TIME Innovation

‘I Don’t Have Ethics': The Dark Heart of Google’s Latest Chatbot

"I'm in the middle of nowhere"

A new research paper released by Google this week reaffirms what’s been more or less obvious since HAL 9000 murdered four astronauts in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey: computers do not make particularly dependable friends.

The Google project—an admittedly more benign exercise than Kubrick’s—was yet another attempt to fashion a “conversational model” of artificial intelligence. Colloquially, we refer to these systems as “chatbots”—programs that can somewhat convincingly engage in human discourse.

The researchers behind the experiment, Oriol Vinyals and Quoc V. Le, programmed their particular chatbot with two sets of data: guidelines from an IT troubleshooting help desk and a database of movie subtitles. The ensuing dialogue was mostly awkward and occasionally nihilistic.

“What is the color of water?” the researchers asked.

“Water,” the computer replied simply.

“Where are you now?” they asked.

“I’m in the middle of nowhere.”

“Tell me the definition of morality,” the researchers requested.

“I don’t have ethics,” the machine advised them.

According to the transcript, this went on for awhile. Philosophical banter proving futile, Vinyals and Le switched gears, with more coherent results.

“What do you think about Cleopatra?” they asked.

“Oh, she’s very regal.”

Read more dialogue here.

TIME robots

Apple’s Co-founder: We’re All Going to Be Robots’ Pets One Day

9th annual Southeast Venture Conference and Digital Summit Charlotte
Charlotte Observer—TNS via Getty Images Steve Wozniak

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk agrees

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak thinks we’re all probably going to become robots’ pets.

Speaking at a recent technology conference, Wozniak said that at first the thought of artificially intelligent beings in charge of everything scared him. But now it’s a comforting thought.

Fast forward hundreds of years to when robots are in charge. At that time, humans will probably be treated in a similar fashion to dogs, Wozniak said during an event at the Freescale Technology Forum 2015 in Austin, Texas.

“It’s actually going to turn out really good for humans,” he added. “And it will be hundreds of years down the stream before [artificially intelligent beings would] even have the ability.”

“They’ll be so smart by then that they’ll know they have to keep nature, and humans are part of nature,” he continued. “So I got over my fear that we’d be replaced by computers.”

Wozniak believes robots will helps us because we’re the “gods originally.”

At the event, Wozniak also took the time to discuss the Internet of Things. He likes it, but cautioned that connected devices in the home have the potential to attack humanity.

Wozniak isn’t the only tech leader with thoughts on future human and robot interaction. In a recent interview with scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk warned that robots will use humans as pets once they achieve a level of artificial intelligence known as “superintelligence.”

They’ll treat humans like “pet Labradors,” he said.

TIME Innnovation

Watch This Robotic Teddy Bear Hug Sick Children in Hospitals

MIT researchers have launched a 90 patient study on the therapeutic value of a moving, blinking, talking toy bear

Huggable, a robotic teddy bear currently making the rounds at Boston Children’s Hospital, is part of a larger study on how interactive toys can alleviate stress and isolation. The New York Times captured footage of the bear at one such patient’s bedside, and her reaction, scientifically speaking, is adorable.

For more on the renaissance of chatty toys, see TIME’s recent coverage of a talking robot that’s vying for the title of smartest toy in the playpen.

TIME Innovation

Meet the Chatty Robot Who Wants to Outsmart Every Other Toy

Musio, a $599 prototype, is only the latest contender for smartest toy in the playpen

Musio the talking robot was standing on a lunch table at Manhattan’s original Shake Shack, unable to talk. The toy robot needs a Wi-Fi connection to access its language cortex. But even in this muted state, the stubby-legged robot with animated eyes drew curious glances from passersby. “I think it’s because Musio’s eyes blink,” says Celina Lee, a business development director for Musio’s manufacturer. “People definitely know it’s not a random toy.”

Musio is a prototype from a Santa Monica-based startup called AKA. Its roughly 37 employees, split between the U.S. and South Korea, are rushing to bring what the company calls the first “truly” intelligent toy to market within the next year. To that end, AKA has launched a $50,000 crowdsourcing campaign, a modest addition to the $5 million AKA has already secured from venture capital firms. The fact is, with or without your crowdsourced support, Musio is destined to launch into a booming market for smart toys.

An estimated 72 million children worldwide want their toys electronically enhanced, according to industry research from Interpret. When a toy maker hits that perfect blend of cute and smarts, demand can flare out to even greater numbers. The smash success of Tamagotchi pets in the mid-90’s led to sales of more than 76 million devices worldwide. To this day, the phrase “Tamagotchi effect” is used to describe the unusually strong brew of emotions that a “smart” toy can stir up in its owner.

At the bleeding edge of this trend are toys that can hold a true conversation. Breakthroughs in speech recognition and machine learning, first popularized by Apple’s Siri, are now being recast into the cutest possible packaging.

Musio isn’t the first modern talking toy on the block. Mattel debuted the first chat-friendly Barbie at the New York Toy Fair last February. Google recently filed a patent on a teddy bear that trains its plastic eyes and furry ears on its owner. And IBM’s Watson supercomputer has just been transplanted into a talking plastic dinosaur. In short, Musio will face stiff competition for smartest toy in the playpen.

Last week, Musio embarked on a 15 hour flight from Seoul to New York to perform its first public demonstrations to the press. “We’re worried that Musio is a little bit tired because he’s excited to meet you and didn’t get much sleep,” said Lee, as her colleagues unboxed Musio on a nearby conference table. Musio’s animated eyelids flicked open. Jacob Bradsher, AKA’s resident linguist, asked, “How are you?”

“Okay, Jacob,” Musio responded, recognizing Bradsher’s voice. That personal touch is Musio’s hallmark. Its built-in memory bank can store up to 64GB of personal information about its owner.

“My Musio will get to know me better, because it will remember some of the prior conversations that we had,” says Lee. As a result, she explains, no two Musio’s are alike. “Your Musio can become your friend. My Musio can become my friend.”

Key words trigger a memory, of sorts. Bradsher’s Musio, for instance, seized on the phrase “I’m hungry” to give a personalized restaurant recommendation. “Let’s go to Shake Shack,” Musio said, “You said you want to try it in New York.”

It was an intriguing demonstration of how Musio can simulate intimacy by tracing connections to previous conversations. “Siri is only able to answer the two previous sentences,” says Dr. Junho Shin, AKA’s machine learning specialist. “But we try to implement technologies that can understand the whole context of conversation, not just based on the previous questions.”

Musio was not yet up to the task of taking questions from a reporter, however, indicating that its language engine still has a ways to go. Musio was originally conceived as an English language tutor for students in Asia, where rigorous examination systems have spawned a lucrative industry for private tutors. Musio, with a starting price of $159 for the “simple” model and topping out at $599 for a “genius” version, would offer lessons at a steep discount, and the toy still has big implications for classroom learning.

But as Musio developed a gift for gab, it dawned on the AKA team that the robot could have wider applications beyond stressed students. “We didn’t think that the market should just be restricted to Asia,” says Lee. “We thought, ‘Oh, there’s a market for people who want a friend, right?”

To carry on a friendly chat, Musio taps into a distant stack of servers, where a technology known as “deep neural networks” scans sentences by the tens of thousands, teasing out relationships between words. AKA’s Bradsher was pulled from his job as an English teacher in South Korea to train the system.

“We’re literally endlessly breaking down the same paragraphs over and over again: This is a verb gerund. This is an introduction. Typically it would go here,” says Bradsher.

And when the language engine sputters, Musio can always rely on a joke to keep the conversation flowing. “Initially our goal should be maybe to give them fun, rather than just complete sentences and the perfect response,” Shin says.

True to form, Musio introduces himself with a crowdpleaser. “I can talk, tell a joke and communicate with other things,” Musio says, pausing with a comic’s timing before adding, “Wait I can do this too.” He then lets out a flatulent sound for a solid 2 seconds, because kids may want a “smart” toy, but never at the expense of fun.

MONEY hedge funds

Mind-Blowing Tool Used by Hedge Funds Costs Just $10

Colin Anderson—Getty Images/Blend Images

It's a total game-changer

If you’re a hedge fund looking to crunch massive quantities of data, it’s generally cheaper to pay for space a la carte on Amazon’s cloud than invest in million-dollar hardware.

That’s the premise behind a spate of new finance-focused data shops turning out software that runs on the cloud. Ufora, a company profiled in Bloomberg Business, designs software that can process a trillion data points in minutes for the cost of a sandwich.

The technology is complex and involves a type of machine learning, or artificial intelligence, but computing power has become cheap enough that Ufora founder Braxton McKee can analyze a big market data model using only $10 worth of capacity on Amazon Web Services.

Ufora’s hedge fund clients—like all hedge funds today—have good cause to want to keep costs low.

These privately-offered investments, which typically court only those who can invest at least $1 million, are having a tough time holding investors’ interest these days.

That’s partly because their high fees have become harder to justify given that recent returns have actually trailed those of cheap index fund-based portfolios, and performance is increasingly in step with that of benchmarks, meaning that mangers aren’t adding as much value or diversification.

Read more: Why Should I Invest?
Investment Advice From a Nobel Prize-Winning Economist

TIME Innovation

This Is Why Fingerprints Are Forever

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. You can change your password if someone steals it, but you’re stuck with your fingerprints forever.

By Aarti Shahani at NPR

2. Can teaching kids to be tough make up for income inequality?

By Rachel M. Cohen in the American Prospect

3. You don’t need a nuclear arsenal to feel safe.

By Erlan Idrissov in the Diplomat

4. America’s high school dropouts are quitting school to go to work.

By Molly M. Scott at the Urban Institute

5. Here’s how AI will help your doctor diagnose cancer better.

By Adam Conner-Simons at MIT News

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME marketing

Next Time You Swipe Right, It Could Be a Marketing Stunt

Tinder users at SXSW duped by marketing stunt for movie

All’s fair in love and marketing: a movie debuting at SXSW in Austin used the dating app Tinder as a marketing tool over the weekend, and some users were accidentally catfished.

According to Adweek, Tinder users have been falling for another user called “Ava.” The only problem? “Ava” is actually a fake account to promote Ex Machina, a movie about robots debuting at SXSW last weekend.

“Ava” told one would-be-Tinder-hookup to check out her Instagram, which was packed with promotional materials for Ex Machina. And her photo is actually of Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who plays a bot in the movie.

So think before you swipe: you could be flirting with an ad.


TIME movies

See the Most Iconic Examples of Artificial Intelligence in Film

With the release of Neill Blomkamp's Chappie, take a look back at some of the most iconic examples of artificial intelligence in film history, from R2-D2 to The Terminator

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 27

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hollywood is less diverse than its audiences — and it might be hurting the bottom line.

By Austin Siegemund-Broka in the Hollywood Reporter

2. Facebook’s new suicide prevention tools finally get it right.

By Ashley Feinberg in Gizmodo

3. How will we understand the power of the bacteria in our bodies? Meet the crowdsourced American Gut project.

By American Gut

4. The road to artificial intelligence begins with computers mastering video games like a human being in the 80s.

By Rebecca Morelle at BBC News

5. Salting roads and plowing snow is inefficient and costly. A smart algorithm can save cities millions.

By Marcus Woo in Wired

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 22

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Want to improve your bottom line? Diversify your workplace.

By Joann S. Lublin in the Wall Street Journal

2. Journalism shouldn’t be a transaction for communities. A local news lab can make it transformational.

By Josh Stearns in Medium

3. The spike of hysteria about artificial intelligence could threaten valuable research.

By Erik Sofge in Popular Science

4. A new vision for securing work and protecting jobs can ensure stability in the face of rising automation.

By Guy Ryder at the World Economic Forum

5. Purchasing carbon offsets is easy. With carbon ‘insetting,’ a business folds sustainable decisions into the supply chain.

By Tim Smedley in the Guardian

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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