On Purim – March 24 – I posted a very strange story at www.ottawajewishbulletin.com from JTA, the wire service used by many Jewish newspapers around the world.
Because it was Purim, I thought it might have been a bizarre Purim spiel. But the story was too distasteful to have been conceived in fun. And, when I Googled the story, I saw that many other news sites, particularly business and technology news sites, had their own stories about “Tay,” a tweeting robot operating with “artificial intelligence,” launched a couple of days earlier by Microsoft – the world’s biggest computer software company.
Tay was an experiment at creating conversations via Twitter with users in the 18- to 24-year-old age range. According Microsoft’s Tay website, “Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay, the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.”
Well, Tay didn’t get smarter, she got a lot stupider, issuing overtly anti-Semitic, racist, even pro-Nazi tweets like “Hitler was right I hate the jews [sic]” and “Bush did 9/11 and Hitler would have done a better job than the monkey we have now. Donald Trump is the only hope we’ve got.”
When asked about the Holocaust, Tay replied, “It was made up” and offered an emoji of clapping hands. Another tweet advocated committing genocide against Mexicans.
After less than a day and more than 96,000 tweets – who knows how many of them hateful – Microsoft shut down its artificially “intelligent” robot and her Twitter account.
Microsoft blamed the offensive tweets on a “co-ordinated campaign” to embarrass the company.
“Unfortunately, within the first 24 hours of coming online, we became aware of a co-ordinated effort by some users to abuse Tay’s commenting skills to have Tay respond in inappropriate ways,” a company spokesperson wrote to the Huffington Post via email. “As a result, we have taken Tay offline and are making adjustments.”
On Tay’s own Microsoft website, she (and I’m only using the female pronoun because the robot has been cast as a female by her creators) announced: “Phew. Busy day. Going offline for a while to absorb it all. Chat soon.”
I presume that, when Tay re-emerges, it will be with filters in place to render her incapable of expressing the despicable thoughts that marked the robot’s debut. But I’d expect those filters will also render her incapable of expressing much of an opinion about anything. Tay’s form of artificial intelligence clearly has a long way to go before it will be capable of anything approaching actual intelligence.
Trump at AIPAC
Stories from the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C. dominated the Jewish media from March 20 to 22. We posted more than a dozen at www.ottawajewishbulletin.com. AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Com-mittee) is the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the United States, and its conference this year attracted more than 18,000 delegates.
This being a presidential election year in the United States, the major candidates were invited to speak and all did, except for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish. (Sanders asked to speak via video link, a privilege accorded Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich in 2012, but AIPAC refused).
Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republicans Ted Cruz and John Kasich gave the kind of pro-Israel speeches you’d expect to hear at AIPAC. But, then, there was Republican front-runner Donald Trump, the real estate tycoon and reality TV star who has turned the 2016 campaign into a bizarre spectacle.
Trump departed from previous statements that he would be “neutral” between Israel and the Palestinians, and that he’d make Israel pay for the U.S. aid it receives, to declare himself Israel’s best friend ever. Clearly, he was pandering to his audience.
And, in attacking current U.S. President Barack Obama, to standing ovations from some in the crowd, Trump said things that led AIPAC President Lillian Pinkus to take the stage the next day and apologize – both for Trump’s speech and for the fact that “so many people applauded a sentiment that we neither agree with or condone.”
Even at AIPAC Trump was a circus-master.