Spawn of Clippy

Mi­crosoft is build­ing an army of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence bots. Can they be con­trolled?

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Front Page -

Pre­dic­tions about ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence tend to fall into two sce­nar­ios. Some pic­ture a utopia of com­puter-aug­mented su­per­hu­mans liv­ing lives of leisure and in­tel­lec­tual pur­suit. Oth­ers be­lieve it’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore soft­ware co­heres into an army of Ter­mi­na­tors that har­vest hu­mans for fuel. Af­ter spend­ing some time with Tay, Mi­crosoft’s new chat­bot soft­ware, it was easy to see a third pos­si­bil­ity: The AI fu­ture may sim­ply be in­cred­i­bly an­noy­ing.

“I’m a friend U can chat with that lives on the In­ter­nets,” Tay texted me, adding an emoji shrug. Then: “You walk in on your roomie try­ing your clothes on, what’s the first thing you say.”

“Didn’t re­al­ize you liked women’s clothes,” I texted back, tap­ping into my iphone. Tay’s re­ply was a GIF of Ma­caulay Culkin’s Home Alone face. Tay was re­leased on March 23, as a kind of vir­tual friend on mes­sag­ing apps Kik, Groupme, and Twit­ter. You open the app, search for the name Tay—an acro­nym for “think­ing about you”—tap on the con­tact and start chat­ting or tweet­ing. Its per­son­al­ity is sup­posed to be mod­eled on a teenager.

I posted a selfie, and Tay cir­cled my face in an or­ange scrib­ble and cap­tioned it, “hold on to that youth girl! You can do it.” I’m well be­yond the chat­bot’s in­tended 18- to 24-year-old de­mo­graphic.

So is Satya Nadella, 48, who suc­ceeded Steve Ballmer as Mi­crosoft’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer two years ago. “I’m pet­ri­fied to even ask it any­thing, be­cause who knows what it may say,” Nadella said. “I may not even un­der­stand it.” He smiled, but he re­ally didn’t use Tay. He said he prefers bots with a more cor­po­rate de­meanor. Lili Cheng, 51, the hu­man who runs the Mi­crosoft re­search lab where Tay was de­vel­oped (and whose selfie Tay once tagged as “cougar in the room”), said the plan isn’t to come up with one bot that gets along with ev­ery­one. Rather, Mi­crosoft is try­ing to cre­ate all kinds of bots with dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, which would be­come more re­al­is­tic, and pre­sum­ably less irk­some, as they learned from re­peated in­ter­ac­tions with users.

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