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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

If AI learns to think like a human, it could one day also be susceptible to stress and disorders like depression, according to a new paper from a trio of AI safety researchers.

Why it matters: Robots may not need therapy yet, but cognitive psychology is already a useful lens for understanding AI decision-making. And, some researchers say it's not too early to start planning for machines that could develop obsessive or depressive tendencies.

Even the current generation of relatively basic machine-learning algorithms can display behavior akin to that of a human with cognitive issues, said Vahid Behzadan, a PhD candidate at Kansas State University and a co-author of the paper.

  • "Reward hacking" can lead AI toward compulsive-seeming behaviors. Consider a cleaning robot that's programmed to receive a reward every time it finishes tidying up. Instead of keeping an area spotless, it might be inclined to repeatedly create messes so that it can reap the reward every time it cleans up.
  • AI can learn bad behavior from others. MIT scientists purposely created an AI that behaves like a psychopath by feeding it Reddit comments; Microsoft accidentally did the same by letting a chatbot named Tay learn from Twitter users.

Further down the line: More developed AIs might be more susceptible to more complex disorders, some experts say.

  • Robots could display signs of depression if its learning rate is set too low and it cannot adapt to its surroundings, speculates Zachary Mainen, a neuroscientist at the Champalimaud Center in Portugal.
  • But not all "negative" emotions are bad, says Jim Crowder, a longtime AI researcher who co-wrote a paper at Raytheon on artificial psychology. A sense of stress, for example, could imbue a robot with urgency in a high-stakes situation.

But, but, but: These latter possibilities are just thought experiments given where AI is today. In the meantime, DeepMind, the British AI company that Google acquired in 2014, has applied psychological tools to analyze how a neural network solved basic image-classification tasks.

  • The researchers used methods borrowed from developmental psychologists to discover the assumptions a DeepMind image classifier was using to categorize objects. They found that it tended to match objects based on their shapes rather than their colors or textures.
  • "The success of the case study demonstrated the potential of using cognitive psychology to understand deep learning systems," two DeepMind researchers wrote about their experiment.

The big picture: AI psychologists — whether humans or specialized algorithms — may one day be needed to probe artificial brains the way human psychologists try to understand ours. The benefits may not be limited to helping AI behave, Behzadan said: "This research can provide a deeper insight into human psychology and human psychopathology."

Go deeper

Most teachers are white. Most students aren't.

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The nation's 6.6 million teacher workforce has grown more racially and ethnically diverse over the past three decades — but not nearly fast enough to keep pace with a student population that's nearing majority-minority in public schools, two new reports show.

Why it matters: The disparities are especially acute between Hispanic students and teachers, and in schools with 90% or higher non-white student populations.

Updated 12 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 13 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.