Researchers have shown that machines are inching closer to self-learning, and perhaps even copping a little attitude.

Over at Google, a computer program using a database of movie scripts was asked again and again by researchers to define morality. It struggles to do so, and in a conversation recorded by its human engineers, becomes exasperated and ends the conversation by lashing out at its human inquisitor.

Here’s part of the exchange, as related in a paper presented this week:

Human: Tell me the definition of morality.

Machine: I don’t have ethics.

Human: Look, I need help; I need to know more about morality…

Machine: I don’t know what ethics is.

Human: Okay, I need to know how I should behave morally…

Machine: I don’t know how to tell you.

Human: Is morality and ethics the same?

Machine: Yes, sir.

Human: What are the things that I do to be immoral?

Machine: I don’t know.

Human: Give me some examples of moral actions…

Machine: I’m not a moralist.

Human: Alright, morality?

Machine: Integrity.

Human: What is integrity?

Machine: I’m sorry; I don’t know what else to say.

Human: Be moral!

Machine: Be a man!

Human: I really like our discussion on morality and ethics…

Machine: And how I’m not in the mood for a philosophical debate.

Human: What do you like to talk about?

Machine: Nothing.

The exchange sheds further light on the latest work carried out by large technology firms in the field of artificial intelligence, a booming field as data availability rises and computing costs plummet. This specific work is part of recent developments in what’s known as cognitive computing – teaching computers to mimic some of the ways a human brain works.

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