Concerning my failed invention, the Elf Detector

    Someone once told me that the Russian language has no single word for blue. Instead they have thousands of words for the various shades and variations of what an English-speaker calls blue. They’re crazy, right? Wrong. Science has proven that Russian-speaking people actually see more shades of blue than people who speak other languages, seemingly confirming the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that language determines your thinking. Russians have an actual cultural adaptation that allows them to see more colors than the rest of us.

    A belief in playful nature sprites has been common in Europe in the past, but hasn’t been taken seriously in a few hundred years. Except in Iceland. In Iceland, the general chaotic nature of the Universe is attributed to the mischief of “Elves,” or “Hidden folk.” They build little houses for the elves, and delay road construction, and one prominent judge said that when he’s having trouble making a decision, he consults a pair of elves that live under his bench. There are even government officials whose job it is to make sure the NATO base in Keflavík is safe for elves.

    If you learn to speak Russian, you become aware of brand new colors, hiding within Blue. If you learn to speak Icelandic, do you start to see elves? Obviously, I can’t learn to speak Icelandic. I don’t have time for that.
 

    But I did have time to write an artificially intelligent computer program that “understands” the Icelandic language.
I also fed several encyclopedias on Icelandic culture into its programming, just to be sure. 

The Elf Detector's Main Display Face. I don't remember telling it to look like this.

The Elf Detector's Main Display Face. I don't remember telling it to look like this.

Then all I had to do was connect the program to a motion detecting webcam, and I’d be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether or not elves exist. Sounds easy enough.

    I left the program on all night, and it only took one picture, of an empty room.

This is ridiculous. There's nothing here except for a bike and some green and pink squares.

This is ridiculous. There's nothing here except for a bike and some green and pink squares.

    The experiment was a complete failure. I built a robotic body for this program, capable of feeling pain, just so I could throw it in a lake.