So you want to learn a new language, and you’re browsing through what’s on offer. You read, Italian, Spanish, Russian then Bot? It may sound crazy, but the reality of it is that bots are learning to chat in their own language and Igor Mordatch is helping them. Mordatch is a roboticist who started off his working life working as an animator. He spent time working at Pixar on Toy Story 3 and also at Stanford and the University of Washington where he taught robots to move like humans. Nowadays he works at the artificial intelligence lab started by Tesla founder Elon Musk and Y Combinator president Sam Altman, OpenAI. Here he’s exploring new ways that humans and machines can successfully converse with one another and also how machines can talk among themselves.
In a paper published by OpenAI, Mordatch and team demonstrated how bots could learn to communicate with one another to help themselves. They created the world where bots were given the task of moving to a particular square. They were also allowed to seek help from one another in this world by creating their language as a way to collaborate. All of this was made possible through reinforcement learning where the bots learn their way through trial and error, keeping track of what works and what doesn’t as it goes along. By telling each other where to go the bots reach their destination more quickly.
To create their language, the bots assigned random characters to simple concepts they come across in their virtual world. Characters are also assigned to each other, locations, and objects. While this method is just one of many that give machines a deeper grasp of language it’s an important step forward. Many researchers around the globe are busy exploring methods that will mimic the human language rather than create a whole new one. This can be seen in work focusing on deep neural networks. But Moredatch and co, including Berkley professor Pieter Abbeel, are taking a different approach. Their paper explains, “For agents to intelligently interact with humans, simply capturing the statistical patterns is insufficient. An agent possesses an understanding of language when it can use language (along with other tools such as non-verbal communication or physical acts) to accomplish goals in its environment.”
Soon, all bots will learn their own language as well as a range of gestures and actions that will help them communicate. Mordatch’s project is just one of many that demonstrates how systems can learn through their actions. Others at OpenAI revealed a much larger, complex world they’d created called Universe. Here, through reinforcement learning, bots can learn to use common software applications such as web browsers. Ultimately it will take a mixture of techniques for bots to be able to converse with humans and each other on the same level, so will probably be some time before we can have an open conversation with one. So until then, we’ll just have to enjoy what we have.
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