Just in case you were worried that developing a convincing artificial intelligence was no longer enough of a challenge, cognitive scientist Selmer Bringsjord has decided to create virtual evil. He has spent four years working on an AI character called E that embodies the formal essence of evil.
Why do scientists keep trying to do this? The funniest joke, the prettiest face, the tastiest food. The most objectively valid, personal preference. And evil isn't even just a matter of opinion. Evil is a contrast. Evil is context dependent. Evil isn't a quantity like weight or strength. It isn't even like intelligence or a sense of humour. Evil isn't just you doing stuff that I really really don't like. Evil is a word for when I can't be bothered to properly understand your motives for doing something. Evil is just an illness that hasn't been properly diagnosed yet.
In other words, your evil depends on my ignorance. If I take the trouble to study your actions and analyse your intentions then I will inevitably conclude that you are either motivated by goals that I simply don't happen to share or that a bit of your brain isn't working properly. Either way, the evil melts away into the mist.
Everyone 'knows' that Microsoft is evil (at least the people who failed web design 101 do). Microsoft is big and has lots of money and controls our lives and sends invisible spiders into our brain to find out what we are thinking while we sleep, so they must be evil. But Google does all this as well and their motto is 'Don't be evil', so what's that about?
It's much easier to think of large organisations as evil than small ones. And much easier to think of small organisations as evil than people. And much easier to think of people we've never met as evil than our neighbours. And absolutely nobody thinks of themselves as evil. See? It's all about ignorance. The less you know something, the more evil it is.
So studying evil for long enough ought to convince you that it doesn't actually exist. And if you want something that everyone agrees is evil, it would need to be something that is completely alien to everyone.
Like a virtual personality.
Article continues below