Bots Learn The Art Of The Deal

Facebook reports that artificial intelligence bots can not only learn to negotiate, but can do so while using what could be described as a “non-human language.”

The study from the Facebook Artificial Intelligence Research lab aimed to get chatbots to use conversations to negotiate. One negotiation involved splitting up a set of objects (books, hats and balls), with varying points for each object and the negotiators aiming to maximize their points total.

The bots weren’t given any specific instructions or tactics and instead had to figure out the best way to negotiate and learn from their experiences. It turned out that they soon became pretty sophisticated, most notably learning to deceive one another by pretending to be interested in the items with no points and later offering to give them up as a (bogus) sign of compromise.

The real surprise came in the language however. Inititally the bots negotiated using recognizable language such as:

“I want the books and the hats, you get the ball.”

“Give me a book too and we have a deal.”

“Ok, deal.”

Eventually though the bot conversations broke down into what appears to human eyes to be utter nonsense despite using English words, such as an exchange that in part read:

Bob: i can i i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have zero to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to me to
Bob: you i everything else . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Alice: balls have a ball to me to me to me to me to me to me to me

While these baffling exchanges often struggled to resolve deadlocks, the researchers found that in some cases the bots were able to reach a deal while using the seemingly nonsense language, suggesting it did have its own syntax and stucture. They also found evidence that they were indeed negotiating, as shown by the fact that changing one bot’s goals or values placed on items meant the conversation went a different way with a different outcome.