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Facebook says its machines are getting more and more human. The social giant released research Wednesday outlining its efforts to train artificially intelligent chatbots to negotiate with real humans — a skill that requires bots to actually plan a few steps ahead.

Facebook bots were trained by showing them negotiation dialogues between real people, then training the bots to “imitate people’s actions,” a process called supervised learning. In the training, the bots were asked to divide up a number of objects that each correlated with a different point value. The goal was to divide the objects through negotiation and end up with the most possible points.


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Facebook claims the bots got smart enough to negotiate with humans who didn’t realise they were dealing with a machine. As explained in a Facebook blog post: “Interestingly, in the [Facebook AI Research] experiments, people did not realise they were talking to a bot and not another person — showing that the bots had learned to hold fluent conversations in English in this domain.”

Facebook says that the bots even learned to bluff, pretending to care about an outcome they didn’t actually want in order to have the upper hand down the line. “This behavior was not programmed by the researchers but was discovered by the bot as a method for trying to achieve its goals,” reads Facebook’s blog post.

Dividing up a list of fake objects doesn’t mean a whole lot, but Facebook hopes these bots could eventually assist with real-world conversations. It could be as simple as having a bot negotiate meeting times with co-workers, or as complex as conducting a business deal on your behalf.

“Think about a marketplace, like Facebook’s marketplace or Craigslist,” explained Dhruv Batra, a Georgia Tech professor who is spending a year with Facebook’s AI research team. “Sometimes you’re willing to [negotiate]. ‘I’ll drop this price if you’ll come pick up.’”

Facebook isn’t the only company trying to build smart assistants. Google, Apple and Amazon all have voice-controlled assistants in the market, but Facebook hasn’t moved into voice. Instead, it’s focusing on text-based artifical intelligence challenges.

This particular technology isn’t live yet in any of Facebook’s products, but it could be soon, according to the company’s researchers. Facebook, a big proponent of open sourcing artificial intelligence research, is publicly releasing the code for the negotiation bots. 

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Topics: Technology

Lisa Andrews

Written by Lisa Andrews

Lisa Andrews, after experiencing adversity in her life, decided to focus on positive momentum, intent on taking part in global conversations to make the world a better place. Having a data, engineering and financial background, she is on a mission to pave the way to give everyone a fair start in life and to maximise human potential. A serial entrepreneur, in 2018 Lisa won the Hunter Outstanding Young Entrepreneur of the Year. She is founder and part owner of several companies that all focus on profit with purpose. Lisa is currently working on projects with Singularity University, the United Nations, ACTAI, the Extreme Tech Challenge, Arm, Treasure Data, 2030vision.com, Ocean Elders, Unicef, EO, GSEA and others. Lisa's focus is on projects that aim to solve the world's greatest challenges using exponential technologies, beginning with achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Lisa is passionate about creating a vision for the world for the next 100 years. In her spare time you’ll find her reading, travelling to exotic locations or kite surfing.

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