When it comes to games such as chess or go, artificial intelligence (AI) programs have far surpassed the best players in the world. These “superhuman” AIs are unmatched competitors, but perhaps harder than competing against humans is collaborating with them. Can the same technology get along with people?

In a new study, MIT Lincoln Laboratory researchers sought to find out how well humans could play the cooperative card game Hanabi with an advanced AI model trained to excel at playing with teammates it has never met before. In single-blind experiments, participants played two series of the game: one with the AI agent as their teammate, and the other with a rule-based agent, a bot manually programmed to play in a predefined way.

The results surprised the researchers. Not only were the scores no better with the AI teammate than with the rule-based agent, but humans consistently hated playing with their AI teammate. They found it to be unpredictable, unreliable, and untrustworthy, and felt negatively even when the team scored well. A paper detailing this study has been accepted for the 2021 Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS).

Hanabi Experiment

When playing the cooperative card game Hanabi, humans felt frustrated and confused by the moves of their AI teammate. Credit: Bryan Mastergeorge

“It really highlights the nuanced distinction between creating AI that performs objectively well and creating AI that is subjectively trusted or preferred,” says Ross Allen, co-author of the paper and a researcher in the Artificial Intelligence Technology Group. “It may seem those things are so close that there’s not really daylight between them, but this study showed that those are actually two separate problems. We need to work on disentangling those.”

Humans hating their AI teammates could be of concern for researchers designing this technology to one day work with humans on real challenges — like defending from missiles or performing complex surgery. This dynamic, called teaming intelligence, is a next frontier in AI research, and it uses a particular kind of AI called reinforcement learning.

A reinforcement learning AI is not told which actions to take, but instead discovers which actions yield the most numerical “reward” by trying out scenarios again and again. It is this technology that has yielded the superhuman chess and Go players. Unlike rule-based algorithms, these AI aren’t programmed to follow “if/then” statements, because the possible outcomes of the human tasks they’re slated to tackle, like driving a car, are far too many to code.

“Reinforcement learning is a much more general-purpose way of developing AI. If you can train it to learn how to play the game of chess, that agent won’t necessarily go drive a car. But you can use the same algorithms to train a different agent to drive a car, given the right data” Allen says. “The sky’s the limit in what it could, in theory, do.”

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in SciTech Daily. The original article can be found at https://scitechdaily.com/artificial-intelligence-is-smart-but-does-it-doesnt-play-well-with-others/)