Microsoft 'deeply sorry' for Tay chatbot, will bring it back when 'vulnerability' is fixed

The Internet just can't have nice things, apparently. At least not in the west.

A Microsoft executive said Friday that the company was “deeply sorry” for the “unintended offensive and hurtful” tweets the company’s Tay chatbot delivered earlier this week.

“Tay is now offline and we’ll look to bring Tay back only when we are confident we can better anticipate malicious intent that conflicts with our principles and values,” Peter Lee, the corporate vice president in charge of Microsoft Research, wrote in a blog post.

While that echoes the message that Microsoft delivered earlier, Lee attempted to show how Tay wasn’t simply unleashed onto the Internet without preparation. Tay was the outgrowth of a similar Microsoft chatbot known as XiaoIce, which is already “delighting with its stories and conversations” 40 million people in China.

“The great experience with XiaoIce led us to wonder: Would an AI like this be just as captivating in a radically different cultural environment?” Lee wrote. “Tay – a chatbot created for 18- to 24- year-olds in the U.S. for entertainment purposes – is our first attempt to answer this question.”

Why this matters: Lee’s disclosure that Microsoft has already released a chatbot that 20 million Chinese people are using with civility makes the Tay debacle even more humiliating for the Western world. Microsoft and Lee are clearly embarrassed, but it’s difficult to tell whether they’re ashamed of their own failure, or of the audience that abused Tay’s algorithm. Perhaps there’s a lesson here: Social constructs have to be thought of in terms of social vulnerabilities in the same way software must be constructed with security exploits in mind.

tay

Just one of the bizarre tweets issued by the Tay chatbot from Microsoft.

Tay’s troubled past

Lee wrote that Tay had been developed with filtering built in, and had been tested with “diverse” user groups. “We stress-tested Tay under a variety of conditions, specifically to make interacting with Tay a positive experience,” Lee wrote.

Tay’s platforms included Qik and Twitter, and the latter platform became the true test for Tay’s maturity. Within 24 hours of coming online, Lee wrote that Tay had been subject to a “coordinated attack by a subset of people.”

“Although we had prepared for many types of abuses of the system, we had made a critical oversight for this specific attack,” Lee wrote. “As a result, Tay tweeted wildly inappropriate and reprehensible words and images. We take full responsibility for not seeing this possibility ahead of time.”

Lee didn’t say how the attack worked, specifically, but many believe that by asking the Tay bot to “repeat after me,” Tay would not only parrot the phrase but also “learn” it, and incorporate it into her vocabulary.

Lee wrote that Microsoft sees Tay as a research effort, and that AI systems feed off both positive and negative interactions with people. The problem, of course, is how Microsoft will reintroduce Tay publicly, with the risk that the same vulnerability, or a different one, may be used to offend others.

“To do AI right, one needs to iterate with many people and often in public forums,” Lee wrote. “We must enter each one with great caution and ultimately learn and improve, step by step, and to do this without offending people in the process.”

And right now, Microsoft doesn’t seem to have a ready answer.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Microsoftsocial media

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?