Lying Smarts

A group of Swiss researchers recently developed a set of robots that were programmed to find and share “food” with each other. These were learning robots. Robots with a built-in ability to try new things and devise new strategies over time. The interesting part? While initially the robots signaled each other whenever any of them found food, the robots eventually learned that concealing the fact they had found food often resulted in higher portions of food for themselves. In other words, they developed the ability to lie.

While it’s tempting to see this as startling, the only starting aspect is that the robots were evolving intelligence, not that they were lying. Despite the reality that pretty much everyone values honesty, the reality is that everyone lies. Effective lying is directly correlated to intelligence, and lying is actually a developmental milestone in children, which correlates positively with brighter kids. Lying has also been found in primates, and it is speculated that lying is at the root of the evolution of the higher intelligence we humans prize so much.

After all, in order to lie you must be aware of the truth, and then actively conceive and sell an alternate reality. It’s a rather complicated mental task. But that hardly means that all liars are geniuses, or all geniuses are liars. It just means that the ability to lie convincingly correlates with intelligence. How you use that can still make you a good or a bad person.

There’s a world of difference between selling, “Honey, that dress looks amazing on you!” and selling, “Our best intelligence says there are WMDs in Iraq.”

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