There’s a wonderful story making its way through the tech/gaming media right now: That if you set 16 bots to fight each other in the video game “Quake III: Arena,” and then leave the game running for four years, the bots’ artificial intelligence figures out that if no one kills anyone, then no one dies … and everybody “wins.”
The bots end up standing around, passively, refusing to shoot each other, even if the map in the game is altered. Only when a new human-controlled character joins the game and starts blasting them do the bots go back to fighting — taking out the new belligerent first.
The story is based on this screen shot of a gaming chat room from 2011, in which a user discovers to his amazement that he’s accidentally left a version of the game running on a pirate server he used four years ago. He wanted to see what happened if he left 16 bots in the game to fight each other. The anonymous user tells his friend:
I just checked on them but for some reason all the bots are just standing still. … the ultimate survival strategy developed over 4 years: nobody dies if nobody kills.
The problem is, it’s not true.
As the Huffington Post and Forbes both found to their cost, it’s all a prank. Bots using AI inside Quake III do not evolve “world peace,” as HuffPo put it.
The story “feels” true because the image of the chat thread is filled with enough gamer-tech jargon — including screengrabs of data logs — to seem like the real thing. And developers have created AI bots for Quake III that “learned” new fighting skills as the game evolved. Before both HuffPost and Forbes grabbed it, the rumour was given new life by Mat Murray … who happens to be a content strategist at Delete, a digital strategy agency.
We’re not saying Murray knew the thread was faked. But he surely has the credentials to know what kind of material goes viral very, very quickly.
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