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Robophobia

May 23, 2009

Limited posting this weekend – site traffic’s nearly dead as of yesterday, a sign that most people are probably reading this at work.  I’m hoping to get some more if not all of chapter four done over the long weekend after I catch up on my sleep and get my energy back up – I’m not in a funk but somehow I’ve lost my “oomph” this week.  Three days of not getting up early to write before work will help, I’m sure.  Oh to live in Europe and have all those lovely Bank Holidays.

P. W. Singer of Wired for War fame has weighed in at Slate.com on the “robots will kill us all” controversy, timed to the release of Terminator Salvation.  As to be expected of someone who’s actually done homework on the subject, his answer is no, robots will not kill us all.  Herewith a very condensed summary; the article is worth reading in full:

First, the machines would have to have some sort of survival instinct or will to power…Yet most of the focus in military robotics today is to use technology as a substitute for human risk and loss…It would serve the very opposite goal to give our robots any survival instinct.

Second, the machines would have to be more intelligent than humans but have no positive human qualities (such as empathy or ethics). This kind of intellectual advancement may be possible—eventually—given the multiplicative rate at which computer technology progresses. But an explosion of artificial intelligence that surpasses humanity (sometimes referred to as the Singularity) is by no means certain. My Roomba vacuum, for example, still can’t reason its way out of being stuck under my sofa, let alone plot my demise…

The third condition for a machine takeover would be the existence of independent robots that could fuel, repair, and reproduce themselves without human help. That’s far beyond the scope of anything that now exists. While our real-world robots have become very capable, they all still need humans…

Finally, a robot invasion could only succeed if humans had no useful fail-safes or ways to control the machines’ decision-making. We would have to have lost any ability to override, intervene, or even shape the actions of the robots. Yet one has to hope that a generation that grew up on a diet of Terminator movies would see the utility of fail-safe mechanisms…

…For all our pop-culture-stoked fears of living in a world where robots rule with an iron (or digital) fist, we already live in a world of technology that few of us even understand. It increasingly dominates how we live, work, communicate, and now even fight…Why would machines ever need to plot a takeover when we already can’t do anything important without them?

On another note, Cracked.com has a series of emails from Cyberdyne’s IT guy – not hilarious, but funny enough to be worth checking out.

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