GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS

To study mental illness, scientists drive a computer crazy

Neural network claims responsibility for terrorist bombing after scientists simulate high levels of dopamine

Computers are crazy.

That is what most of us will assert from time to time, usually when our computer-related tasks become the most frustrating. But as we all know, and will admit once we’ve calmed down, computers only try to do what they are told, and any apparent insanity is merely the product of environmental factors or bad data.

Or perhaps they can only attribute the problem to … human error. By the way, if a computer ever actually says this to you, get out of there quick. It’s probably the second worse thing a computer can say to you, right after, “Shall we play a game?”

Earlier this week a group of scientists in the Psychiatry Department at Yale University’s School of Medicine made some computers crazy, on purpose

To better understand how schizophrenia affects the human brain, they designed a digital neural network and simulated excessive levels of dopamine by accelerating its learning process.

What they got were responses that had all sorts of disassociations and delusions, symptoms that occur in schizophrenic people. The neural network made up all sorts of stories of which it was the star. Once, the computer even claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing, which we assume the government is investigating just on general principle.

The abstract describing the experiment explains their motivations for all this.

The research could lead to huge advances in finding a cure for the disease, or at least better understanding how our brains work. We wish them all the best, and hope that the computer does not get around to actually planning terrorist attacks — which would make a great B-movie plot, though we’ve all probably seen that one a bunch of times before.

Understand, we do not mean to make light of schizophrenia or the serious work of the researchers in understanding it. But computers are another matter. And humans making a computer crazy does have a certain man-bites-dog appeal. So, in the spirit of advancing medical science at the expense of computers, here are some ideas on other ways to drive a computer loopy.

1) You could make it manic-depressive by making all the transistors in its CPU bipolar ones. (Sorry – I couldn’t help it, read my previous article.) 

2) You could run up to it and yell, “This statement is false!” This one always works in science fiction, and fiction would never lie to us, right?

3) Have it run Windows Vista. What? Too soon?

Think you can come up with a better way to drive a computer crazy? Let us know and we might just test it out in the lab.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

Reader Comments

Fri, May 13, 2011 DEFENDER OF THE FREE WORLD

You could try giving it a real world problem for instance: the federal budget. Tell it that we collectively take in 3 trillion dollars in revenue a year but spend 4.6 trillion and tell it to do "fuzzy" math and balance the budget without cutting spending or raising taxes and also instruct it to come up with a nifty cover story that will fool the populace and see what happens....

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