How weird is AI?

For Friday AI Fun, I’m sharing one of the first videos I ever watched about artificial intelligence. It’s a 10-minute TED Talk by Janelle Shane, and it’s actually pretty funny. I do mean “funny ha-ha.”

I’m not wild about the ice-cream-flavors example she starts out with, because what does an AI know about ice cream, anyway? It’s got no tongue. It’s got no taste buds.

But starting at 2:07, she shows illustrations and animations of what an AI does in a simulation when it is instructed to go from point A to point B. For a robot with legs, you can imagine it walking, yes? Well, watch the video to see what really happens.

This brings up something I’ve only recently begun to appreciate: The results of an AI doing something may be entirely satisfactory — but the manner in which it produces those results is very unlike the way a human would do it. With both machine vision and game playing, I’ve seen how utterly un-human the hidden processes are. This doesn’t scare me, but it does make me wonder about how our human future will change as we rely more on these un-human ways of solving problems.

“When you’re working with AI, it’s less like working with another human and a lot more like working with some kind of weird force of nature.”

—Janelle Shane

At 6:23 in the video, Shane shows another example that I really love. It shows the attributes (in a photo) that an image recognition system decided to use when identifying a particular species of fish. You or I would look at the tail, the fins, the head — yes? Check out what the AI looks for.

Shane has a new book, You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It’s Making the World a Weirder Place. I haven’t read it yet. Have you?

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AI in Media and Society by Mindy McAdams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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Visual Chatbot: What can AI tell you?

To see for yourself the product, or end results, of an AI system, check out the Visual Chatbot online. It’s free. It’s fun.

Screenshot of dialog with Visual Chatbot

This app invites you to upload any image of your choice. It then generates a caption for that image. As you see above, the caption is not always 100 percent accurate. Yes, there is a dog in the photo, but there is no statue. There is a live person, who happens to be a soldier and a woman.

You can then have a conversation about the photo with the chatbot. The chatbot’s answer to my first question, “What color is the dog?”, was spot-on. Further questions, however, reveal limits that persist in most of today’s image-recognition systems.

The chat is still pretty awesome, though.

Public domain photo of a soldier and a dog indoors, probably in an airport, with a "Welcome Home" balloon. U.S. Department of Defense photo.
U.S. Department of Defense photo, 2015 (public domain)

The image appears in chapter 4 of in Artificial Intelligence: A Guide for Thinking Humans, where author Melanie Mitchell uses it to discuss the complexity that we humans can perceive instantly in an image, but which machines are still incapable of “seeing.”

In spite of the mistakes the chatbot makes in its answers to questions about this image, it serves as a nice demonstration of how today’s chatbots do not need to follow a set script. Earlier chatbots were programmed with rules that stepped through a tree or flowchart of choices — if the human’s question contains x, then reply with y.

You can see more info about Visual Dialog if you’re curious about what the Visual Chatbot entails in terms of data, model, and/or code.

Below you can see some more questions I asked, with the answers from Visual Chatbot.

  • Screenshot of dialog with Visual Chatbot
  • Screenshot of dialog with Visual Chatbot
  • Screenshot of dialog with Visual Chatbot
  • Screenshot of dialog with Visual Chatbot
  • Screenshot of dialog with Visual Chatbot

Some of my favorite wrong answers are on the last two screens. Note, you can ask questions that are not answered with only yes or no.

Creative Commons License
AI in Media and Society by Mindy McAdams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Include the author’s name (Mindy McAdams) and a link to the original post in any reuse of this content.

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