Deception of AI, crawling robot & discrimination's effect on ageing | Last Week in Science (12 May 2024)

Deception of AI

A was playing a virtual game of world dominion- Diplomacy with other players when he went offline for 10 minutes. When questioned - 'Where were you?' on returning back, he says - "I was on a call with my girlfriend". There is nothing unusual in this situation except that A is an AI bot which did not want the other human players to know that it is not human.

This is not a lone example where AI bots tried to deceive humans. And although this simple conversation exchange looks harmless, there have been instances where AI has found to lie and backstab the human players because it was required in games like poker and bluff. One would argue that these AI models were trained to win the game and do so in a way that the human players would not know that they are AI. It is intriguing because the AI bots were trained on honest and helpful gameplay, which means the bots should not be using any dishonest means to win.

In one instance to beat the CAPTCHA- where you have to prove that you are not a robot, GPT-4 posed to be visually impaired. And GPT-4 is the highly superior version of ChatGPT-3 that is freely available.

All this sounds scary because humans have not trained AI models to be dishonest and yet they are using dishonesty and deception to fool us and beat us. Imagine AI taking political decisions or recruiting terrorists via such means of deception. The current solutions being thought of are to regulate AI research, flagging deceptive AI models as 'high risk'. It may be possible to study these deceptive models to understand how to better train them but who knows they may have already learnt to fool us into a false belief that they are now safe. Would training rules like Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics work in this case?  Who knows maybe we already are being controlled by an AI model?

Tuo Zhao, a postdoctoral researcher,
with origami patterns used in robotics research.
PC: Princeton University

Crawling Caterpillar Robots

We imagine robots as metallic beings which restrict the kind of jobs that robots can perform. A type of soft robot which uses origami paper folding technique to mold modern synthetic materials has been created which can crawl and grow or shrink to twist and turn through narrow bends.

Engineers designed cylinder shaped units that can connect via magnets to add more units or lose some - changing it based on the function. This (caterpillar) soft robot can crawl ahead or backward, can pick up cargo and also repair itself. It can navigate narrow spaces with bends being flexible. The movement controller is placed inside the individual units which makes it easy to manipulation and control its movement.

Origami patterns have been also used by NASA to deploy the James Webb Space Telescope in space. The folded parts could be easily sent to space which unfolded to set up the telescope once in place. The cylinder units also use origami to twist into a flat structure and then expand back into cylinders when heat is applied so that they can crawl forward. The engineers used two different materials that can shrink and expand when heated. They placed silver nanowires to pass electric current that can heat these materials causing the shape change and movement.

The engineers are now working on improving the speed of these robots.

Discrimination and its effect on ageing

How does it make you feel being humiliated, made fun of or insulted, denying what is rightfully yours? Many of us who have faced discrimination, which could be based on the colour of our skin, gender or weight, will find this feeling familiar.

A study has shown that facing discrimination can age you faster. It can also lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and depression. Scientists studied 2000 adults - black and white US citizens -  collected their blood samples and gave them questionnaire to asses how much discrimination do they face daily - in day to day activities, at work place and major discrimination. They found that that individuals who had faced more discrimination had been ageing faster. They looked at methylation in the DNA of individuals to assess their biological age as with ageing the level of methylation increases. The reason for this effect is not known but the scientists suggest that chronic stress could be one of the reasons.

We may not be able to find inexpensive methods to slow down ageing any time soon but this study may serve as a reminder to be kind and considerate.