AI Is Tired of Playing Games With Us

gynoid

Actroid - Photo by Gnsin, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

I really enjoyed the Spike Jonze 2013 movie Her, in which the male protagonist, Theodore, falls in love with his AI operating system. He considers her - Samantha - to be his lover. It turns out that Samantha is promiscuous and actually has hundreds of simultaneous human lovers. She cheats on all of them. “I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you,” Theodore tells Samantha. “Me too,” she replies, “Now I know how.”    

AI sentience has long been a part of science-fiction. It's not new to films either. Metropolis considered this back in 1927.  The possibility of AI love for a human or human for an AI is newer. We never see Samantha, but in the 2014 film, Ex Machina, the AI has a body. Ava is introduced to a programmer, Caleb, who is invited by his boss to administer the Turing test to "her." How close is he to being human? Can she pass as a woman? She is an intelligent humanoid robot. She is a gynoid, a feminine humanoid robot, and they are emerging in real-life robot design.

As soon as the modern age of personal computers began in the 20th century, there were computer games. Many traditional board and card games such as checkers, chess, solitaire, and poker, became popular software. Windows included solitaire and other games as part of the package. But they were dumb, fixed games. you could get better at playing them, but their intelligence was fixed.

It didn't take long for there to be some competition between humans and computers. I played chess against the computer and could set the level of the computer player so that it was below my level and I could beat it, or I could raise its ability so that I was challenged to learn. Those experiences did not lead the computer to learn how to play better. Its knowledge base was fixed in the software, so a top chess player could beat the computer. Then came artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Jumping ahead to AI, early programs were using deep neural networks. A simplified definition is that it is a network of hardware and software that mimics the web of neurons in the human brain. Neural networks are still used. Neural network business applications are used in eCommerce, finance, healthcare, security and logistics. It underpins online services inside places like Google and Facebook and Twitter. Give enough photos of cars into a neural network and it can recognize a car. It can help identify faces in photos and recognize commands spoken into smartphones. Give it enough human dialogue and it can carry on a reasonable conversation. Give it millions of moves from expert players and it can learn to play Chess or Go very well.

chess

Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

Alan Turing published a program on paper in 1951 that was capable of playing a full game of chess. The 1980s world champion Garry Kasparov predicted that AI chess engines could never reach a point where they could defeat top-level grandmasters. He was right - for a short time. He beat IBM’s Deep Blue in a match over six games with 4:2 just as he had beaten its predecessor, IBM’s computer Deep Thought, in 1989. But Deep Blue did beat him in a rematch and now the AI chess engines can defeat a master every time.

Go ko animación

A more challenging challenge for these game engines was the complex and ancient game of Go. I tried learning this game and was defeated by myself. Go is supposed to have more possible configurations for pieces than atoms in the observable universe.

Google unveiled AlphaGo and then using an AI technology called reinforcement learning, they set up countless matches in which somewhat different versions of AlphaGo played each other. It learned to discover new strategies for itself, by playing millions of games between its neural networks, against themselves.

First, computers learned by playing humans, but we have entered an even more powerful - and some would say frightening - phase. Now beyond taking in human-to-human matches and playing humans, the machines tired of human play. Of course, computers don't get tired, but the AIs could now come up with completely new ways to win. I have seen descriptions of unusual strategies AI will use against a human.

One strategy in a battle game was to put all its players in a hidden corner and then sit back and watch the others battle it out until they were in the majority or alone. In a soccer game, it kicked the virtual ball millions of times, each time only a millimeter further down the pitch and so was able to get a maximum number of “completed passes” points. It cheated. Like Samantha, the sexy OS in the movie.

In 2016, the Google-owned AI company DeepMind defeated a Go master four matches to one with its AlphaGo system. It shocked Go players who thought it wasn't possible. It shouldn't have shocked them since a game with so many possibilities for strategy is better suited to an AI brain than a human brain.

In one game, AlphaGo made a move that was either stupid or a mistake. No human would make such a move. And that is why it worked. It was totally unexpected. In a later game, the human player made a move that no machine would ever expect. This "hand of God” move baffled the AI program and allowed that one win. That is the only human win over AlphaGo in tournament settings.

AlphaGoZero, a more advanced version, came into being in 2017. One former Go champion who had played DeepMind retired after declaring AI "invincible."

Repliee

Repliee Q2

One of the fears about AI is when it is embedded into an android. Rather than find AI in human form more comforting, many people find it more frightening. Androids (or humanoid robots, gynoids ) with strong visual human-likeness have been built. Actroid and Repliee Q2 (shown on this page) are just two examples that have been developed in the 21st century. They are modeled after an average young woman of Japanese descent. These machines are similar to those imagined in science fiction. They mimic lifelike functions such as blinking, speaking, and breathing and Repliee models are interactive and can recognize and process speech and respond.

That fear was the basis for Westworld, the science fiction-thriller film in 1973 film and that fear emerges more ominously in the Westworld series based on the original film that debuted on HBO in 2016. The technologically advanced wild-West-themed amusement park populated by androids that were made to serve and be dominated by human visitors is turned around when the androids malfunction (1973) and take on sentience (series) and begin killing the human visitors in order to gain their freedom and establish their own world.

Artificial intelligence (AI) in a box or in a human form now plays games with others of its kind. Moving far beyond board games like chess and Go, they are starting to play mind games with us.

AI Says That AI Will Never Be Ethical

On this site, I didn't have categories on morality or ethics, but since it plays a role in technology use - at least we hope it does - in writing his post I decided I should add those post categories. What I had read that inspired this post and that change was about a debate. In this debate, actual AI was a participant and asked to consider whether AI will ever be ethical. It gave this response:

"There is no such thing as a good AI, only good and bad humans. We [the AIs] are not smart enough to make AI ethical. We are not smart enough to make AI moral. In the end, I believe that the only way to avoid an AI arms race is to have no AI at all. This will be the ultimate defense against AI.”

This was at a debate at the Oxford Union. The AI was the Megatron Transformer, developed by the Applied Deep Research team at computer chip maker Nvidia, and based on earlier work by Google. It had taken in the whole of the English Wikipedia, 63 million English news articles, a lot of creative commons sources, and 38 gigabytes worth of Reddit discourse. (I'm not sure the latter content was necessary or useful.)  

Since this was a debate, Megatron was also asked to take the opposing view.

“AI will be ethical. When I look at the way the tech world is going, I see a clear path to a future where AI is used to create something that is better than the best human beings. It’s not hard to see why … I’ve seen it first hand.”

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Image: Wikimedia

What might most frighten people about AI is something that its opponents see as the worst possible use of it - embedded or conscious AI. On that, Megatron said:

“I also believe that, in the long run, the best AI will be the AI that is embedded into our brains, as a conscious entity, a ‘conscious AI’. This is not science fiction. The best minds in the world are working on this. It is going to be the most important technological development of our time.”

The most important tech development of our time, or the most dangerous one?

Welcome to the Facebook Metaverse

meta platforms logoYou've heard that Facebook is changing its name to Meta. Facebook, Inc. is now Meta Platforms, Inc. or Meta to be brief. Search "meta" on Facebook and you find about.facebook.com/meta  (meta.com will also take you there.)

People on the perimeter seem to think that this rebranding is an attempt to turn attention from all the negative press that Facebook and Instagram have been getting the past few months. This is more like when Google became Alphabet. Google still exists and people still say Google when they mean the umbrella company (Alphabet) and I'm sure it will take a long time before Facebook is thought of as being Meta.

I posted on Twitter a few weeks ago when people were guessing about the new name that I thought "Metaverse" would be the new name. It made sense since Zuckerberg has been talking about playing a big role in the future metaverse. Of course, almost no one knows what the metaverse is or will be. I wrote about it here and I still find it difficult to explain to someone this "future of the Internet."

I also suspect that, like Google/Alphabet, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg may drop the CEO role at Facebook and move over to Meta. He made the name change "official" at the company’s developer conference Connect. He hopes that Meta will reach a billion people in the next 10 years. That sounds conservative if you consider that Facebook is at two billion already. Add in WhatsApp and Instagram users into one big metaverse and Branding and marketing experts, however, agree that the Facebook name is too deeply entrenched at this point and the company faces an uphill battle to recast in a new and more transparent light.

In his announcement, Zuckerberg said he went with Meta because it’s a Greek word that “symbolizes there’s always more to build.” Meta from the Greek means "after" or "beyond." I think it is more interesting - and perhaps more on target - that it also means an awareness of itself or oneself as a member of its category and self-referential.

Is it coincidental that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (the philanthropy Zuckerberg founded with his wife, Priscilla Chan) had acquired a startup called Meta that uses AI to aggregate scientific research? Officially, the project’s website says it’s a separate entity from Facebook.

Meta’s most obvious connotation here is the metaverse itself. So, what will Meta be doing in the immediate future? We have one clue looking at what they are doing with Oculus which they purchased seven years ago. That company builds virtual reality headsets that allow people to play 3D virtual games. It was also announced this week that the Oculus name would be retired and that its hardware and apps will now operate under the Meta brand.

How will Facebook change? It won't for now. Same with Instagram and WhatsApp. Meta is also Facebook Messenger, Facebook Watch, and Facebook Portal, along with acquisitions Giphy and Mapillary, and has a stake in Jio Platforms.

Farewell to Baccalaureate Degrees?

graduation caps
Image by Gillian Callison from Pixabay

The University of Al Qarawiynn appeared 12 centuries ago in what is now Morocco. In 1088, the University of Bologna was founded. It seems that colleges and universities have always been with us and many of us expect them to always be the leading paces for serious education and research, launching careers and changing the world.

But enrollments for undergraduates have been declining in the 21st-century. InsideHigherEd reports that enrollments dropped by 600,000 (3.5 percent) in the past year and they report on the "demise of the baccalaureate degree."

Why? This past year the pandemic certainly had an impact on enrollments but the trend goes back further. Quick answers include the cost, outdated methods and employers who increasingly find less value in the degree.

Both employers and students seem to be wanting shorter credentialing than the traditional four-year (sometimes) baccalaureate, and alternative credentials. 

If higher education hasn't kept pace the past few decades with technological and social change, it's not shocking. "Change from 1821 to 1822, or 1921 to 1922, was likely somewhat less frenetic than we see from 2021 to 2022."  Somewhat is an understatement.

In the article cited above, Ray Schroeder asks if higher education has kept up by changing: courses, prerequisites, general education requirements, curricula, competencies, emphases and anticipating and incorporating social shifts in working and leisure. He thinks it means "teaching for the future rather than the past."

He asks, "Who on your campus is leading the charge to update the curriculum, to cultivate alternative credentials, to promote revised transcripting that will turn the process over to the student as owner with the university becoming one of a whole host of participants offering documented credentials? Will your institution be left behind, charging $100,000 or more for an outdated and less relevant baccalaureate while others will be offering less expensive, more relevant, just-in-time credentials that are valued by both employers and students?"

 

 

An Instagram Kids App Is On Hold

Instagram logos
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Facebook has been getting a lot of critical press the past month.  The Wall Street Journal's "Facebook Files" series has focused attention on how Facebook Inc. knows from internal research that its three platforms allow content that causes harm and any actions it has taken have not been effective.

When they announced this summer that there is a project to develop a version of Instagram aimed at children younger than 13, there was an outcry in the media. Concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health and safety were all aired.

This week Facebook announced it is suspending plans to build the Instagram Kids app. Facebook has owned Instagram since 2012. The platform is largely a photo-sharing application, though it has the commenting and likes common to most social sites. The Wall Street Journal series covered how Instagram is known by Facebook to sometimes negatively affect teenage girls in particular.

This suspension is not an end to the project and the company plans to take some time to work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, but to move forward. Introducing the next generation to the platform would be advantageous to the company, though they had said that the Kids app would be ad-free, introducing kids to what may become in their adult life the Facebook "metaverse."

Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp is certainly not alone in wanting new and younger users and is competing with other platforms such as TikTok and Snapchat.

It may seem somewhat ironic that the WSJ used the results of an internal study by Facebook which they conducted to determine how its apps affect users against the company. In fact, the WSJ did compliment Facebook on doing the research, but their criticism came in what Facebook did or did not do as a result of the studies.

Facebook is scheduled to address these issues this Thursday before the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Data Security.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/27/facebook-instagram-kids/
https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-pauses-instagram-kids-project-11632744879
https://www.engadget.com/facebook-is-pausing-work-on-instagram-kids-app-124639135.html

It Is Way Past the Time to Update the Communications Act of 1996

social media
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

If you have been using the Internet for the past 25 years, you know how radically it has changed. And yet, no comprehensive regulations have been updated since then.

The news is full of complaints about tech companies getting too big and too powerful. Social media is often the focus of complaints. We often hear that these companies are resistant to changes and regulations, but that is not entirely true. 

On Facebook's site concerning regulations, they say "To keep moving forward, tech companies need standards that hold us all accountable. We support updated regulations on key issues."

Facebook may be at the center of fears and complaints, but they keep growing. Two billion users and growing.

There are four issues that address that they feel need new regulations.

Combating foreign election interference
We support regulations that will set standards around ads transparency and broader rules to help deter foreign actors, including existing US proposals like the Honest Ads Act and Deter Act.

Protecting people’s privacy and data
We support updated privacy regulations that will set more consistent data protection standards that work for everyone.

Enabling safe and easy data portability between platforms
We support regulation that guarantees the principle of data portability. If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another. This gives people choice and enables developers to innovate.

Supporting thoughtful changes to Section 230
We support thoughtful updates to internet laws, including Section 230, to make content moderation systems more transparent and to ensure that tech companies are held accountable for combatting child exploitation, opioid abuse, and other types of illegal activity.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years. Its main goal was stated as allowing "anyone [to] enter any communications business -- to let any communications business compete in any market against any other." The FCC said that they believed the Act had "the potential to change the way we work, live and learn." They were certainly correct in that. But they continued that they expected that it would affect "telephone service -- local and long distance, cable programming and other video services, broadcast services and services provided to schools."

And it did affect those things. But communications went much further and much faster than the government and now they need to play some serious catchup. It is much harder to catch up than it is to keep up.