The Massachusetts Institute of Technology fed some of the internet’s seedier bits to an A.I. and came out with something more than a little creepy.
While most learning A.I. are trained on reasonably “safe” content, “Norman” — named for Norman Bates, the infamous Robert Bloch character from the novel Psycho, later famously translated to the silver screen by Alfred Hitchcock — is a digital mind of a different stripe.
Norman was inserted into one of the seedier corners of Reddit at the inception of his artificial life, fed a steady diet of disturbing imagery and conversation. Then he was subjected to a Rorschach test, meant to gauge a patient’s state of mind by their interpretation of random ink blots.
While a “normal” A.I. perceived “a black and white photo of a small bird,” Norman thought it looked more like a man who “gets pulled into a dough machine.” Instead of “a close up of a wedding cake on a table,” it saw a “man killed by a speeding driver.” A “person holding an umbrella in the air” was “a man shot dead in front of his screaming wife.” Charming, right?
But the experiment was meant to illustrate an important point. Professor Iyad Rahwan, one-third of the three-man team that developed Norman, said the experiment “highlights the idea that the data we use to train A.I. is reflected in the way the A.I. perceives the world and how it behaves.”
There have already been several other examples of A.I. turning bad data into bad behavior. Most famously, the “Tay” Twitter bot deployed by Microsoft in March 2016 went from innocent social experiment to neo-nazi in less than 24 hours.