04/12/2012 06:15 GMT | Updated 03/02/2013 05:12 GMT

Robots Taught To Lie After Researchers Study Deceptive Squirrels

Robots have been taught to lie - and you have squirrels to blame.

Machines which are able to deceive enemy soldiers by creating false trails have been developed by the US Navy and Georgia Tech.

The experimenters taught robots about situations that warranted the use of deception when there was conflict between it and a "seeker", and when the robot would benefit from lying.

To test their work, they then created 20 hide-and-seek experiments, with two robots that went as follows:

Markers were lined up on three pathways where a robot could hide. The hider randomly selected a hiding place and moved towards it, knocking down markers as it went. Then it was able to double back and hide in one of the other locations - knowing that the other robot would be fooled.

"The hider's set of false communications was defined by selecting a pattern of knocked over markers that indicated a false hiding position in an attempt to say, for example, that it was going to the right and then actually go to the left," explained Alan Wagner, a research engineer at the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

The experiments were inspired by research into how squirrels gather and hide acorns.

According to Professor Ronald Arkin at Georgia Tech, squirrels regularly "check" empty sites for nuts when another squirrel is nearby - deceiving the rival animal about where it has hidden its food.

The same strategy was the basis of the algorithm used to teach the robots to deceive its enemies.

"This application could be used by robots guarding ammunition or supplies on the battlefield," said Arkin in a statement. "If an enemy were present, the robot could change its patrolling strategies to deceive humans or another intelligent machine, buying time until reinforcements are able to arrive."

Engadget noted the terrifying possibility of Battlestar Galactica-style consequences resulting from this research. But if you're feeling optimistic, let's take Georgia Tech's word for it that this could help - and not hinder - humanity:

"[The robots could help in] search and rescue operations," said a statement. "A search and rescue robot may need to deceive in order to calm or receive cooperation from a panicking victim."