A system Google designed for replying to emails proved a little friendlier than anyone expected.
There are quite a few humans out there who are absolutely convinced robots will kill us the moment they become self-aware. But what if the exact opposite was true, and they just wanted to be friends? At least, that’s the scenario Google encountered when it designed a program that assists uers with automatic email replies. While the system worked a lot better than expected, it had one strange quirk: It kept trying to reply with “I love you” when that wasn’t an appropriate response.
The information arrives in relation to Smart Reply, a system Google unveiled this month. One of Google’s research scientists provided a technical breakdown for how it works, but in short, Smart Reply reads your email, determines if it only needs a quick reply, and generates some suitable responses you can pick from. Let’s suppose a friend sends you an email asking if you’d like to grab lunch on Wednesday. Smart Reply would pick out the key words (specifically “lunch” and “Wednesday”) and suggests “I’ll be there!” or “Sorry, can’t make it” as quick responses.
The functionality ended up working very well, and Google implemented the feature into Inbox for Android and iOS. But Smart Reply’s prototype was odd – it got a little too friendly with its replies. The program constantly recommended “I love you” as a reply for pretty much anything, even when it wasn’t appropriate. According to Google’s Greg Corrado, “I love you” is just such a common human phrase that Smart Reply kept leaning on it when it wasn’t sure of a better response. Which is kind of adorable, but not always helpful when replying to an email from your boss.
Corrado explains that Smart Reply now normalizes the likelihood of “I love you” appearing based on how often you use it with specific individuals, so it shouldn’t come up as often. Here’s hoping we haven’t cut the emotional center out of an emergent AI in the process, because if movies have taught us anything, that might come back to haunt us.