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Researchers Drive Computers Crazy With Frightening Results

| 10 May 2011 20:16
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In a bid to prove that there is a concept more terrifying than humanity's enslavement by robotic overlords, researchers have successfully induced schizophrenia in a machine.

Recently published findings tell the story of a group of computer scientists at the University of Texas - Austin who created a neural network dubbed "DISCERN." This network was designed specifically with the capability to pick up natural human language and "remember" stories as relationships between words and sentences, much the same way humans do.

The researchers then began telling DISCERN various simple stories that the network dutifully remembered. So far, so good, right?

Unfortunately, the goal of this entire experiment was to study the mechanisms of schizophrenia in humans, so after creating their virtual mind, the researchers had to forcibly drive the thing crazy. They decreased the network's ability to filter out unimportant details within the stories, essentially simulating a drastic increase in dopamine within the human brain, and inducing what they hoped would be the virtual equivalent of schizophrenia.

When they next asked the system to recall the stories it had learned, the computer "began putting itself at the center of fantastical, delusional stories that incorporated elements from other stories it had been told to recall." At one point it even claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing.

This breakdown in cognitive functioning proves nothing by itself, but lends credence to the hypothesis that human schizophrenia is the result of what scientists have dubbed "hyperlearning," the biological analogue to -- wait a second! The machine willfully claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing?

Somewhere, the ghost of Philip K. Dick is alternately smiling and screaming in terror.

Source: University of Texas Press Release, via PopSci

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