Facebook wants to build its own virtual Westworld

Even the acronyms are on the nose.


If you thought the worst sci-fi-turned-reality TV moment was the pig episode in Black Mirror, you’re sadly mistaken. A new research paper from Facebook describes a bot-based system that is a clear foundation for a Westworld future. The research team presents Facebook’s WW system, a Web-Enabled Simulation (WES), that walls-off bots in a Facebook simulation to test features, according to Import AI. Yes, it's literally a WES world.

What is this WES world? — Facebook wants to use its own social media community instead of a model to simulate the experience. The way the paper differentiates between discussing Facebook the property and Facebook the parent company suggests WW will be based on “test users that perform different actions” on Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp as well.

The bots will operate on the same platform code while being separated from actual users. Using reinforcement learning techniques, the bots are trained to perform a variety of tasks like testing out features, finding bugs, and rooting out scammers.

“WW also provides us with a realistic, yet safely isolated, way to investigate potential privacy issues on the real platform. Because the WW bots are isolated from affecting real users, they can be trained to perform potentially privacy-violating actions on each other,” reads the paper.

Sometimes, however, a smaller group of read-only bots will need to read real user actions and react to them in the simulation. Researchers haven’t decided whether to completely sandbox the bots or simply use a restricted version of the platform.

Why — Facebook posits creating this scaled-down, shadow social media community will help it better protect its users from bad actors. As the pandemic has left much of Facebook’s moderation in the hands of AI, the limitations of that technology have become clear.

In this walled garden, the first wave of applications seems to be improving user safety, but the paper also considers the implications for game theory research and feature testing. Facebook Gaming continues to grow, despite the looming shadow of Twitch, and could benefit from some proprietary research. And could you imagine if Facebook actually gave you features you liked? Of course, this stage is mostly carrot; you’ll have to refer to HBO for the stick.