Robots that evolved into... liars

Scientists from Switzerland have created learning robots that can lie to each other.

Dario Floreano and his colleagues of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology created little experimental learning robots to work in groups and hunt for "food" while avoiding "poison". The food sources charged up the robots' batteries while the poison drained them. Their neural circuitry was programmed with just 30 “genes”, elements of software code that determined their behavior.

To create the next generation of robots, Floreano recombined the genes of those that proved fittest and had managed to get the biggest charge out of the food source. By the 50th generation, the robots had learned to signal to other robots in the group when they found food or poison. Surprisingly, the fourth colony sometimes evolved “cheater” robots which signaled food when they found poison and then calmly rolled over to the real food while other robots went to their battery-death.

But that’s not all: some other robots acted like real heroes. They signaled danger and died to save other robots. “Sometimes”, Floreano says, “you see that in nature – an animal that emits a cry when it sees a predator; it gets eaten, and the others get away – but I never expected to see this in robots.”

Wow. Can you imagine that? Robots, programmed only to learn to find "food" and avoid "poison" in competition with other robot-tribes, learned to lie in order to improve their chances, and to die for the sake of their kind. This would be a great plot for the next Steven Spielberg movie. Can’t wait to see it.

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