ELON MUSK is agonising.
The face behind the OpenAI consortium* has a new toy that it has created in its quest for morally unquestionable uses for machine learning, and whilst it could give a great insight to those battling against fake news, releasing it into the wild could make matters oh-so-much-worse.
The OpenAI Research Institute in San Francisco has created a bot that is capable of making eerily plausible fake news with no intervention from puny humans.
The MIT Technology Review has a chilling demonstration of how believable a machine written story could be (now, remember not to panic - this didn't really happen):
"Russia has declared war on the United States after Donald Trump accidentally fired a missile in the air.
Russia said it had "identified the missile's trajectory and will take necessary measures to ensure the security of the Russian population and the country's strategic nuclear forces." The White House said it was "extremely concerned by the Russian violation" of a treaty banning intermediate-range ballistic missiles."
Obviously, you can tell that we didn't write that because we didn't stick a knob gag in to ease the tension, but if you accidentally landed on a spoof news site made to look like, say, CNN, you could well believe it, if you weren't paying attention.
"We started testing it, and quickly discovered it's possible to generate malicious-esque content quite easily," says Jack Clark, policy director at OpenAI.
The AI has been trained with roughly 45 million pages of web content, mostly from Reddit. That was supposed to be used to translate, answer questions and other less innocuous tasks. But soon, researchers realised that they had potentially opened a box Pandora would be cock-a-hoop for.
Clark warns that this is just the beginning and that this type of technology could be used to create fake tweets, fake blog posts, incriminating fake quotes - all our worst fears for AI.
And these are the good guys.
So now the question is - should it be released for experimentation, even though it could be releasing untold evil into the world? Remember Oppenheimer, guys.
But then, if OpenAI doesn't do it, someone else will, and sometimes it's better the devil you know.
Except the devil was seen on the edge of Hampstead Heath, bothering dog walkers and handing out free violins. Or so we've read on the internet.
Oh, and one more thing. George Orwell talks about machines that write fiction in his dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty Four, and isn't that just a little scary?
*By the way - that first line was fake news. Elon Musk is no longer on the board of OpenAI. See how easy it is? μ
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