How Reddit Can Make Artificial Intelligence Smarter

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Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates launched nonprofit company OpenAI with a $1 billion investment and the intention of advancing artificial intelligence and using it for good.

Now, the company is aiming to improve AI tech using a surprising source: Reddit. According to MIT Tech Review, a new supercomputer at OpenAI is being fed months’ worth of message board threads from the popular website in an effort to teach it how to properly use language.

The machine, called DGX-1, was developed by tech company Nvidia. It gains intelligence using deep learning–sorting through large swaths of information and creating patterns and relationships between words and sentences.

The computer is far faster and more powerful than most, and takes about 10 hours to perform computations that would take 250 hours on a standard computer.

The hope is that by reading the message threads, the computer will better understand how conversation works. Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI’s research director, told Tech Review that over time, the algorithms should become more efficient in their learning. “Once all these improvements are made,” he says, “it should be possible to build agents that can achieve more sophisticated goals using much less experience.”

Reddit calls itself “The Front Page of the Internet,” though its readership skews young and male. (The site’s readership was reported to be 74 percent male in 2012.) It’s unclear what effect, if any, the abusive, misogynistic tendencies of some of Reddit’s users may have on OpenAI’s bots. Reddit has recently cracked down on hate speech by banning some users and allowing administrators to block problem content in an effort to make it more welcoming to all, especially to women.

OpenAI is one of many companies trying to teach its AI robots how to properly use language. In March, Microsoft debuted its Tay chatbot, which learned to speak based on how people interacted with it on Twitter, to disastrous results. Google has had more success feeding its computers movie dialogue, which over time helped improve their ability to answer questions. And earlier this year, someone fed scripts of the show Friendsto an open source Google AI machine, teaching it to produce (albeit nonsensical) scripts of its own.