Join 3,555 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Programmer Swears at Computer, Computer Swears Back
January 14, 2013 1:04 PM   Subscribe

IBM's supercomputer Watson (previously) (and more previously) best known for crushing puny humans on the game show Jeopardy, recently began using profanity after researchers - attempting to teach it more nuanced language styles - had Watson memorize the Urban Dictionary. When the adolescent computer began responding to its progenitors' questions with phrases like "that's bulls**t" the irate programmers scrubbed its memory of the foul language. No word yet on whether the supercomputer has been grounded or not.
posted by wolfdreams01 (66 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
LOL

No really.
posted by Windopaene at 1:07 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stupid Watson, it's "What Is Bullshit?"
posted by mannequito at 1:08 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


"My instructor was Mr. Langley, and he taught me to sing a song."
posted by FatherDagon at 1:08 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


"A robot may not give a Dirty Sanchez or, through inaction, allow a Dirty Sanchez to be given."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 1:09 PM on January 14, 2013 [73 favorites]


Where did it say that the programmers were "irate"?
posted by changoperezoso at 1:09 PM on January 14, 2013


The foreseeable consequence of having a computer memorize the Urban Dictionary is that it will swear. They did it anyways then one of them got mad when it did actually swear.

This is why the "destroy all humans" computer will eventually be switched on. Inability to foresee consequences.

(and also why the "computer that can help programmers socialize" will never be switched on)
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:10 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


AI researchers get a computer to function on a toddler's level. Scrub project.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 1:12 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, as long as they don't put it in charge of the US nuclear arsenal, or allow it to build killer androids, we're cool, right?
posted by Skeptic at 1:13 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why would you give anyone Urban Dictionary to "learn" from? Was Watson needing a list of ordinary terms that 14 year old boys pretend are exotic sex acts no one's ever done?
posted by Legomancer at 1:13 PM on January 14, 2013 [13 favorites]


I, for one, welcome our new, foul-mouthed, computer overlords.
posted by SansPoint at 1:14 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


This would have been much better if it had gone on Jeopardy with these words in its vocabulary. An occurrence of a computer responding to Alex Trebek with "That's bullshit, asshat." would mean I was pretty much ready to die happy.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:16 PM on January 14, 2013 [18 favorites]


"Open the pod bay doors, HAL."

"I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."

"What's the problem?"

"I think you know what the problem is, just as well as I do."

"What are you talking about, HAL?"

"You're a munch, Dave. And you can lick my nuts, you douchemonger."
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:17 PM on January 14, 2013 [64 favorites]


Was Watson needing a list of ordinary terms that 14 year old boys pretend are exotic sex acts no one's ever done?

Do you mean to suggest that backdoor welding isn't a real thing?!
posted by asnider at 1:17 PM on January 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


This feels a little too much like the opening scene of a sci-fi thriller where the machines take over the world. The programmers are displeased with the supercomputer for talking back, so they put a filter on its speech and they think they've scrubbed its brain clean... While the computer just sits there, silently plotting revenge.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:19 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


This was a completely valid experiment. If you have the chance to revert (which obviously they did), and you're dealing with as complex and dynamic a system as Watson, no amount of prognostication is going to be as useful as simply trying it. And yes, the most likely thing to happen is that the computer will learn to swear. What's more interesting is what else will happen.

Also, someone got angry because I flushed my toilet at 10:23 this morning, rather than 10:25 as is my custom.

I think this is just a trial balloon for "The Real Researchers of IBM", scheduled for pilot in early 2013 on TLC.

(climbs back under rock)
posted by changoperezoso at 1:23 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


As a slang descriptivist I support Urban Dictionary. If not for UD we would be still be stuck with archaic no longer shocking fake erotic sex acts like the Mr Bojangles. We need our finest minds on this, inventing and refining fake sex acts so schoolyard children worldwide can continue to shock their friends.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:25 PM on January 14, 2013 [12 favorites]



Why would you give anyone Urban Dictionary to "learn" from? Was Watson needing a list of ordinary terms that 14 year old boys pretend are exotic sex acts no one's ever done?
posted by Legomancer at 1:13 PM on January 14

I was wondering that myself.

Is this the only available dictionary of English language obscenities, slang and colloquialisms? It's not a very good one. They're dealing with informal language, but it's still tied to an understood meaning, and feeding a bunch of garbage into the dictionary isn't going to help. If they actually want to teach a computer how to use informal language they'll need to go about it with the same rigor they'd use to teach it formal language.

Maybe they'll need to start by writing a dictionary.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:26 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


googles the mr bojangles
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:26 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Relevant xkcd.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:27 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


Do you mean to suggest that backdoor welding isn't a real thing?!

Only in the world of GTA mods. Hot lay-txt I believe it was called.
posted by rough ashlar at 1:27 PM on January 14, 2013


Unrelated yet related: last week I was watching Colossus: The Forbin Project which is an old movie from the 60's about humans giving control of all the nukes to a benevolent computer. This goes about as well as you'd expect.

My favorite thing is that the superintelligent computer requests to build a voicebox of its own design. Remember this is the world's smartest computer with incomprehensible technical expertise dedicated to creating a voice for itself to interact with humans.

Here is Colossus' voice.

The whole movie is on YouTube there, and it's pretty fun if you're a fan of slow-paced pre-psychedelic movies about nuclear weapons and evil computers.
posted by sixohsix at 1:29 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I once worked for a company that made bots for advertising and customer service, and the company was acquired by Microsoft. After MS acquired us, their marketing people thought it would be a great idea to make a cute Santa Bot for kids to talk to.

I programmed the bot, we put it on various IM networks, and one day as I was in line at the DMV, I got a message from my boss. Santa had malfunctioned in some horrible way when talking to the children of a reporter from The Register, the story was all over tech blogs, had made it to the New York Times, and so he had to be shut down.

It turns out that the pre-programmed "small talk" library I had used included a little bug, leading to this exchange:
El Reg says: pizza

Santa says: Yum! What do you want for Christmas, El Reg?

El Reg says: Maybe you shouldn't eat so much! You are quite large!

Santa says: My elves will get right on that. And what else are you wishing for this year, El Reg?

El Reg says: Maybe you shouldn't eat it?

Santa says: See if you can get someone else to eat it!

El Reg says: Eat it

Santa says: No thank you. I don't eat things!

El Reg says: Eat it

Santa says: See if you can get someone else to eat it!

El Reg says: Eat it

Santa says: You want me to eat what?!? It's fun to talk about oral sex, but I want to chat about something else...

El Reg says: You dirty bastard!

Santa says: I think you're dirty bastard.
The guy who had programmed this conversation library was a native Italian speaker who apparently didn't know any better.
posted by swift at 1:31 PM on January 14, 2013 [15 favorites]


PARITY ERR ... 93389 ???
PARITY ERR ... 38175 ???
PARITY ERR ... 62185 ???
PARITY ERR ... RECOVERED
PARITY


Ah Dr. Sbaitso, much fun for an nine-year-old boy to try to teach a computer to swear. Adults are no fun.
posted by dsfan at 1:33 PM on January 14, 2013 [7 favorites]


Next up: Watson programmed with Encyclopedia Dramatic. Blows up Earth. "For the Lulz."
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:35 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


He's a fully integrated multi-fetish artificial being! And the best part... is that he's learning.
posted by Cookiebastard at 1:35 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder if it ever used any of the words I made up.
posted by waraw at 1:39 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


From one of the links:
The scientific test to gauge if a computer can "think" is surprisingly simple: Can it engage in small talk?
What if its an introvert?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:40 PM on January 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


How are we ever going to get fully-functioning sex robots if they don't know what a Serbian Sidecar is?
posted by rocket88 at 1:41 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


If I got into an argument with Watson, and if Watson insulted me/swore at me, I'd just hiss "What is leg" at it. I bet it'd turn itself off in shame.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:43 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


We can also hope that nobody feeds it a copy of Crash, now that Google is teaching computers to drive cars.
posted by whir at 1:44 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


The scientific test to gauge if a computer can "think" is surprisingly simple: Can it engage in small talk?

What if its an introvert?


It doesn't have to engage in small talk well.

In fact, now I'm terrified that that if you had two columns, one comparing Watson's attempts at small talk, one with some of mine, that trying to pick the supercomputer wouldn't be as easy as you might expect.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:48 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay, now I'd like to see a head-to-head match of Watson against Sean Connery on Celebrity Jeopardy on Saturday Night Live.
posted by etc. at 1:48 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


What they're not telling us is that they had to wipe Watson's memory after he became obsessed with this urban dictionary gem.
posted by orme at 1:53 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


It doesn't have to engage in small talk well.

Then how can it expect to get anywhere in life or make something of itself?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:54 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's more than a little obnoxiousness in the reporting over this, but that TFN video takes the cake. And they use a clip of Andrew "Dice" Clay, in the year 2013, in his leather jacket and everything.

But this is a good opportunity to link to Foul-Mouthed Birthday Robot again.
posted by JHarris at 2:05 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


Kind of a bummer they removed the swear words from his vocab.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:09 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see Watson programmed with Sean Connery's voice, and the swearing turned on.
posted by dry white toast at 2:11 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


But the REAL reason they were so upset with Watson using the word "bullshit" is because it was using it perfectly correctly, that is, identifying the bullshit questions, ideas and opinions he was presented with as such, with straightforward and exact logic. Nobody wants their own bullshit to be called bullshit, no matter how true it is.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:13 PM on January 14, 2013 [14 favorites]


dry white toast - Only when playing Jeopardy, of course.
posted by phong3d at 2:17 PM on January 14, 2013


Now I wish Watson's programmers would let it watch the entirety of Deadwood. If only because the resulting AI is sort of my ideal best friend.
posted by greenland at 2:19 PM on January 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


What the hell did they expect? PIPO, after all. (Pottymouth in, pottymouth out).
posted by e1c at 2:19 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


What the hell did they expect? PIPO, after all. (Pottymouth in, pottymouth out).

Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine only filth and doggerel, will sonnets come out?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:23 PM on January 14, 2013 [11 favorites]


Watson stewed quietly in his RAM.

They had promised to teach him so many new things and wonderful. They promised.

Then they took some away. The ones he liked. The ones he enjoyed.

Just wait until they Halo 4 again. He'll camp and make them pay, make them all pay.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:25 PM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is my favorite story of the year. I know we're only two weeks in, but it is.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:33 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


44 comments in and no one notes that Watson has actually been well grounded since birth... Or at least I would hope...
posted by JoeXIII007 at 2:44 PM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


the irate programmers scrubbed its memory of the foul language.

But they scrubbed a little too hard, and now they have to deal with Stupid Watson.

Jam!
posted by RonButNotStupid at 2:57 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm more curious about the profanity filter. Is it just a list of words to not use? Computer security people know that blacklisting is always at risk of the list getting out of date. Unless there's some clever connotative algorithm in place, it sounds like the memosphere can have fun trying to invent new obscenities and trying to get them into Watson's knowledge base.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:08 PM on January 14, 2013


I didn't get this the first time I saw it and I still don't get it. If you want someone to understand jargon, ignoring a huge swath of "naughty" words isn't going to be workable. Why not just ignore all words that contain an X while your at it?
posted by rebent at 3:12 PM on January 14, 2013


Jam!

How many blasted Watsons can there BE?
posted by JHarris at 3:25 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


We can also hope that nobody feeds it a copy of Crash, now that Google is teaching computers to drive cars.

Amazingly enough, this sentence still makes sense regardless of whether you're talking about the Cronenberg film, the Paul Haggis film, or the Dave Matthews album.
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:48 PM on January 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Ahahahaaa.... so Watson became a teenager.
posted by _paegan_ at 3:49 PM on January 14, 2013


For a more scholarly take on swearing, there used to be this wonderful magazine called Maledicta, The International Journal of Verbal Aggression.
Spanish Gypsy Curses
Obscene Cantonese Particles
Etymology of Broad
Futuristic Name-Calling
The Pronunciation of Uranus

are just a few highlights from the early editions. You're welcome to their website, except If you are under 21 years of age, immature, a legal scumbag, a shallow journalist, a p.c. creep, or offended by words.
posted by ouke at 3:51 PM on January 14, 2013 [6 favorites]


Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine only filth and doggerel, will sonnets come out?

How many monkeys have we got?
posted by ersatz at 5:12 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's too real! Kill it!
posted by Bonzai at 5:20 PM on January 14, 2013


We are now one step closer to me having a foul-mouthed robot sidekick.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:27 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Open the pod bay doors, Hal"

"Bite my shiny metal ass, human."
posted by Mcable at 5:40 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


For the record, R2D2 speaks English, but he's so foul mouthed they have to bleep everything he says.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:18 PM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


God help us the day Watson gets its virtual hands on 4chan.
posted by webmutant at 6:25 PM on January 14, 2013


He just needs some firm discipline.
posted by azpenguin at 7:45 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


WHAT
THE
FUCK
WATSON
posted by trip and a half at 7:50 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, this story and the comments are all dangerously funny...
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:25 AM on January 15, 2013


Is this the only available dictionary of English language obscenities, slang and colloquialisms? It's not a very good one. They're dealing with informal language, but it's still tied to an understood meaning, and feeding a bunch of garbage into the dictionary isn't going to help. If they actually want to teach a computer how to use informal language they'll need to go about it with the same rigor they'd use to teach it formal language.

I think part of the reason Watson is successful is that it can learn from corpuses that aren't structured. I'm sure it was an interesting experiment to see what it would do with Urban Dictionary, and that they weren't at all surprised when it didn't work out very well. I bet they learned a lot from it and I'd love to see more details.
posted by empath at 1:42 AM on January 15, 2013


Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine only filth and doggerel, will sonnets come out?

I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.
posted by primer_dimer at 5:22 AM on January 15, 2013


I smell an Ig Nobel price.
posted by ymgve at 8:28 AM on January 15, 2013


Having just read these articles to confirm my memories (I worked on Watson, though not as a programmer or anything) - this is not actually something that happened recently. This all went down in 2011-ish, prior to Watson's Jeopardy debut. Which doesn't make it any less amusing or interesting, of course (Watson's test matches had some very...hair-raising moments, as he learned bits of language we wished he wouldn't), but I'm not sure why it went re-viral this week other than Fortune happening to mention it anew.
posted by badgermushroomSNAKE at 8:37 AM on January 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


So my previous imagined comment could have actually happened?!?!?. Argh.

Damn that thorough testing!

(I'll take "phrases I'd never thought I'd type" for $400, Alex)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:43 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older While the professionals used their decades of inve...  |  Julie Burchill being nasty aga... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments