Scientists create paranoid, delusional computers with “virtual schizophrenia”

May 19, 2011
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If a computer claimed it was responsible for a terrorist bombing, or claimed that it had analyzed and discovered secret-coded NSA messages in online articles which told it to infiltrate a terrorist network, it would likely freak some people out. However, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin were elated when a computer freaked out and told them paranoid and delusional tales. The computer seemed to take on the “split mind” of the disorder schizophrenia which can cause severely impaired thinking, emotions, and behaviors. Scientists did this to the computer to better understand the human brain.

University of Texas at Austin and Yale University scientists have afflicted computers with schizophrenia so that the computer networks cannot forget quickly enough and therefore “show symptoms of virtual schizophrenia.” The researchers programmed a neural network, called DISCERN, to learn and to simulate the excessive release of dopamine in the brain. Then they told it simple stories over and over, so DISCERN’s memory of these stories were stored in a similar way that the human brain keeps information; “not in distinct units, but in a statistical relationships of words, sentences, scripts and stories.” The researchers discovered that DISCERN recalled memories in a distinctly schizophrenic-like fashion.

Uli Grasemann, a graduate student in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Texas stated, “When there’s too much dopamine, it leads to exaggerated salience, and the brain ends up learning from things that it shouldn’t be learning from.”

According to Science Blog, Grasemann  said, “With neural networks, you basically train them by showing them examples, over and over and over again. Every time you show it an example, you say, if this is the input, then this should be your output, and if this is the input, then that should be your output. You do it again and again thousands of times, and every time it adjusts a little bit more towards doing what you want. In the end, if you do it enough, the network has learned.”

According to the hyperlearning hypothesis, which is what the research is based on, people who have schizophrenia have brains that lose the ability to forget non-essential information or to ignore as much info as they normally should. If a person cannot forget, then they lose the ability to know what’s meaningful out of the mass amount of data that the brain sucks in.People with schizophrenia start making connections that aren’t real, but that can be paranoid and delusional.

After being taught many stories, DISCERN began having problems trying to recall which story the researchers were talking about and mixed different elements from different stories together, recalling the memories in a “distinctly schizophrenic-like fashion.” Researchers wrote, “in another instance, DISCERN began showing evidence of ‘derailment’ — replying to requests for a specific memory with a jumble of dissociated sentences, abrupt digressions and constant leaps from the first- to the third-person and back again.”

The Science Blog reported, “After being re-trained with the elevated learning rate, DISCERN began putting itself at the center of fantastical, delusional stories that incorporated elements from other stories it had been told to recall. In one answer, for instance, DISCERN claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing.”

Grasemann  said, “We have so much more control over neural networks than we could ever have over human subjects. The hope is that this kind of modeling will help clinical research.”

Scientists did not yet collect enough information to establish absolute proof of the hyperlearning hypothesis, but they are hoping the computers with virtual schizophrenia will be a powerful new tool for doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists. Comments on the University of Texas at Austin site state that researchers did not create a sentient entity.

I hope it’s a great new tool and can provide better understanding and treatment for people with schizophrenia . . . but let’s hope it doesn’t get connected to other artificial intelligence networks or a paranoid computer network might be the start of Skynet?

Image credit: alfredituzz :B

Author: Tessa