In 1953, a Harvard psychologist thought he discovered pleasure – accidentally – within the cranium of a rat. With an electrode inserted into a specific area of its brain, the rat was allowed to pulse the implant by pulling a lever. It kept returning for more: insatiably, incessantly, lever-pulling. In fact, the rat didn’t seem to want to do anything else. Seemingly, the reward centre of the brain had been located.
More than 60 years later, in 2016, a pair of artificial intelligence (AI) researchers were training an AI to play video games. The goal of one game – Coastrunner – was to complete a racetrack. But the AI player was rewarded for picking up collectable items along the track. When the program was run, they witnessed something strange. The AI found a way to skid in an unending circle, picking up an unlimited cycle of collectables. It did this, incessantly, instead of completing the course.
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