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Real soldiers use Metal Gear Solid Tactic to defeat Robot

A screenshot shows a person using a box to hide in Metal Gear Solid V.

Cardboard boxes are very useful. You can use them to move things around, make them into big elaborate fortresses, and probably other things as well. 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 it 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 combines fantastic and bizarre elements with grounded soldiers and war. It also has many cutscenes. Anyway, a 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 real-life tactics actually work against AI-powered robots, which, yeah, sounds like a Metal Gear solid thing, but is actually something that exists in our real 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 book’s author, 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. Before that, the Marines walked around the robot for a few days, while engineers used the data to improve the AI. But in the end, someone decided to “turn things around” and asked the soldiers to try to 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 roundabout and played a game: whoever could reach the robot from a great distance without being noticed won. And all eight Marines succeeded. Some cartwheeled and knocked off the robot’s detection algorithm. Another pretended to be a tree, using branches and slowly moving towards the robot, smiling the whole time. But perhaps the Marine’s best tactic: hiding under a cardboard box.

Apparently, two different Marines shared a single cardboard box and hid under it as they approached the robot. “You could hear them giggling all the time,” said a person in the book named Phil.

As explained in the book, the AI ​​system is trained to see people walking and running, not people doing somersaults or hiding in boxes. So these rather simple and childish tactics worked and fooled the AI. Meanwhile, any average person would have easily spotted a moving box or a flipping soldier, demonstrating a major problem with AI and its reliance on previous data and algorithms.

Soldiers beating robot AI using cardboard boxes and silly gymnastic moves sounds like a plot point from a Metal Gear solid game. One more thing that Kojima predicted, I think…

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