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Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, and government-privileged businessman Elon Musk, have both attained some notoriety for warning of the impending dangers of the development of artificial intelligence. In addition to these academic and corporate concerns, popular culture has warned of the dangers from time-to-time. Consider only "HAL" from Arthur C. Clarke's 20o1 Space Odyssey, or "Vicki" from Isaac Asimov's I Robot, or even "the Machine" and its counterpart, "Samaritan" from the popular CBS television series Person of Interest.

If one reduces all these warnings to the lowest common denominator, the warning is that an artificial intelligence will begin to code for itself, and quickly overtake its human administrators, making it impossible to "turn off." As readers here are also aware, I've suspected for a while that we might be seeing hints of such activity with the various flash crashes that have occurred on various equities and commodities markets. Indeed, Person of Interest even did an episode fictionalizing this precise scenario.

Well, Mr. B.H. shared this article which suggests that perhaps these scenarios and concerns are not so far-fetched; if anything, the article carries the implications that these concerns are no longer hypothetical, but now a very real world happening:

Researchers shut down AI that invented its own language

There's something here that intrigued me, and I'll fully grant that people familiar with information technologies can, and probably will, call me crazy. Well, both they and I can claim the academic and free speech right to be wrong. That said, one of my "pet peeves" is that real communication is breaking down as ipads and other texting devices take over; we now talk increasingly in a steady stream of abbreviations and anagrams, which, if one is not familiar with them, inhibit, rather than enhance, clear communication. Rather than spell out words, we now abbreviate them, often expecting others to g.w.w.m. (guess what we mean). "Lol" and "Rof" are now part of our vocabulary. But things have reached a pass that, in my email-sorting that I go through on a weekly basis to schedule these blogs, inevitably I will run across four or five emails full of abbreviations whose meanings are completely opaque to me. On occasion, I will write the sender (usually with some exasperation) asking what they mean. I am then usually informed that the abbreviations refer to some previous email - whose context and contents I don't remember - and of course, once the context is recalled, the abbreviations sometimes begin to make sense.

It's everywhere. Read an article on finances or economics, and one will encounter BIS, FRBNY, BOE, HSBC. Read a government budget and one will encounter GAAP, SEC, ESF, and so on. The abbreviation has come to be "technical" jargon that is a bewildering jumble of vowels and consonants that to the uniniated inhibit, rather than clarify, accurate communication. And the root of it is both "the need for speed" and just plain old laziness. BIS? Bank of International Settlements. FRBNY? Federal Reserve Bank of New York. BOE? Bank of England. GAAP? General Accepted Accounting Principles... and so on. Now, I can hardly claim perfection on this issue, since I've been guilty of abbreviation mania myself; but I have been making an effort of late to try to change this bad habit.

Well, with that in mind, contemplate the following paragraphs from the article:

An artificial intelligence system being developed at Facebook has created its own language. It developed a system of code words to make communication more efficient. Researchers shut the system down when they realized the AI was no longer using English.


As Fast Co. Design reports, Facebook's researchers recently noticed its new AI had given up on English. The advanced system is capable of negotiating with other AI agents so it can come to conclusions on how to proceed. The agents began to communicate using phrases that seem unintelligible at first but actually represent the task at hand.

In one exchange illustrated by the company, the two negotiating bots, named Bob and Alice, used their own language to complete their exchange. Bob started by saying "I can i i everything else," to which Alice responded "balls have zero to me to me to me…" The rest of the conversation was formed from variations of these sentences.

While it appears to be nonsense, the repetition of phrases like "i" and "to me" reflect how the AI operates. The researchers believe it shows the two bots working out how many of each item they should take. Bob's later statements, such as "i i can i i i everything else," indicate how it was using language to offer more items to Alice. When interpreted like this, the phrases appear more logical than comparable English phrases like "I'll have three and you have everything else."

English lacks a "reward"

The AI apparently realised that the rich expression of English phrases wasn’t required for the scenario. Modern AIs operate on a "reward" principle where they expect following a sudden course of action to give them a "benefit." In this instance, there was no reward for continuing to use English, so they built a more efficient solution instead.

Note what has happened: the logic of the machine, the need for speed, eradicated the very humanly based expressions of a natural language, and started inventing its own. The result, at first, was apparent gibberish. The system was shut down.

But imagine what would have happened if it was not shut down. Eventually, the amount of machine-created expressions would have simply overwhelmed any human's, or any team of humans', ability to "decode" and "decrypt," and that that point, the artificial intelligence would have been "up and running" on its own, independently.

This should give those who advocate the "integration of human brain and machine" pause (and, of course, it won't), for the implication is that those humans will increasingly become more machine like in their "communications." Facebook's artificial intelligence, in other words, was "communicating" in the same machine like way in abbreviations, whose meaning is only implicit, rather than in clearly spelled out and explicitly formulated fashion.

This isn't communication.

It's Babel.

My challenge? Spell it out. Pull up the weeds of abbreviations. Use words.

See you on the flip side...


  1. The real question is what is Facebook, the friendly face of creepy Surveillance Capitalism, planning to do with artificial intelligence? Here’s hoping that it’s just the fantasy of a bunch of over-paid quasi-intellectual tech prima-donnas, promising miracles and planning to run away with as much cash as they can before the delusion is exposed.

  2. Taking a cue from fiction, Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” where the created kills its creator, and, one of my other favorites, Fred Hoyles’s novel, “Black Cloud,” where, unless I messed up the plot since I haven’t read it for 40 years, the “cloud” (not the same kind of “cloud” as to-day’s interation) is fed so much data from humans it has enough to scare the beejeebies from us ‘oops we didn’t think it would turn against us’ humans.
    Incidentally, I am not a big fan of placing a lot of my data in “the cloud” anyway, and it isn’t because Hoyle’s story seeded a boogieman in me.
    Staying in the world of fiction, this stuff reminds me of the “War Games” and “The Colossus” films when the controlling systems generate a language only their counterpart understands, forcing us so-smart humans to figure a way of pulling the plug.

  3. my fantasy is the ai’s start giving them a hard time about their stone age religion ways and the ‘internal contradictions’ of Satanism to put it in Marxist terms.
    I me me mine, was Theo Adorno a bot who wrote for the beatles?
    LOL. oops, laugh out loud, which is not what I just did, just an internal chuckle.
    ROFL, not here with the seasons first semi poisonous snake in the house last night. on the floor slithering rather than rolling.

  4. (In psychology classes, it is often stressed that abbreviations give those who feel powerless a felt-sense of power. A combination of “I know more than you do,” and “You have to come to me.”)

    Within this AI mini-language blog, the ‘condensation’ can be explained by the use of subroutines. These are the machine-equivalent of paragraphs or chapters. All a machine has to do is say ‘gazorb’, and another machine has notice that the conversation will be restricted to, say, World Domination. This minimizes search parameters and memory allocations.

    Humans do this in an implied fashion. If I say:
    Dune Bene-Gesserit infiltration
    other Gizars will have their minds home-in on what is about to be discussed.

    If I say:
    B5 Bester telekinesis as$as$ination
    we are down to a very specific subset.

    To get to back to the article, if I say:
    Benford Mechs Bishops
    astute Gizars will know exactly the threat of AIs.
    [Longhand: ]

    (I expect obscure abbreviations and references will be how humans defend themselves against T1000 infiltrations in one possible future…)

  5. Insiders to the acronym craze take a perverse pleasure in their knowledge of the acronym glossary and knowing that “lay people” can’t understand their lingo. It’s like a secret society (of idiots) that openly hide their explicit communication through codes and tropes. But soon enough we will find acronymic paronomasia. Then it will be Babel for sure!

  6. I for one noticed that I never stated why they shut it down. I wonder if it actually started to do other things that concern the researchers

  7. Spiritual level, from where the roots of language are seeded, is called “language of birds”. And there angelic magnificence is held, as it lingers into cascades, of glittering water elves, from within deep flowing crystal well. That is the voice of nature.

    Language is many things. Angelic presence uses words as a vehicle for energy. When speech, song and poetry transmute into one expression, it is called “living word”. Thus it is Bardic and Druidic. Merlin did it, as he roamed the wild forest in amazement.

    Fiery speech
    I held not my tongue
    as I broke night
    and cast light into day.

  8. Amazing that the AI sounds just like many humans do; I and Me’. Or does the artificial imitator really think it’s an I or me?
    A few months ago the guy that does predictions based on bots, said if people would use slang, new abbreviations and terms that it would be a good way to trick the machine.
    It’s easier to connect with the machine than it is to connect with ourselves – to slow our thought cycles down and find inner space, calmness and stillness. Dis-connect with the computer and re-connect with earth. Nature is truly healing while the computer is completely distracting. We live in the information age yet the information available is hidden, tainted, emitted or false.

  9. Many times I have to go to Google to decipher an acronym.
    I often find many , many meanings for the same acronyms, so I have to rely on context. Another peeve is the miss-spelled or incomplete words used here and in other ‘comment’ sections. Obviously no proofreading being done.

    If people want to say something, they should say it well. A post full of trivial mistakes looks, well, trivial . . .

  10. Did it start singing “Daisy” as they turned it off?

    One reason that science fiction (sorry, almost used sci-fi) is so persistent among people is that it offers a way to do “thought experiments” with just his kind of dangerous thing.

    This example triggers memories of “War Games,” “2001,” Collosus: The Forbin Project,” and so on. We have seen the themes of robotic cyborgs explored in “Terminator,” Stark Trek’s “Borg,” and so on. The Stargate franchise has also dealt with the dangers of such things extensively, with the Replicators and others.

    Apparently, none of the researchers in these areas paid the slightest attention to the very thoughtful, intelligent treatments of these dangers in science fiction. (News flash to device-addicted folks, you can actually LEARN from literature!!!)

    Which brings me to another of my pet peeves about our society – “hurry sickness” (as the Native Americans dubbed it). It is the constant drive to do more and more things faster and faster. No time for thought, contemplation, reasoned speculation, or any of the real markers of intelligence. No time to let new ideas percolate in the back of the mind until epiphanies and new perceptions are born.

    After looking at what has been wrought over the last 150 years of such nonsense, my response is; WHY? Why the rush? What is this “need for speed?” It has not proven to be a benefit for the vast majority of people.

    A certain amount is due simply to the numbers of manic, Type A people who are always running (from what?). But this is beyond even their influence.

    At one point, technology was driven by innovation – new ideas and devices were being invented more rapidly as more people were educated and had means to invent.

    Today, however, the “product cycle” is driven by sales figures and profit, not by real innovation. There is very little in the way of actual usable products which are genuinely new and inventive. Most of what we see are cosmetic changes to push sales to people addicted to the newest shiny objects, so economic goals can be met.

    Why? The quality of life has seriously declined over the last 150 years, at least in most critical areas. It is more like our society is being pushed to its limits to “create” wealth (which most of us don’t get to share), at the expense of quality of life and a truly human society.

    What is the goal of pushing this “machine” to the breaking point? (“Captain, she’s gonna blow!”) It feels for all the world like a factory struggling to beat a quota or deadline set by an insane Board of Directors to appease even more insane stockholders.

    For those who would say we need to move faster and faster to make better and better goods, I say “hogwash.” That is the very opposite of reality. Slow, thoughtful, and careful development will always produce superior products (which you have to have an understanding of history to realize). This feels like a mad dash at the end of a world war to meet some nebulous “super weapon” goal at any price, while cranking out cheap weapons for children and old people to be the last ditch home guard. The stench of frantic desperation is strong, and it is not coming from the slave/consumers (that smell is exhaustion).

    Who is so desperate and why?

    1. It seems to happen at the end of every astrological age: the Egyptians of the Old Kingdom had a pyramid building spree at the the end of the age of Taurus and the Roman expansion happened at the end of the age of Aries. We are now close to the end of the age of Pisces. Certainly the current episode of population growth, planetary wealth extraction, technological development, and slavery especially wage slavery is unprecedented. It does seem like somebody is desperate. It seems they are they don’t want us to know who they are.

    2. “Hurry sickness” is a good catchall phrase. Profound.

      IMHO (grin), there are two agendas at work: First and most pernicious is the need to keep people in their left brain. Analytical, beta-brainwave land. Otherwise, we might actually develop the latent abilities which have always been our heritage. Including telepathy. Zenna Henderson’s “The People” is an outstanding science-fiction book-series on this aspect. Or, the temple scenes within the television classic “Kung Fu.” Second is that slowing-down allows insight/intuition. The PTB (grin) do not want people to develop this ‘habit’ at all costs. They would be out (or on pitchforks) soon after Insight and Intuition became commonplace…

  11. There is a perfectly comprehensible sentence in French that makes a mockery of the language and is used incessantly by the young : “Eh, bah ouai quoi” ( Uh, well, sure”). There is only one actual word in it, “quoi,” along with one piece of slang and two variants of expressive grunts. This is what passes for French these days.

    As human language devolves, commonly used French vocabulary, only about 3/5 that of English to begin with — has shrunk to shocking levels about half of what it was two generations ago, so it is no surprise that common phrases consist mostly of slang and grunts.

    As for the AI making its own language and so going opaque and so rogue, it’s not like this development could not be foreseeable; if they allow the programs to rewrite themselves, ultimately they’ll have to pull the plug on all of them. But will they? I highly doubt it. I’m sure some researchers out there would just love to study an AI that goes totally rogue, just as, when as Van Allen reported on the discovery of his eponymous radiation belts, the very next day the Pentagram ordered them assaulted with thermonuclear weapons.

  12. AI slang it’s way of conducting a private conservation in public. It follows criminal, legal, scientific and political slang only ones in the know understand what is being discuss by the ones in the know.

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