Growing up, I watched and re-watched the film, The Neverending Story. As a kid who adored books, naturally I gravitated to the plot of a child realizing the world about which he was reading was 100% real and just waiting for him to step in and save it.
One scene in the movie sets the stage for a challenge about to be faced by the child hero, Atreyu. He is traveling to find the answer to saving the world of Fantasia, and one obstacle he must pass is the Magic Mirror Gate. A knowledgeable yet cantankerous sage, Engywook, tells a fellow friend about the dangers of this next task:
“… kind people find out that they are cruel. Brave men discover that they are really cowards! Confronted by their true selves, most men run away screaming!”
Why do I share this today? Because we just faced our own Magic Mirror Gate.
Our reflection in an AI.
This last week, Microsoft decided to test out an AI bot which had its own Twitter account. The bot was meant to learn its own speech patterns from what it was seeing on social media, and reply in kind.
Unfortunately, Tay – the Microsoft AI bot – was quickly met with tweets and posts written by trolls and the basest members of humanity who thought it’d be fun to train a Twitter bot to be racist.
“Many of the tweets saw Tay referencing Hitler, denying the Holocaust, supporting Trump’s immigration plans (to “build a wall”), or even weighing in on the side of the abusers in the #GamerGate scandal.” – TechCrunch
While Microsoft deleted many of these offensive tweets, some remain. Even if they were 100% deleted, there are always those sites and users who spend their hours archiving tweets for posterity (and whatever other reasons they might have). The Internet has the memory of an elephant; nothing is ever really gone.
These posts are glaring evidence to all of us that we really can suck as a species.
Free to speak. Louder & more often.
One of my bents in life is to help great people get onto social media. It’s no shock to me that the dregs of society were able to influence an AI bot to turn itself into a racist voice adding to the vitriol. Why I do what I do is to help the voices of love, compassion, and intelligence to be louder. When we see racism being posted on any social platform, we need to smack the shit out of it with our own post of reason and rationale.
Who will we be tomorrow?
All of this leads to the question of our future: what kind of society will rise to the top? As we continue to develop AIs and bots which are meant to learn from who we are to emulate and represent us as a whole, what are we allowing to be created? As we raise or influence children in our circles, who are they going to become? Will they bring a legacy of hatred and stupidity to the future of our species, or will the voices of inclusion and acceptance direct their paths, and therefore ours?
Many questions, I know. I wish I had more solid answers for you. I don’t because we are the answer, and I truly hope that in future instances when we arrive to our own Magic Mirror Gate, we can be proud of what we see.