Do you remember HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey? HAL, which stands for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer, was the sentient computer that controled the systems of the Discovery One spacecraft and interacted with the ship’s crew. HAL’s exterior physical form was visually represented as a red television camera eye located on equipment panels throughout the ship. HAL as you might remember starts killing off the crew as they attempt to disconnect it. Keep that in mind as you learn this.

A robot in New York has passed the classic King’s Wise Men puzzle that serves as a test of the awareness of the self. It goes like this…

The King called the three wisest men in the country to his court to decide who would become his new advisor. He placed a hat on each of their heads, such that each wise man could see all of the other hats, but none of them could see their own. Each hat was either white or blue. The king gave his word to the wise men that at least one of them was wearing a blue hat – in other words, there could be one, two, or three blue hats, but not zero. The king also announced that the contest would be fair to all three men. The wise men were also forbidden to speak to each other. The king declared that whichever man stood up first and announced the color of his own hat would become his new advisor.’

The researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute adapted it for a trio of robots, two of which were told they had been given a “dumbing pill” which prevented them from talking before all three were asked which one was still able to speak.

All three initially couldn’t solve the problem and said “I don’t know”, but when only one of them made the noise, the robot in question heard its own voice and then followed up: “Sorry, I know now!”