The 13th Floor

Is “NORMAN” the First A.I. Psychopath? His Creators Say So

Researchers at MIT Media Lab sound a little bit scared of their recent creation: a neural network dubbed “Norman” (named after PSYCHO killer Norman Bates), whom they claim is exhibiting thought processes that are closest to “psychopathic” as any A.I. has ever come.

Part of Norman’s introduction to the public was staged as an April Fool’s prank on the lab’s official site — on which they claimed Norman’s thought processes became permanently deranged by constant exposure to “the darkest corners of Reddit” (something I willingly do every day… not sure what that says about me). That “diagnosis” may have been deliberately exaggerated as part of the joke — but the part about Norman’s incredibly macabre point-of-view is terrifyingly real.

In a report from LiveScience, Norman’s designers claim the machine’s terrifying responses to Rorschach-style inkblot images suggest the A.I. displays a kind of mental disorder similar to that of a human psychopath (but only in theory).

For example, when Media Lab staff showed the inkblots to other neural networks, the responses were usually mundane — like “airplane flying through the air,” or “black-and-white photo of a small bird.” But Norman’s responses were… well, a bit more imaginative. His responses included “man is shot and dumped from a car,” or “man gets pulled into a dough machine.”

MIT’s April Fool’s prank got pretty inventive with this concept — claiming any human who interacts with Norman suffers “permanent psychological damage,” and that the server room where his “brain” resides is rigged with devices to shut the A.I. down in case of emergencies — but the part about his creepy, death-obsessed responses to inkblots is actually true.

LiveScience notes that Norman isn’t the first A.I. to focus on darker subject matter; earlier experiments like the “Nightmare Machine” learned to recognize images that scared people, turning ordinary photos into horrific hellscapes, and a machine named “Shelley” (after Mary Shelley, creator of FRANKENSTEIN) was fed text from 140,000 horror stories, eventually learning to write her own original tales of terror.