John is in the playground. Bob is in the office. Where is John? If you know the answer, you’re either a human, or software taking its first steps towards full artificial intelligence. Researchers at Facebook’s AI lab in New York say an exam of simple questions like this could help in designing machines that think like people.
Computing pioneer Alan Turing famously set his own test for AI, in which a human tries to sort other humans from machines by conversing with both. However, this approach has a downside.
“The Turing test requires us to teach the machine skills that are not actually useful for us,” says Matthew Richardson, an AI researcher at Microsoft. For example, to pass the test an AI must learn to lie about its true nature and pretend not to know facts a human wouldn’t.
These skills are no use to Facebook, which is looking for more sophisticated ways to filter your news feed. “People have a limited amount of time to spend on Facebook, so we have to curate that somehow,” says Yann LeCun, Facebook’s director of AI research. “For that you need to understand content and you need to understand people.”
In the longer term, Facebook also wants to create a digital assistant that can handle a real dialogue with humans, unlike the scripted conversations possible with the likes of Apple’s Siri.
Similar goals are driving AI researchers everywhere to develop more comprehensive exams to challenge their machines. Facebook itself has created 20 tasks, which get progressively harder – the example at the top of this article is of the easiest type. The team says any potential AI must pass all of them if it is ever to develop true intelligence.
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