There are many ridiculous things in video games: a fat Italian plumber jumping on turtles, picture-perfect race cars taking no damage despite crashing, a blue hedgehog who can run fast, a man hiding in a box to avoid detection from the enemy. Well, it turns out that last one, courtesy of Solid Snake and Metal Gear Solid, isn’t quite so ridiculous, as a pair of Marines successfully decided to hide in a cardboard box to get by an AI security system set up to detect enemy soldiers.
We’ve all been there when playing a Metal Gear Solid game. An enemy is walking around a corner or a camera is about to catch us during a stealth section, so we whip out our magical, collapsable cardboard box and hide under it to avoid detection. The enemy doesn’t question the random box lying in the hallway that wasn’t there before on their last tour through the area, and whoever is watching the cameras doesn’t question its appearance either. It is clearly the perfect form of camouflage no matter where you are — sometimes including in real life. Paul Scharre’s latest book, Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, takes a look at what is basically a global AI race to the top, and it details the story of how soldiers could hide in a box to evade AI security Solid Snake-style.
Shashank Joshi on Twitter shared the relevant Metal Gear Solid-ish excerpt.
Marines Hide in a Box to Successfully Evade AI, Just Like Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid
These aren’t the marines you’re looking for. pic.twitter.com/qMwzJblQwp
— Shashank Joshi (@shashj) January 18, 2023
At some point, the US Army was testing AI monitoring systems and used Marines to help build the algorithms and then test the AI against their cunning. The Marines always won. All eight of them tried out different tactics to get to the AI system in the middle of a traffic circle, and two of them took a page from Solid Snake, crawling under a cardboard box and advancing their way toward the goal. The AI, which was trained to recognize a walking soldier, not a moving cardboard box, completely ignored them, allowing them to approach (giggling the entire time) until they touched it and won the round. Other soldiers did somersaults or dressed like a tree and succeeded. It’s a pretty ridiculous test, and without knowing the date it all occurred it could just be an example of early AI failing miserably.
The most interesting thing about this is that Scharre went with a Bugs Bunny analogy to compare the cardboard box sneaking to instead of a Metal Gear Solid one. Forget the fact that Solid Snake is a far better analogy given that they’re basically doing the exact same thing, but I can’t actually find a single moment of Bugs Bunny sneaking up on Elmer Fudd in a cardboard box at all. Maybe Scharre isn’t a gamer and so didn’t know of the iconic move, but you’d think at least one of his editors, copy editors, publishers, or random people he let read the book would point out a far more accurate comparison was available.
The final lesson here? When AI does eventually take over the world, we can all rest assured that those of us with large cardboard boxes will survive as long as we don’t have to leave them.
While we wait to hide in a cardboard box like soldiers or Solid Snake, check out the tease from Raiden’s voice actor that we can expect Metal Gear Solid announcements soon.