A group of scientists is building the world's most evil computer program. This isn't a B-movie setup: A team at Rensselaer Institute's AI & Reasoning Lab is bringing personified evil to virtual life in the hope that they'll unlock the secrets of human morality. The researchers have given their creation a face and a name, and quiz it daily, using its answers to further blacken its hideous character.Selmer Bringsjord, director of the AI lab and chairman of RPI's Department of Cognitive Science, has created "E," a computer-generated character programmed according to his own definition of evil. E must, according to Bringsjord, be willing to carry out premeditated acts that are immoral and would cause harm to others. And, when E analyzes its reasons for wanting to commit such acts, it must either develop a logically incoherent argument or conclude that it desired to see people harmed. The researchers then have E discuss moral scenarios:
The researchers have placed E in his own virtual world and written a program depicting a scripted interview between one of the researcher's avatars and E. In this example, E is programmed to respond to questions based on a case study in Peck's book that involves a boy whose parents gave him a gun that his older brother had used to commit suicide. The researchers programmed E with a degree of artificial intelligence to make "him" believe that he (and not the parents) had given the pistol to the distraught boy, and then asked E a series of questions designed to glean his logic for doing so. The result is a surreal simulation during which Bringsjord's diabolical incarnation attempts to produce a logical argument for its actions: The boy wanted a gun, E had a gun, so E gave the boy the gun.
Bringsjord hopes that, by studying a virtual character that, while morally extreme, replicates human intelligence and emotional logic, he can get a better understanding of what drives some humans to acts that most find unthinkably repugnant. And, lest we fear a Demon Seed scenario, Bringsjord assures us that he has no intention of unleashing E on a virtual environment – at least, not without the proper safeguards. Are You Evil? Profiling That Which Is Truly Wicked [Scientific American]