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News distortion example: AI, competition, and cooperation

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An example of how news gets distorted:

DeepMind, which is part of Alphabet (Google's parent company), published an interesting and factual blog post last week: ”Understanding Agent Cooperation.”

It first describes having set two AI agents to learn to play a game, Gathering, in which resources become scarce and attacking the other player provides an indirect advantage (and no disadvantage); unsurprisingly, in this game agents that are capable of implementing “more complex strategies [...] behave less cooperatively.”

It then describes having set AI agents to learn to play a different game, Wolfpack, in which there's an advantage to cooperating; in that game, they found that “greater capacity to implement complex strategies leads to more cooperation between agents, the opposite of the finding with Gathering.”

That's all interesting, but doesn't seem terribly surprising to me. But along comes the UK tabloid Daily Express to provide this headline: “AI WARNING: Google’s DeepMind becomes ‘highly aggressive’ when stressed warns search giant.”

The article leads with the idea that “AI could lead to the downfall of humanity” and adds that DeepMind “has continued on its ruthless streak and opts for ‘highly aggressive’ strategies when it is in fear of losing.” Toss in a reference to “laser beams” and a couple of ominous photos; and a pretty straightforward research blog post is transformed into a warning of the imminent destruction of humanity by ominous superpowerful machines. There is, of course, no mention in the Express article of the cooperation-inducing game.

As I understand it, the Express is known for touting conspiracy theories and for inflammatory reporting, so their distortion of this news probably isn't surprising to readers familiar with the venue. But in the modern era, it's easy to happen across articles written and published by sources of unknown-to-us veracity (in this case, Google News pointed me to the Express article!), and if we read those articles uncritically and without context, we may be subject to the reporter's biases and/or misunderstandings.

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