NPR logo Robot With Super Powers Plays Rock, Paper Scissors

Robot With Super Powers Plays Rock, Paper Scissors

First chess, now this:


Here's a robot from Ishikawa Oku's physics lab at the University of Tokyo that plays rock, paper, scissor and always beats the human, every single time. Because the team that built it gave it a superpower.

An innocent human is invited to sit opposite the robot. Instead of going "Rock, paper, scissors, shoot!" as we do in America, in Japan, they go "Three-two-one..." and then flash their choice: fist for rock, flat hand for paper, two fingers for scissors.

Here's the difference. There's a high-speed camera in the room that can analyze the angle of a human's wrist joint (which predicts our next move) in one millisecond. That's much faster than our brains can do it, so the camera tells the robot what we've done almost the instant we do it, and therefore it can counter perfectly.

It looks like the robot is playing fair, choosing as we choose, but that's an illusion. It already knows.

This technology, say the physicists, "can be applied to "cooperation work between human beings and robots, etc., without time delay." Which I guess is supposed to make us feel better.

I'm trying to think of why I might like one. Maybe I could use it as a dance partner. Whatever move I make, no matter how flakey, it would instantly follow. It could be my Ginger; I'd be Fred Astaire.

Or I could park it under a ladder knowing it would always be there if I fall. But I'd never, ever play games with it: not rock, paper, not dodge ball, certainly not paint ball. Anything that loaded with wires and gizmos is probably a hustler, and I may not be smart, but I'm not an idiot. If it's not on my side, I'm not playing.