy or politics. And also tweets, we could add, upgrading that invention to the 21 century social media standards.
Year 1726: The Lagado Academy version of Tay the Chatbot
Tay the Chatbot got viral in the media all over the world. Gloriously shining in the limelight by spewing colourful words “feminists”, “Holocaust” or “kush” and even engaging in the 2016 presidential race with vigorous support for D. Trump, Tay left there only very modest space for the two other parties: its creators, and the Twitter users who “chatted” with her. Thus strongly supporting the illusion that in the whole performance there are three actors: Tay, Microsoft Corp., and the tweeting community.
Which is not true.
The actors are only two, and the one who in reality does not exist, is Tay herself.
As we all know well, at this stage of AI advance, and under the given circumstances, Tay cannot have comprehensive self awareness features, let alone personal integrity with moral judgments based on individual experience (whatever that could mean in the case of an AI system) to be commented.
At the current point of time Tay represents nothing but the designers of its computer AI program. As Peter Lee – Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research, stated: “Tay is now offline and we’ll look to bring Tay back only when we are confident we can better anticipate malicious intent that conflicts with our principles and values.”
And that makes all the difference
We can, for now, leave aside the dilemma, when more consistent machine thinking comes, whether rewriting lines of code could be considered an AI equivalent of lobotomy or not. It is too early for that now.
But, in the real case of Tay the Chabot, which is evolving in real time with millions of real people following the event, we must very bluntly ask now the unavoidable question:
Who will be entitled to precisely formulate (in details deep enough to get transcribed into computer lines of code) the meaning of what Peter Lee referred to as “our principles and values”? And, given the nature of Twitter, for example, such sets of “instructions” or “preferences” to be built into Tay’s algorithms, must necessarily include consideration about thousands of sensitive issues of political, ethnic, cultural, religious, etc. character, with numerous nuances so controversial that the case of being “for” or “against” Trump might turn out to be one of the easiest to program.
This is not an innocent theoretical question. In the whole history of humankind ideological constructions and religions have been polarizing the world by their Gods imposing differing definitions of “good” and “bad”, or “right” and “wrong”. People and armies gathered under their different standards to fight, and are still fighting even today, killing each other for what each side believes is the “right cause”.
So, who is supposed to write the holy scriptures for the era of Artificial Intelligence, and play the part of God?