Robopocalypse: Fact or Science Fiction?

February 26, 2012

Source: Life’s Little Mysteries

The scenario of a mechanized hostile takeover of humanity is a popular theme in sci-fi, but just how plausible is it? LLM’s Adam Hadhazy plays mythbuster.

Hollywood Hype. The nightmare of robots usurping humanity has become a staple of science fiction. But have you ever thought if such a scene is possible? Life’s Little Mysteries, the website dedicated to answering some of the more unusual tech questions, gives their opinion about the possibility of “robopocalypse.”

Even the experts seem divided. They believe man and machine will get along, but that relation can turn sour under the right conditions.

“The technology already exists to build a system that will destroy the whole world, intentionally or unintentionally, if it just detects the right conditions,” said Shlomo Zilberstein, a professor of computer science at the University of Massachusetts.

 

Military (Un)Intelligence. One scenario can be summed up in one word: Skynet. We have the technology to create it, so why not?

Nukes.

Currently, Predator drones in the Middle East have been getting more and more autonomy, more ability to make its own decision to attack a target. Even so, live humans still monitor its operation and can override the drone if needed. When humans tried to shut down Skynet, even the “allies” were determined to be “enemies” and let the nukes fly. The game plan to keep that from happening is to limit what weapons it has access to, and to limit its functionality to specific situations.

Small Eyeborg

“All the systems we’re likely to build in the-near future will have specific abilities,” Zilberstein said. “They will be able to monitor a region and maybe shoot, but they will not replace a [human] general.”

That wouldn’t preclude the possibility of a robotic arms race, leading to both sides loosing control of their machines…

 

Revolution through evolution. Another scenario of mechanized takeover is not as violent as nuclear war; Humanity simply replaces itself part-by-part, shedding the meat in favor of metal. There would be some resistors (sic), but they’ll be allowed to die out by themselves.

Of course, someone… or something… needs to build those robots. With robots building cars, planes, etc., it won’t be to hard to imagine that robots can build robots, if they’re not doing it already. But when robots not only build robots, but run the whole factory, and possibly the whole infrastructure that humans also rely on, things can get real sticky real fast.

 

Busted, Plausible, or Confirmed? It would seem that humanity is teetering on the edge of robopocalypse, yet it is something that is easily avoidable:

Overall, a bit of wisdom would prevent humankind from falling into the traps dreamed up by Hollywood screenwriters. But the profit motive at companies has certainly engendered more automation, and the Cold War’s predication on the threat of mutually assured destruction points out that rationality does not always win.

LMM gives a score of 2 out of 4 “rocketboys.” If it was MythBusters, this would be called “Plausible.”

Military leaders and corporations probably will not be so stupid as to add high levels of programmed autonomy to catastrophically strong weapon systems and critical industrial sectors.

Given the levels of stupidity that military and corporations like to show, I’d say this is more than plausible.

This post has been filed under Internet Find by Mr. Roboto.

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