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Why Deep Learning AIs Are So Easy to Fool

By Nature

October 11, 2019

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A self-driving car approaches a stop sign, but instead of slowing down, it accelerates into the busy intersection. An accident report later reveals that four small rectangles had been stuck to the face of the sign. These fooled the car's onboard artificial intelligence (AI) into misreading the word 'stop' as 'speed limit 45'.

Such an event hasn't actually happened, but the potential for sabotaging AI is very real. Researchers have already demonstrated how to fool an AI system into misreading a stop sign, by carefully positioning stickers on it1. They have deceived facial-recognition systems by sticking a printed pattern on glasses or hats. And they have tricked speech-recognition systems into hearing phantom phrases by inserting patterns of white noise in the audio.

These are just some examples of how easy it is to break the leading pattern-recognition technology in AI, known as deep neural networks (DNNs). These have proved incredibly successful at correctly classifying all kinds of input, including images, speech and data on consumer preferences. They are part of daily life, running everything from automated telephone systems to user recommendations on the streaming service Netflix. Yet making alterations to inputs — in the form of tiny changes that are typically imperceptible to humans — can flummox the best neural networks around.

These problems are more concerning than idiosyncratic quirks in a not-quite-perfect technology, says Dan Hendrycks, a PhD student in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. Like many scientists, he has come to see them as the most striking illustration that DNNs are fundamentally brittle: brilliant at what they do until, taken into unfamiliar territory, they break in unpredictable ways.


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