When artificial intelligence goes bad: Reddit made 'Norman' a psychopathic AI
AI is, of course, one of the latest big buzzwords in the tech industry, but here’s something new: Norman, the world’s first "psychopathic" artificial intelligence, as concocted by researchers at MIT.
So, you might wonder, how do you make a psychopath in the world of machine learning? Simple -- you pack the AI in question off for a vacation on Reddit. Or the "darkest corners" of Reddit, as the MIT researchers put it.
Norman -- who is, obviously enough, named after the character from the film (and more recently the TV series) Psycho -- is really an exercise in how an AI is shaped in terms of the data it’s fed.
In other words, MIT observes that a machine learning algorithm isn’t necessarily biased in itself, but it may be the data that it’s being given which sends things off kilter in that respect.
The Norman experiment revolves around image captioning, whereby an AI analyzes a picture, and produces, well, a caption. In this case, MIT trained Norman on an (unnamed) "infamous subreddit" known for documenting the "disturbing reality of death".
Following exposure and training on that material, Norman was given the Rorschach test where inkblots are shown to the observer, and they describe what they perceive those blots to be. Norman’s responses were then compared to a standard AI trained in the normal way (with an MSCOCO dataset) for this sort of task.
Where a normally trained AI saw a "close-up of a vase of flowers", Norman coldly observed "a man is shot dead".
A dark blob with a few holes in it might be a baseball glove to the control AI, but to Norman, those are the bullet holes of a man who has been murdered via a machine-gun (in broad daylight, apparently).
The rest of the results are similarly grisly, and indeed certainly bear out the theory that the dataset used does indeed shape the AI to a great extent. I suppose that should be obvious, really, but it’s interesting to see this illustrated so clearly (and indeed graphically, as it were).
All of which begs the question, is the next step the world’s first psychopathic digital assistant? Forget Alexa or Cortana, and instead welcome Norman for a very different experience with your smart speaker…
"Play some upbeat pop music, Norman."
"I don’t think so. How about some repeated screeching cello strings building to a stupendously loud crescendo instead?"
"Norman, what’s on my shopping list?"
"Two boxes of cereal, three tins of tomatoes, a set of 9-inch stainless steel kitchen knives and a new shower curtain."