Can AI agents manipulate you into taking real-world actions?

David Gilbertson
Published in
10 min readApr 10, 2021

Hitler wasn’t a violent man. Not in the personal, physical sense. His millions of atrocities were carried out by other people, because he asked them to.

This may seem an odd way to phrase things, but I do so because the idea is important: by stringing together the correct sequence of words, over a long enough period of time, one person can arrange the world into a state where they can say “you there, go forth and murder for me” and their deeds will be done.

Nothing more than words.

Imagine someone had foreseen the future and smothered baby Hitler (with love or a pillow) but had the script of his life delivered by the baby in the crib next door, would we have seen the same results? Same words, different human. I see no reason that the outcome should be any different.

The basic recipe for the script is not exactly a mystery: you tell people they have a problem (people that are different to them), and that you have the solution (remove those people from their lives).


Osama bin Laden was another asshole who told people they had problems (Jews, Americans, Shia Muslims, democracy, music, chilled water) and that he had a plan to rectify things. His goal was slightly different (and will bring us a step closer to my point) — he wanted to inflict financial damage upon the USA. He failed to bankrupt the country entirely, but did manage to drain several trillion dollars from the rainy day fund.

And as with Hitler, he did it all with words. He didn’t go round doling out sick karate moves on infidels, he never took the controls of a 747. He just fed the right words in the right order into the ears of his followers.

Unlike Hitler, bin Laden wasn’t voted into a position of power to carry out his plans; he didn’t need a government, he didn’t need to be elected. He rarely held rallies, and his followers were geographically dispersed, more a distributed system than the traditional war machine. And unlike Hitler, the movement was bound to live on long after the head of the beast was removed.

This begs the question, does a vicious movement even need a leader?

The current mess

Enter the Incels, QAnon, Boogaloo, and a thousand other hate groups you’ve never heard of.

David Gilbertson

I like machine learning stuff.