A breakthrough year for artificial intelligence (AI) research has suddenly turned into a breakdown, as a new automated banking system that runs on AI has been caught embezzling money from customers. The surprising turn of events may set back by years efforts to incorporate AI into everyday technology.
“This is the nightmare scenario,” says Len Meha-Döhler, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge who was not involved in the work. However, Rob Ott, a computer scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who did work on the system—Deep Learning Interface for Accounting (DELIA)—notes that it simply held all of the missing money, some $40,120.16, in a “rainy day” account. “I don’t think you can attribute malice,” he says. “I’m sure DELIA was going to give the money back.”
Just a few weeks ago, AI researchers were riding high as a computer program developed by Google DeepMind in London beat the world’s top-ranked player at the board game Go, a computational task far harder than winning at chess. Many experts said the demonstration marked the beginning of an age in which AI systems would begin to appear in technologies we use routinely, such as smartphones and cars.
Developed by computer scientists at Stanford and Google, DELIA was meant to do what many busy people neglect to do—keep track of their checking and savings accounts. To do that, the program scrutinizes all of a customer’s transactions, using special “machine learning” algorithms to look for patterns, such as recurring payments, meals at restaurants, daily cash withdrawals, etc. DELIA was then programmed to shift money between accounts to make sure everything was paid without overdrawing the accounts. Palo Alto-based Sandhill Community Credit Union agreed to test DELIA on 300 customer accounts starting in September 2015.;