Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rise of the Robots: Are we our own Terminators?

On a previous episode of The Parafactor we covered a story about robots that were being designed to perform scientific experiments that would allow them to reason for themselves. This sort of spontaneous intelligence could be
a blessing or a curse. If executed correctly we might be able
to get definitive proof that life either does or did exist on other planets, utilizing the resilience and longevity of thinking machines for prolonged space travel. We might be able to help the severely handicapped through programmed “super providers”; nannies and caregivers that always remember to administer medication, and that never need to sleep.

So let's say that they will be used for good. They have the capacity to
store as much information as their hard drive will hold, and if it gets
full you can always upgrade it or even have the unit itself switch out its own hard drives when need be. This will give them countless different scenarios to run
through where each scenario can be sorted, logged and utilized for reference. We can program thinking machies to sort
through different drugs and find the correct combination of medicines to
cure diseases. We can run situational computations based on our fossil fuel resources to help move away from our reliance on oil. If these are the goals
that we are working towards, then I am all for it.

There is, on the other hand, that whole becoming self aware thing where machines see the apparent aberrations in mankind and start to develop their own contingency plans to deal with it. How will we be able to damage them at all when the scientists/mechanics that built them have built them to survive in the harshest environments on other worlds? The very design that enables their functionality could very spell our ruin. And how long until that functionality is recognized for its hidden resource and the production is moved towards alternative applications.

Let's look at the alternative now; metal killing machines. Is it all that farfetched to think the government will send robots into war against other countries? We see it as an element of blockbuster science fiction, but is it really all that unthinkable? Remember that drone technology is currently siphoning off some major defense dollars. If they do end up going this route, will they be able to differentiate between friends and enemies. Their enemies could be of any race, creed, or
class and the robots will need a way to determine who to shoot. If there is
a malfunction it could turn into a bloodbath for the wrong side, so they
will need to be not only to be intelligent, but also somewhat aware; an astute awareness that goes far beyond our current not-so-successful facial recognition attempts and move into musculature of the face and even potential phoneme recognition and predictive facial feature recognition based on certain dialects. Sounds a little like ethnic profiling doesn’t it? And we haven’t even the time to look at the social implications. Let’s just refer back to Asimov and move on.

When they become aware of the world around them, they will shortly then become “self-aware”. It’s a more term we apply more to Cyberdine Industries, but pop cultural references aside, it is the turning point that we all fear. If they become self aware, they may realize that they are being used as killing
machines and that self awareness may turn from quizzical to philosophical to pragmatic in just a few beats of the war drum. There is a fine line between patriotism and sadism, and personality often drives the latter. Sure,
we think Data from Star Trek was cool, but they won't be him.. It could be Cyberdine’s Skynet, and it wouldn't be pretty.
It has already happened once
in the S.W.O.R.D.S. project (Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance
Direct-action System). Luckily nobody was hurt this time. So what do you
do when you try it once and it doesn't work? The only logical answer is
to try, try again. This time
, they're making transformers as part of a project
called M.A.A.R.S. (Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System). What will
happen next?