Meet Tong Tong, the slightly terrifying AI toddler

Researchers have developed the first-ever artificial intelligence (AI) child, Tong Tong (or Little Girl in English). It has the emotional intelligence and behavior of a three to four-year-old.

It has been developed by the Beijing Institute for General Artificial Intelligence (BIGAI) and according to the researchers, it can develop continually and improve its skills, knowledge, and values.

But don’t expect an army of robot toddlers to enter homes anytime soon. Tong Tong is virtual. She exists and learns in a virtual environment.

Unveiled at the Frontiers of General Artificial Intelligence Technology Exhibition in Beijing on 28-29 January, the AI can assign herself tasks based on how she has been programmed. For example, if she has been programmed to be tidy, she’ll clean up spills and straighten crooked picture frames. If she can’t reach the frame in her virtual world, she might get a stool to stand on to solve the problem.

𝐖𝐨𝐫𝐥𝐝’𝐬 𝐟𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭 𝐀𝐈 𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐥𝐝

Tong Tong is a virtual AI entity that can assign herself tasks, learn autonomously, and explore her environment.

She can display behavior and abilities similar to those of a three or four-year-old child🤖… pic.twitter.com/SoZpKLegwY

— CodingNerds COG (@CodingnerdsCog) February 6, 2024

This is a big difference between common large language model (LLM) AI, which cannot act autonomously, and general AI, which can. The developers also said that Tong Tong has her own emotions and can experience joy, anger, and sadness. Currently, emotion is not within the capabilities of AI so we should treat this claim with a healthy dose of skepticism.

According to the South China Morning Post, BIGAI stated in a video “Tong Tong possesses a mind and strives to understand the common sense taught by humans. She discerns right from wrong, expresses her attitudes in various situations, and has the power to shape the future.” Understanding right from wrong is also something current AI technology is unable to achieve.

On Tuesday (Feb.6) Readwrite reported how when given wargame simulations generative AI tools often chose violence, including launching nukes!

Of course, it has been seen time and again that AI might not always behave as expected with researchers recently encountering an AI deliberately rejecting instructions. Luckily, Tong Tong is only the size of a toddler and should be easy to stop if she gets too recalcitrant.

Tong Tong is the brainchild of Zhu Songchun, director of BIGAI. He stated, “To advance towards general artificial intelligence, we must create entities that can comprehend the real world and possess a wide range of skills.”

Zhu lived and worked in the USA for 28 years and was a professor at UCLA until he moved to China and established BIGAI. He is a world-class AI scholar with several awards and accolades to his name.

What is the Tong Test?

The Tong Test is a new test developed by Zhu and his team at BIGAI and is designed to test AI’s communication and intelligence across five dimensions – vision, language, cognition, motion, and learning.

On their website, BIGAI says, “With nearly 100 specialized tasks and more than 50 general tasks, the Tong Test offers a complete testing regime for the development of general artificial intelligence.” The statement on the website included a quote from Zhu: “For general AI to integrate seamlessly into human environments, it must learn and execute tasks in complex settings, driven by values and an understanding of causality. This is why we proposed the Tong Test, a new direction for testing general AI, focusing on practical abilities and values.”

Featured image: BIGAI

Ali Rees

Freelance journalist

Ali Rees is a freelance writer based in the UK. They have worked as a data and analytics consultant, a software tester, and a digital marketing and SEO specialist.

They have been a keen gamer and tech enthusiast since their childhood in are currently the Gaming and Tech editor at Brig Newspaper. They also have a Substack where they review short video games.
During the pandemic, Ali turned their hand to live streaming and is a fan of Twitch. When not writing, Ali enjoys playing video and board games, live music, and reading. They have two cats and both of them are idiots.

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