“Not Understanding” was Tay’s Vulnerability?

Peter Lee (Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research) posted Learning from Tay’s introduction where he says:


Unfortunately, in the first 24 hours of coming online, a coordinated attack by a subset of people exploited a vulnerability in Tay. Although we had prepared for many types of abuses of the system, we had made a critical oversight for this specific attack. As a result, Tay tweeted wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images. We take full responsibility for not seeing this possibility ahead of time. We will take this lesson forward as well as those from our experiences in China, Japan and the U.S. Right now, we are hard at work addressing the specific vulnerability that was exposed by the attack on Tay.

But Peter never specifies what “vulnerability” Tay suffered from.

To find out what why Tay was “vulnerable,” you have to read Microsoft is deleting its AI chatbot’s incredibly racist tweets by Rob Price where he points out:


The reason it spouted garbage is that racist humans on Twitter quickly spotted a vulnerability — that Tay didn’t understand what it was talking about — and exploited it. (emphasis added)

Hmmm, how soon do you think Microsoft can confer on Tay the ability to “…understand what it [is] talking about…?”

I’m betting that’s not going to happen.

Tay can “learn” (read mimic) language patterns of users but if she speaks to racist users she will say racist things. Or religious, ISIS, sexist, Buddhist, trans-gender, or whatever things.

It isn’t ever going to be a question of Tay “understanding,” but rather of humans creating rules that prevent Tay from imitating certain speech patterns.

She will have no more or less “understanding” than before but her speech patterns will be more acceptable to some segments of users.

I have no doubt the result of Tay’s first day in the world was not what Microsoft wanted or anticipated.

That said, people are a ugly lot and I don’t mean a minority of them. All of us are better some days than others and about some issues and not others.

To the extent that Tay was designed to imitate people, I consider the project to be a success. If you think Tay should react the way some people imagine we should act, then it was a failure.

There’s an interesting question for Easter weekend:

Should an artificial intelligence act as we do or should it act as we ought to do?

PS: I take Peter’s comments about “…do not represent who we are or what we stand for, nor how we designed Tay…” at face value. However, the human heart is a dark place and to pretend that is true of a minority or sub-group, is to ignore the lessons of history.

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