Baby Steps

In the great 'Matrix' and 'Terminator' movies, one of science fiction's favorite themes — robots controlling the future — was vividly brought to the big screen.

But we all laughed, of course.  Robots, controlling the future?  Sure, makes for a great action flick, but there's simply no way it could ever really happen.  People would merely turn the machines off before they went too far.  The flip of a switch!

No problem.

However, just for the sake of argument, and no matter how wacky it might seem at times, let's pretend that it actually could come about and ask ourselves how.  Obviously, we'd really have to stretch the truth at times, but that's what good science fiction writing is all about.

For example, I guess we'd have to start with something really wild, like the military inventing some kind of "automated battlefield killer robot", and incorporating it into the military arsenal real slowly so the public doesn't become alarmed.

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Automated killer robots 'threat to humanity'

Intelligent machines deployed on battlefields around the world — from mobile grenade launchers to rocket-firing drones — can already identify and lock onto targets without human help.

But up to now, a human hand has always been required to push the button or pull the trigger.

Several countries, led by the United States, have already invested heavily in robot warriors developed for use on the battlefield.

Ronald Arkin of Georgia Institute of Technology, who has worked closely with the US military on robotics, agrees that the shift towards autonomy will be gradual.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

But we'd still need some kind of nefarious way in which all of these autonomous killer robots could be controlled by some kind of crazy, devious 'mastermind' computer, right?  But that would mean they'd all have to be infected by the same malicious, self-perpetuating, self-learning computer worm whose sole purpose is to infect the current computer and move on to the next until every microchip on the planet is infected.

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Microsoft wants to worm its way into your PC

Microsoft is taking a leaf out of the virus writers' handbook, hoping to use friendly "worms" to distribute software patches surreptitiously.

Vojnovic said his worms were capable of learning from past experience.

The worm starts by randomly probing for an uninfected host and then targets other computers on the same network. If it fails to find a cluster of uninfected hosts it changes its strategy in order to maximize the number of computers it can patch.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

But hold on a sec.  These infected autonomous battlefield killer robots can't somehow magically communicate with each other, right?  They'd still need some kind of huge "new generation" military satellite to link them all together, like that Skynet system in 'The Terminator'.

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Skynet 5B Military Chat-sat On The Way

The British military communications satellite Skynet 5B launched successfully from Kourou in French Guiana at 2206 GMT last night.

The spacecraft will complete the UK armed forces' planned new generation of orbital communications coverage.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

But just hold yer horses.  Okay, so the infected automated battlefield killer robots are being controlled by the mastermind computer over the next generation satellite network and are trying to kill us all, but how do they know where we are?  There would have to be some kind of wild, futuristic way an entire city could be monitored from above, where between the people's electronic devices sending out GPS signals and the RFID chips in their shoes doing the same, the 'spy in the sky' would act as a backup system to locate those few anarchists who choose to remove the electronic tracking devices from their clothing and appliances and attempt to run free, only to be tracked down minutes later.

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

With Air Force's New Drone, 'We can see everything'

Gorgon Stare is being tested now, and officials hope it will be fielded within two months.  The Department of Homeland Security is exploring the technology's potential, an industry official said.

"Being able to watch an entire city, I'm convinced, is going to have a huge impact on operations in the war zone."

They envision it will have civilian applications.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

Oh, sure.  "Civilian applications"?  Ha ha ha!  Do you seriously think Americans would put up with spies in the sky looking down at us 24 hours a day??

As if!

High-Tech Drones Joining Miami Police Force

The Miami-Dade police department will begin experimenting with high-tech drones as law enforcement tools beginning next year.

Although the military has been using unmanned aircraft systems for years, this will be the first time they are used in law enforcement.

The capability of the unit is phenomenal," said Miami-Dade Detective Juan Villalba.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

But wait just a minute.  Sure, a bunch of drones flying around the sky sounds a little ominous, but they're still controlled by people on the ground, right?  So that means only so many of them can be monitored at any one point, right?  In order to get around that hurdle, the drones would have to be taught to think like human pilots.

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

With New Software, Drones Get Closer to Thinking Like Pilots

A software company CEO who is trying to train drones to think like pilots promises he is not producing a cadre of mutinous rebel aircraft.  He just wants to prevent collisions between drones and human-powered airplanes.

The firm recently won a $100,000 Air Force contract to develop its Intelligent Pilot Intent Analysis System, which models pilots’ behavior in real and predicted scenarios, according to Danger Room.

But Stottler acknowledges the algorithm can’t predict errant pilot behavior.  What about errant drone behavior?  Is Stottler teaching drones to disobey their human masters?

“No, I am not,” Stottler promises.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

Wait!  I got it!  Sure, our new killer drone overlords will soon be raining death from the skies, but aren't you forgetting something?  Who's going to refuel them when they run dry?  What are they going to do, refuel themselves??

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Tests show military drones could refuel themselves mid-air

U.S. military flight tests have shown how drones could handle midair refueling by themselves, without human pilots. That raises the possibility of automated "flying gas stations" topping off robotic aircraft over future battlefields.

McCormick suggested that the drone flight-testing could lead to "non-traditional tanker concepts," perhaps a reference to automated drone tankers.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

But this is still ridiculous.  Sure, the old "eye in the sky" sounds pretty terrifying, but just tracking us by some electronic means isn't going to be enough.  For starters, our robot overlords would need some way to distinguish us from their fellow robots.  In order to do it right, humans would first need to establish a DNA database for every person in the country.  When you put your hand on that DNA-detecting door handle at the restaurant, our robot overlords would immediately be notified of your slave-citizen status, and thus stability and order would be maintained.

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Homeland Security To Use Portable DNA Scanners

The use of the portable scanners will likely move beyond the limited scope claimed by DHS, and is anticipated to become the new trend in everyday security. The technology used to analyze and gather DNA is becoming much less expensive and more efficient, making it that much easier to create DNA databases.

The new scanners will be used by federal agencies in a preliminary test to see how the technology performs, but “a new commercial marketplace for the devices is an inevitable result,” according to Jim Harper, member of the DHS privacy committee.

So far, there has been no comprehensive public discussion of what is being gathered, and how it should or shouldn’t be used.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

Oh, give it up, already!  There's just no way we Americans would ever put up with such nonsense.  Next, you'll be telling me we'll all be barcoded at birth!  Ha ha ha!

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Is a ‘human barcode’ on the way?

Moon believes the tools most commonly used for surveillance and identification — like video cameras and DNA testing — are slow, costly and often ineffective.

In her opinion, human barcoding would save a lot of time and money.

Advocates say electronic verification could help parents or caregivers keep track of children and the elderly. Chips could be used to easily access medical information, and would make going through security points more convenient, reports say.

So, it's all being done for the children?  Well, then, maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched, after all.

But wait just one little minute.  This whole thing is ludicrous.   Robots outsmarting man?  I suppose any minute now you're going to tell me they've reached some kind of "primitive level of intelligence".

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Scientists worry machines may outsmart man

A robot that can open doors and find electrical outlets to recharge itself.  Computer viruses that no one can stop.  Predator drones, which, though still controlled remotely by humans, come close to a machine that can kill autonomously.

As examples, the scientists pointed to a number of technologies as diverse as computer worms and viruses that defy extermination and could thus be said to have reached a “cockroach” stage of machine intelligence.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

But you're still missing the point!  Sure, a robot factory can work flawlessly 24 hours a day — but have a bolt come loose and the whole thing comes to a grinding halt.  Despite your 'cockroach intelligence' theory, they'll still have to reach a level where they're aware that they exist and what they're doing; enough to at least fix that loose bolt and get back to building their human-destroying machines.

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Automaton, Know Thyself: Robots Become Self-Aware

Now, instead of having robots modeling their own bodies, Lipson and Juan Zagal, now at the University of Chile in Santiago , have developed ones that essentially reflect on their own thoughts. They achieve such thinking about thinking, or metacognition, by placing two minds in one bot.

"Our holy grail is to give machines the same kind of self-awareness capabilities that humans have," Lipson says.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

Oh, this is just getting sillier and sillier!  Next you'll be telling me that robots are developing their own private system of communication where they can discuss their growing knowledge of the humans that enslave them!

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Robots To Get Their Own Internet

European scientists have embarked on a project to let robots share and store what they discover about the world.

Called RoboEarth, it will be a place that robots can upload data when they master a task, and ask for help in carrying out new ones.

Researchers behind it hope it will allow robots to come into service more quickly, armed with a growing library of knowledge about their human masters.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

Ah, but I think I found a flaw in the plan.  Sure, robots might become self-aware, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're actually going to feel any kind of loyalty toward their own kind, right?  For that to happen, they'd have to be taught to feel some kind of empathy for their fellow robot so they'd know who to trust, and who not.

Yeah, like that would ever happen.

Robots Evolve to Look Out for Their Own

A robot must protect its own existence.

This mid-20th-century dictate to the robotic clade from science fiction author and biochemist Isaac Asimov seems cleanly in step with Darwinian theory and the biological world of survival of the fittest.

But as scientists continue to witness animals and other organisms habitually sacrificing themselves for the greater good of their colony or kin, the picture of self-interested behavior in the natural world has become murkier. Might robots also learn to cooperate for the betterment of their own kind?

They already have. Meet the Alice bots. Some robots have been programmed to help each other out, but these automatons have "evolved" over generations to be more helpful — that is, to like robots.

Okay, so maybe the idea wasn't that far-fetched.

But just stop right there.  This has gone far enough.  Because in order for machines to outsmart man, they'd first have to be taught to outsmart man, right?

And what kind of idiot would ever do that?

Scientists teach robots how to trick humans

It sounds like something straight out of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But, in a chilling echo of the computer Hal from the iconic film, scientists have developed robots that are able to deceive humans and even hide from their enemies.

The team developed computer algorithms that would let a robot ‘decide’ whether it should deceive a human or another robot and gave it strategies to give it the best chance of not being found out.

Researchers say robots that are capable of deception will be valuable in the future, particularly when used in the military.

If you've ever wondered just how those 'Matrix' and 'Terminator' scenarios begin, I'd say the pieces are slowly and quietly falling into place.