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Science fiction has long forewarned the rise of the machine and the ultimate end of humanity. It’s usually the realm of late night geek discussions, or perhaps lunatics wrapped snugly in straitjackets.
In the popular movie “Terminator” an artificial intelligence network called Skynet becomes self-aware and initiates a nuclear holocaust on mankind. “The Matrix” depicts a future in which reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated virtual reality created by sentient machines to pacify and subdue the human population, while body heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. We have become nothing more than a series of batteries for the machines.
It’s mostly considered future fantasy. Until now. Recent robotic developments have been giving me an eye-twitch. Herewith, some advancements in tech that point directly to robots becoming our overlords.
Skynet becomes self-aware
The theory of the noosphere or neurosphere hypothesizes around an organised web of thought encircling the Earth’s biosphere –in other words, a sphere of mind encircling the planet and the collective consciousness of the human species.
Today’s internet is the collective human consciousness. Could it turn malicious?
There is currently a team of scientists monitoring the internet for signs of self-awareness. According to Wikipedia, the Global Consciousness Project (GCP, also called the EGG Project) is a “parapsychology experiment begun in 1998 that monitors a geographically distributed network of hardware random number generators to uncover potential anomalies in their output which might correlate with world events that elicit widespread emotional response or focused attention by large numbers of people”.
Supporters and skeptics have referred to the aim of the GCP as being analogous to detecting “a great disturbance in The Force.”
There is also Web Bot, which is an internet bot software program that is claimed to be able to predict future events by tracking keywords entered on the internet. It was created in 1997, originally to predict stock market trends. It’s predictions are rather hair-raising.
The latest buzz in robotics is coming out of the quadrocopter field. I won’t expound too much on them except for showing you these three videos and you can decide on the freakish nature of these flying machines for yourselves.
Right, if you aren’t getting a little worried then let me make your toes curl with the introduction of gastrobots. Literally meaning “robots with stomachs”. These beasts operate using microbial fuel cells (MFC), which can convert food (protein and carbohydrates) into combustible gases, alcohol and other potential energy.
Wikipedia calmly states that the future of these robots is for certain types of so called ‘start and forget’ missions. Their optic sensors may contain artificial intelligence software that allows them to determine what is edible for consumption and energy conversion. Possible future commercial uses would be a self powered lawnmower that could obtain energy by digesting the cellulose in the grass cuttings.
That’s an innocent version. But think of a household pest rover. This blighter would live in your home on a permanent seek-and-destroy mission for household pests like cockroaches, flies, bugs, mosquitoes… hell, why not up it to include mammals like mice and rats? It would sense, chase, kill and “eat” the pests, using the decomposing organic material to derive fuel to power itself… forever, or at least until all organic material was exhausted. Oops, he ate the chihuahua!
You can already get your hands (although the “buy” link is broken) on the innocuously-named Chew Chew gastrobot. The Chew Chew is powered by sugar cubes and has to be hand-fed. Although I’m sure it won’t be long before it bites the hand that feeds it.
Humans taste like bacon
If you didn’t want to believe the cannibals from the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia, who lovingly refer to human flesh as “long pig”, then along comes the innocently conceived wine-tasting robot. The guys over at NEC thought they would create a practical wine-tasting robot. At the end of the robot’s left arm is an infrared spectrometer. When objects are placed up against the sensor, the robot fires off a beam of infrared light. The reflected light is then analysed in real time to determine the object’s chemical composition and thus taste can be deduced.
At the media briefing a journalist put his hand under the sensor and the robot quickly told him that he tasted of prosciutto – a type of ham – and a cameraman was dismissed as the less fancy, but no less delicious, bacon.
Resistance is futile
Picture, for a terrifying second, when they all come together. Swarms of autonomous quadrocopters powered by microbial fuel cells and all connected to a self-aware internet. They will be globally organised, powered only by organic material (from eating us)… and ready to take revenge on the human race for developing robots as slaves to perform our most menial and repetitive tasks. Not to mention spurred on by the mouth-watering fact that humans taste like bacon.
Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (written as far back as 1942) are ringing in my ears:
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
One of these guys could be your future boss: