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Deceptive robots mimic squirrels and birds for potential military use

Nicole Lee, @nicole

The military has come up with a multitude of ways to utilize robotics, from bomb disposal and recon bots to Avatar-like surrogates. But a robot that takes its cue from squirrels and African birds to deceive its enemies is decidedly novel territory. Researchers from Georgia Tech, who are also working on a MacGyver bot with AI smarts, are making inroads into developing just such a robotic trickster. The Office of Naval Research is funding the project, which is led by Professor Ronald Arkin. He discovered that squirrels often deceive competing squirrels by visiting fake stash locations while their real acorn collection lies elsewhere, and have developed a robotic model that utilizes the same strategy. The programmed deceptive behavior was successful, as demonstrated in the video after the break.

Another lesson from nature is from the African babbler, a species of bird that flocks and crowds around a predator without actually attacking it, with the assumption that it'll back away from the harassing mob. Based on their simulations, the team concluded that deception of this sort is often the right move when pushed against the wall, especially in military operations. "Being honest about the robot's abilities risks capture or destruction," said Arkin. However, he recognizes there is a real ethical quandary when it comes to deceptive robot behavior -- do we really want robots that can lie to us? It's a question that conjures up memories of Battlestar Galactica and brings chills down our spine. Here's hoping we can restrain the robotic deception to the good of mankind.

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