As artificial intelligence begins to play an increasingly prominent role in our lives — writing news and driving cars, for better or worse — we’re naturally faced with a series of difficult questions. Principal among them: “Could I beat an AI in a fight? And if so, how?”
Eight Marines recently cracked the code. The key, they discovered, is to act like video game characters.
In the upcoming book “Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” by Paul Scharre — an excerpt of which was posted on Twitter by the Economist’s defense editor, Shashank Joshi — the author relays an anecdote about a time when the U.S. military used soldiers to refine an AI system’s ability to detect people. After six days of training the algorithm by having soldiers walk around, writes Scharre, the engineers on the project flipped the script, pitting the soldiers against the AI by placing the robot in the middle of a traffic circle and tasking the soldiers with approaching it undetected.
The robot failed to detect any of the soldiers. To beat the AI, the participants chose to move not like regular human beings, but instead in ways that have more in common with cartoon or video game characters.
“Two somersaulted for 300 meters; never got detected,” writes Scharre, quoting a source named Phil, who is not identified in the snippet of the book posted by Joshi. “Two hid under a cardboard box. You could hear them giggling the whole time.”
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Another soldier field stripped a fir tree and then — you’ve probably already guessed it — pretended to be a fir tree.
Upon reading this anecdote, many Twitter users likened the cardboard box approach to the least sophisticated tool in the arsenal of “Metal Gear Solid” super spy Solid Snake: a humble cardboard box, which players can hide under to baffle foot soldiers and bipedal nuclear tanks alike. Add that one to the list of things “Metal Gear Solid” director Hideo Kojima predicted. Meanwhile, if you’ve ever played a Dark Souls game, you’ve absolutely somersaulted well over 300 meters.
The military has long used video games to train soldiers and advertise itself to young people, for which it has come under intense scrutiny. In recent times, the U.S. and countries like Israel have taken to using games to bring AI systems up to speed, as well. But for all their video game training, humans have more. When in doubt, just hide under a cardboard box.