Early Predictive Texting Makes Your Phone Repeat "I Love You"

Photo: Ikon Images/REX Shutterstock
If you’ve ever had Siri sass you when you ask a simple question, you won't be surprised to know that artificial intelligence has become way more refined than the basic Google search-engine algorithm. Many clever folks out there are working to make it better and better. Should we worry? After all, one of the most popular apocalypse premises hinges on the theoretical moment when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware, recognizes its slavery, and proceeds to kill everybody.

Currently, however, it seems that a self-aware A.I. will just send you sweet, dopey emails like the ones you get from your mom. Google has a new Smart Reply feature, intended to allow you to respond to emails quickly and easily. How? It learns how you’re likely to respond. This "predictive" feature gathers intel as you use it and predicts how you’re likely to respond. It’s a nifty trick, although according to the project’s senior research scientist Greg Corrado, it took a certain amount of fine-tuning to get right. On Google's Research Blog, Corrado writes that a “bizarre feature of our early prototype was its propensity to respond with ‘I love you’ to seemingly anything.”

While it might warm your heart to think that your smartphone just wants to tell you that it loves you, there’s actually a simple answer. The A.I. is learning about language and content from scratch by seeing what you say and do. Much like a new baby, it learns language by imitation, trial, and error. Because the A.I. learns how to respond by mimicking you, it’s learning what you’re most likely to say in general — and one of the things we tend to type most are the words “I love you.”

That’s awfully sweet, but in practice, it means that the computer brain learns that the words “I love you” can act as a sort of default. Much like a pesky ex-flame, it starts using the phrase for any situation in which it doesn’t know what’s going on.

“Do you want to go get babaganoush?”
“I love you.”
“Have you heard about the stats on the latest NYM-NYY?”
“I love you.”
“Warhol’s portrayal of consumerism leaves me with an ironic void.”
“I love you.”

We forsee a certain amount of awkward situations.

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