For many years, science has attempted to develop machines to mimic everything from human thought patterns to human behaviors, with ever-increasing levels of success. The goal is to find new and exciting ways to understand not only technology, but also ourselves. The thing is, when you get right down to it, we humans are sort of awful.
Here are some emerging technologies suggesting that we might just be fast approaching the technological asshole-arity -- that theoretical point in time when our machines become bigger dicks than we are.
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Rats are the go-to animal for testing treatments for human maladies because their biological and behavioral makeup resembles humans' way more than you'd think, and also because ew, rats. Even the staunchest PETA-head's convictions get all wobbly when the animal in question is just plain fucking gross. But let's say what you're testing is a new treatment for depression -- how are you supposed to test something like that when all of your subjects are chipper little filth spreaders?
Well, you whip yourself up some depressed rats, that's how. Typically, this is accomplished by severing the rats' sense of smell or forcing them to swim for cruelly long periods of time, but some researchers at Waseda University in Tokyo found that this just wasn't quite achieving true "Hot Topic Shopper" levels of depression. Enter their new brainchild, the WR-3 -- a tiny robot designed to be an asshole to rats:
Takanishi Lab/Waseda University via New Scientist
Representing the cutting edge of solid-state douchebaggery.
Much like that kid you went to school with who was perpetually half a foot too tall to be in your grade, this robotic nose-twitcher's sole purpose is to make the lives of its companions a living hell. It constantly harasses rats in an attempt to push them closer and closer to using their freakishly oversized front teeth to carve a cheese-based suicide note, without ever quite pushing them over the edge. The researchers found that the best method to achieve bona fide, Grade A, fuck-my-life depression is for the bully bot to attack an adult rat intermittently, after harassing it nonstop as it grew up.
In other words, science successfully programmed a machine to learn the exact pattern of dickishness required to ruin the mental and emotional well-being of a living organism. Thanks in advance, science! There's certainly no way that's going to be used against us in the future.
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"I know now why you cry. It's because you're a little bitch."
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Remember Watson? No, not the Jude Law one -- the supercomputer one that kicked the asses of actual humans at America's favorite trivia game show Jeopardy! back in 2011. And these weren't your average, everyday humans, either -- one of them was Ken Jennings, whose single claim to fame is having won the show against human opponents 74 times in a row.
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And he was drunk for at least half of those.
You probably thought Watson went to that great server farm in the sky after proving that computers are better than humans at recalling interesting but useless facts (which, incidentally, makes us here at Cracked squirm in our seats a bit), but he's still around, growing ever smarter, and these days is starting to sound like the average teenager on Xbox Live.
See, one gigantic hurdle that our super-smart computers must overcome in order to achieve true intelligence is the ability to converse in a natural (aka not Siri) way with us humans. What makes that so difficult, you ask? Well, it's the inability of a computer to pick up on the nuances of human-speak -- specifically, our slang. So, in an effort to punt Watson right over that human language barrier, Watson's daddy -- IBM research scientist Eric Brown -- decided that what it really needed was a dictionary containing all of the human slang: specifically, the Urban Dictionary.
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"I'll take 'blow me' for $500, Alex, you fucktarded mingebag."
That's right: The man responsible for one of the most powerful computers in history thought it would be a good idea to take the entirety of the website you visited to find out what the hell a Dutch rudder was and toss it into Watson's brain.
As you may have already guessed, the problem with this was that there's a profound difference between possessing the grand sum of all human profanity and knowing when it's appropriate to use said profanity. After gaining his nifty new vocabulary, Watson came down with what was perhaps history's first case of digital Tourette's, and even took to replying to researchers' questions with "bullshit" when a simple "false" would have sufficed.
"I know that's typically referred to as a 'muffin top,' but in an effort to simplify things for you humans, I'll just call you fat."
In the end, it took a team of 35 people to develop a filter to make him stop swearing and wipe the Urban Dictionary from his memory to prepare him for his future as "a diagnostic tool for hospitals." We can only hope that they missed some profane nugget hiding in a dark recess of his hard drives, which doctors will hilariously discover when Watson starts referring to a colonoscopy procedure as an "asshole spelunking."
Although human emotions are undeniably complicated, tricking them with technology turns out to be much easier than you might expect. Researchers are currently finding that it's possible to force humans to become emotionally attached to virtually anything, just as long as they believe, consciously or otherwise, that the thing in question has agency. In case you're not familiar with the term, "agency" is a fancy way of saying "the capacity to do things" -- to love or to change -- and even if the object isn't truly capable of those things, we'll still connect with it as long as we believe its agency to be true.
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Thus explaining why Spencer Pratt's parents haven't smothered him in his sleep.
You see, human minds separate the stuff they encounter into two groups: objects, such as cups, teaspoons, and sex toys; and agents, such as cats, people, and other living things. And while some of us may grow pretty attached to our sex toys, we generally don't feel that they're worth our affection. Robots should fall into that same group -- seeing as how they're made of wires and metal and plastic -- but it turns out that all it takes to prove this false is a little creative programming and some strategic fluffiness.
Enter Paro -- the robot designed to look like a baby seal that's specifically created to manipulate the emotions of people in isolated situations (Alzheimer's sufferers, for instance):
Stephen Crowley/The New York Times via New York Times
Don't let the eyes fool you -- he feasts on human souls.
Paro acts much like an actual pet. It "trills and paddles when petted, blinks when the lights go up, opens its eyes at loud noises, and yelps when handled roughly or held upside down." And while this cuddly little bot's intentions are (purportedly) altruistic -- it fulfills the social needs of those who are mentally incapable of having those needs fulfilled otherwise -- forgive us if we're not crazy about trusting this power to the people whose job it is to sell gadgets. Yes, let's have a future where our iPhone manipulates us into believing it is our closest friend, and that failing to upgrade it would be akin to letting it die. Maybe next they'll program it to act jealous if it sees us shopping for a Motorola. Speaking of which ...