Cardboard boxes are very useful. You can use them to move stuff, create large elaborate forts out of them, and uh, probably other things too. But did you know that you can use a cardboard box to hide from a highly advanced military robot? It’s true, even if it sounds like something straight out of a video game.
Metal Gear is a long-running video game franchise created by Hideo Kojima and published by Konami that mixes fantastical and bizarre elements with grounded soldiers and war. It also has a lot of cutscenes. Anyway, one great example of the series mixing weird shit with war is the ability for the player in most games in the franchise to hide from enemies using a cardboard box. And hey, it turns out that tactic actually works in real life against AI-powered robots, which, yes, sounds like a Metal Gear Solid thing but is actually something that exists in our real-life world.
On Twitter, The Economist’s defense editor, Shashank Joshi, posted an excerpt from an upcoming book about artificial intelligence in the military. In it, the author of the book, Paul Scharre, shares a story about how the U.S. military used a group of marines to improve an AI robot’s human detection algorithm. To do so, the marines walked around the robot for a few days, while engineers used the data to improve the AI. But eventually, someone decided to “flip” things and asked the soldiers to try and defeat the AI robot instead of helping it.
According to the book—out next month—the eight marines parked the AI robot in the middle of a traffic circle and played a game: Whoever could reach the robot from a long distance away without being detected won. And all eight marines were able to do so. Some did cartwheels, throwing off the robot’s detection algorithm. Another pretended to be a tree, using branches and slowly moving toward the robot, smiling the whole time. But perhaps the best tactic used by the marines: hiding under a cardboard box.
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Apparently, two different marines shared a single cardboard box and hid under it while moving toward the robot. “You could hear them giggling the whole time,” said a person in the book referred to as Phil.
As explained in the book, the AI system was trained to spot humans walking and running, not people doing somersaults or hiding in boxes. So these fairly simple and childish tactics worked and fooled the AI. Meanwhile, any average person would have easily spotted a moving box or a flipping soldier, showcasing a major issue with AI and its reliance on previous data and algorithms.
Soldiers defeating robot AI using cardboard boxes and silly gymnastic moves sounds like a plot point from a Metal Gear Solid game. Just one more thing Kojima predicted I guess…