More Gradual Erosion in the Dignity of Humankind

By Sean Carroll | June 27, 2012 10:01 am

The next obvious step in the robots’ scheme to take over the world: develop an unbeatable strategy for Rock-Paper-Scissors. (The robots are patient, their plan has a lot of steps.)

It didn’t bother me when computers became better than us at chess, but this is outrageous.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Humor, Technology
  • Jay Fox

    Let’s see that thing try it when it cannot observe the opposite player’s choice. All it seems to be doing is making it’s choice after it sees what it must beat. It’s really fast, that’s all, and something that computers excel at.

  • jpd

    similarly for the jeopardy computer competition.
    it was just faster to the buzzer

  • Chris

    How long till a lonely male researcher has other ideas for the robot hand?

    So far humans are still superior in the game of rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock!

  • Stephen James

    You mean it just cheats. You are supposed to select at the same time, obviously it selects second. Maybe it needs to try “Rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock”

  • floodmouse

    I think human players also win by reading subliminal cues to see what gesture the other person is going to throw. I usually win rock-paper-scissors, but I almost always lose when I’m trying to keep track of a running score inside my head at the same time as I’m playing. I think mental counting slows down my reaction time in the current game.

    Alas, I have never tried rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock. Fortunately it is referenced on Wikipedia (LOL).

    ” Chris Says: How long till a lonely male researcher has other ideas for the robot hand?” – This has been addressed by the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal website (, by clicking on the videos link and looking for robot videos. Alas, I don’t have a specific URL for you.

  • Ori Vandewalle

    #2: It’s not clear who had the advantage in the Jeopardy competition. While Watson had better reaction time, the players thought of their answers faster than Watson did. Additionally, Watson was incapable of buzzing in until it knew the answer, whereas players that think they know the answer will often buzz in first and then think for a second before answering. Indeed, a fairer competition would be rad, but its present accomplishment is still quite noteworthy.

  • Jeff

    This robot is cheating, but robots can beat humans at rock-paper-scissors even without cheating, by using machine learning to recognize patterns in the human’s game. Try it out for yourself — I dare you to try to eliminate any pattern in your game (without using a random number generator):

  • Kevin Anthoney

    The human player doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to throw the robot off, e.g. by slamming his fist down as a rock and then sticking his two fingers out at the last moment.

  • Bob F.

    I know of a NASA engineer who once wound up in the ER because of a robot hand’s tight grip in an unfortunate location.

  • Arun

    Yeah, people used to walk and run, and their dignity was somewhat eroded when horse-riding was invented.

  • Loki

    When i was 15 i wrote a simple program on Basic that amused and/or irritated my classmates. It was beating them consistently in a simpler “o or 1” game: Human declares “zero” or “one”, pushes the space button and Computer tries to guess. My program was making at least 60% of right guesses. It was 1989, so off course nobody suspected the machine of over-hearing, but everybody was sure my program was somehow cheating them :-)
    In fact, it did not! Surely you could beat it knowing the idea behind the algorithm, but caught unawares – no chance.
    I got the idea from my math teacher, who was a student, specialized in Probability theory. The clue is that people are pretty poor pseudo-random generators. If asked to alternate 0 and 1 at random, they tend to alternate too often.

  • Chris

    Reminds me of the Farscape episode

  • Christian Takacs

    Whoops, that didn’t work. Tried to post the link to the Wiki Big Bang site….and was marked as spam. Oh well, In reaction to Bob F, Were you referring to Howard Wolowitz on Big Bang Theory? He had an unfortunate mishap with his “Wolowitz Programmable Hand”, The expression on the Head ER nurses face was priceless when Howard shuffles up with a tent over the robot in front of him… She didn’t even bat an eye. Howard’s robot hand looked a lot like the one pictured above.

  • Bob F.

    Christian: you bet! I laughed so hard at the ER scene, I thought I was going to pass out.

  • Meh

    You know, I was going to make some comment about us creating our future overlords; but if we can transfer our brains into a robot body, I’m all for it. I always say that the first candidate should be Stephen Hawking, but something about one of the smartest minds on the planet in a fresh indestructible mechanical body doesn’t sit well with me; the temptation to be a supervillan might be too great for any human to handle.

  • Adrian Morgan

    I can think of things worth trying in order to fool the robot. What if you delay the protrusion of the fingers just long enough to fool the robot into thinking you’ve selected Rock, and then do Scissors at the last millisecond? With practice, you may be able to get the timing right.

    From the slow-motion section of the video I see that the robot responds to the fully-formed hand shapes, and not, as I was expecting, the point where the fingers begin to be protruded. Before seeing that, I’d been thinking a good strategy would be to begin protruding the fingers then immediately pull them back in again, resulting in a draw on Rock.

    I find it odd that the only point in the video where they play at the speed that a human would is at 20-22 seconds. Doing it fast only plays into the robot’s strengths.

  • Iori Fujita

    The robot is cheating. After it saw the movement of the human hand, it decided the choice.

  • Phillip Helbig

    “How long till a lonely male researcher has other ideas for the robot hand?”

    Rule 34. :-)

    Guys are always getting a bum rap. Women have been using robots for decades. :-)


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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