Facebook bots apparently make their own language

From 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Like a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, computers are now seemingly taking matters into their own hands and possibly overthrowing their human overlords.

Many news outlets are telling us that Facebook bots can talk to each other in a language they are making up on their own. Some news outlets appear convinced that this communication is real. Even fairly respectable news outlets such as Al Jazeera are suggesting the proverbial sky is falling. However, they fall short of speculating that the Facebook bots are plotting against us.

While Facebook pulled the plug on the encoded “conversation” (which on inspection was repetitive gibberish along with repetitive responses), one half-expected the bots to try and prevent the operators from turning them off somehow. Maybe by disabling Control+C or something. Maybe they were plotting to prevent the human operator from pulling the plug from the wall.

What Facebook was experimenting with was something called an “End-to-End” negotiator, the source code of which is available to everyone on GitHub. Far from being a secret experiment, it was based on a very public computer program written in Python whose source code anyone could download and play with themselves on a Python interpreter, which is also freely available for most operating systems. And to greatly aid the confused programmer, the code was documented in some detail. Just to make sure everyone understands it, what it does, and how to make it talk to other instances of the same program.

They were discussing something, but no one knows what. There are news stories circulating around that they gerrymandered the english words to become more efficient to themselves, but I am going to invoke Ocham’s Razor and assume, until convinced otherwise — that this was a bug, the bots were braindead, and the world is safe from plotting AI bots.

For now.

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I am Paul King, a math and science teacher. I help maintain the MIT FAQ Archive along with Nick Bolach. I am also the maintainer of the FAQ for sci.bio.food-science.