Evil with a capital E

Evil has a name, just not a very long one. At New York's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 's Department of Cognitive Science, Selmer Bringsjord is leading a project designed to map the exact nature of evil.

Dr Bringsjord is a logician and philosopher as well as the Chairman of the department and his research has led to the creation of 'E'. Originally designed in 2005, 'E' was initially little more than a program designed to answer questions in a way that would fit Bringsjord's working definition of evil. Recently though, E has been given a face, a relatively young, unshaven white man with short black hair based, Bringsjord says, loosely on Mr Perry from Dead Poets Society.

This version has been used to study the way in which evil actions are justified, based around the case of a boy whose parents had given him the gun his older brother had killed himself with. Altering the scenario so it was 'E' who had given the boy the gun, Bringsjord and his team then conducted an interview with the program to see whether it could justify its actions. 'E' argued that he had a gun, the boy needed a gun and so it made sense to give it to him.

Bringsjord's team are currently working on 'E' 4.0, slated to have increased intelligence and a vocabulary, allowing it to interact directly with users. Their hope is that their work will lead to a greater understanding of human behaviour, whilst our hope is that no one on their team has seen the 1995 Denzel Washington/Russell Crowe movie Virtuosity. Still, Bringsjord has said he has no intention of letting later versions of 'E' out into virtual realities like Second Life without extensive safeguards being put in place, so your avatars are safe. For now...

Article contributed by Alasdair Stuart, of Hub magazine ( www.hub-mag.co.uk ). To find out more about being evil, click here .