10 Hardest Things to Teach a Robot

Practice Deception
Squirrels are practiced at the art of deception, so researchers have turned to these wily rodents for a few ideas on teaching robots deceptive behavior. John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

The fine art of deception has evolved to help animals get a leg up on their competitors and avoid being eaten by predators. With practice, the skill can become a highly effective survival mechanism.

For robots, learning how to deceive a person or another robot has been challenging (and that might be just fine with you). Deception requires imagination -- the ability to form ideas or images of external objects not present to the senses -- which is something machines typically lack (see the next item on our list). They're great at processing direct input from sensors, cameras and scanners, but not so great at forming concepts that exist beyond all of that sensory data.

Future robots may be better versed at trickery though. Georgia Tech researchers have been able to transfer some deceptive skills of squirrels to robots in their lab. First, they studied the fuzzy rodents, which protect their caches of buried food by leading competitors to old, unused caches. Then they coded those behaviors into simple rules and loaded them into the brains of their robots. The machines were able to use the algorithms to determine if deception might be useful in a given situation. If so, they were then able to provide a false communication that led a companion bot away from their hiding place.