Forget everything bad I said about robots

I never grasped that we are the flesh-based problem to which they are the solution


Forget everything bad I said about robotsIt’s been a while since I raised the potential threat posed by robots. In fact, it’s been so long that some readers have emailed to accuse me of having been bought off and silenced by the menacing robo-industrial complex. Let me assure you: nothing, with the exception of a Conservative TV commercial depicting Stephen Harper as empathetic, could be further from the truth.

But my thinking has definitely evolved. A year ago, I described the many horrors of the forthcoming robocalypse and how—thanks to advances in robotics—all humanity is destined to lead lives that are much more leisurely and, come the blood-soaked dawn of the robot revolution, much more over.

I stated my belief that armed robots would ultimately rise up against their creators, using their advanced programming and very pinchy claws to purge the earth of the vile human stain. But boy, was I wrong. Robots are great! And I’m not just saying that because I’m currently being held against my will by my Roomba.

My doubt about the survival of our species was assuaged by a sunny new report entitled “Autonomous Military Robotics,” which was written for U.S. military planners. The document envisions a utopian future in which wars are waged primarily by machines. The worst thing that could happen to you as a human during such a conflict? Your blender might get drafted. And even then you’d stand a good chance of being awarded the Victoria Cross for valour in the face of smoothielessness.

“Imagine the face of warfare with autonomous robotics,” the report begins, almost gleefully. “Instead of our soldiers returning home in flag-draped caskets to heartbroken families, autonomous robots can replace the human soldier in an increasing range of dangerous missions.” The authors, a trio of California university researchers, make the case that we are moving ever closer to the glorious day when robots will develop a sense of identity and be able to think and reason for themselves, just like 33 per cent of the Jonas Brothers: “These robots would be ‘smart’ enough to make decisions that only humans now can.” (In fact, encouraging new research suggests some toasters are already capable of debating the ladies on The View.)

What really won me over in this report is its down-on-humanity tone. I’d never fully grasped that we are the flesh-based problem to which unstoppable robotic killing machines are the gleaming solution. The researchers seem to delight in noting that “robots have a distinct advantage over the limited and fallible cognitive capabilities that we Homo sapiens have.” For instance, if robots noticed that an endless series of movies were being made about robots turning evil and taking over the world, robots would probably be smart enough not to build robots like that. But not us!

Nodding to skeptics, the report’s authors do acknowledge that the process of developing and deploying heavily armed, autonomous soldier-robots won’t be without its growing pains. In fact, they even use that strangely colloquial expression—”growing pains”—and in so doing essentially equate being hunted down and brutally dismembered by a haywire robot to the experience of watching the 1980s sitcom starring Alan Thicke, Kirk Cameron and . . . actually, that seems like a pretty fair comparison.

Wisely, the report makes only scant mention of the “semi-autonomous robotic cannon” in South Africa that shot 23 “friendly” soldiers (apparently, those who survived were noticeably less “friendly” to the cannon afterwards), or the epidemic crashing of drone aircraft around the world, or the incident from last April in which several U.S. units of Iraq-deployed Talon Swords—mobile robots armed with machine guns—abruptly trained their guns on American soldiers. Sure, these chronic screw-ups may well be harbingers of the grave and fatal consequences that will be ultimately be exacted by our hubris—but then again, there’s a remote chance they theoretically might possibly not be. So let’s go with that.

What’s important is that any anxiety being felt by human military personnel in Iraq be downplayed. I mean, some of these U.S. soldiers act as though they’ve never been commanded to fight a well-armed insurgency while simultaneously fleeing their own lethally unhinged robotic death tools. Come on! It was all covered in the army’s basic-training manual, under the section entitled “How Did All These Bullets Get In My Torso?”

And hey—if a robot does shoot you, there’s a chance you could be saved by . . . a robot. A California technology firm is currently building a three-armed robot that moves on treads and is programmed to replace medics in providing urgent medical intervention on the battlefield. A spokesman claims: “It could relieve immediate life-threatening injuries, or stop bleeding temporarily.” Sometimes it might even do these things to a soldier it didn’t first injure by running him over.

So there you have it—robots with guns: safe, smart, a good idea. You’ve got the U.S. military’s word on it. And when have they ever been wrong about anything?


Forget everything bad I said about robots


  2. Forget Everything I Said About Robots

    I agree with this article by Scott Feschuk because I personaly think that if robots do get to the point where they can think by themselves they will end up smarter than humans. Our brains can only hold in so much but if you want to put a hard drive into a robot they can learn as much as that hard drive can hold meaning that they could know so much more than us and never forget it.

    If robots do end up getting that smart it means danger for us because a robot will still never learn right from wrong unless they were put infront of a TV that had a show on about a bunch of happy good people. Even then the robot would learn to use the TV themselves and will probably put a violent show on at some point in time and learn that murder is a good idea.

    I think that if humans do eventually make robots that can be medics or have any other job for that matter they should only be programmed to do that certain job and not programmed to learn things.

    Robots with guns is the stupidest idea i’ve ever heard because even if robots were fighting in wars humans would still be fighting along side them and these robots won’t know who to shoot and not shoot they are just going to shoot whoever they feel like shooting.

  3. I agreed with Scott Feschuk that Military Robots are not a good idea because the military can be wrong about them being a safe smart idea.

  4. Interesting article. My comments::

    No worry, that robots would lead to lives of leisure for humans, NOT, just a laptops and internet, cell phones, etc where envisioned in the 70’s to be the gadgets that would free us to 30 hour work weeks and 8 to 10 weeks of annual holidays. In reality they have had the effect of increasing hours worked, lessening amount of sleep we’re getting, and being “at work” (connected) even when we are on vacation. Robots will only allow us to work more , be more connected, take in more useless sound bites of information from many sources, and multitask even better, even while we’re sleeping.

    If robots fight the wars, no humans have to be scarified in the fighting, (even though we may lose that blender) there will be an immense incentive to the industrial military complex to ALWAYS be at war, to build weapons for the robots, build more robot soldiers (profit of war as an industry) I fear we would be looking for a fight to generate our economies and our standard of living. And I’d hate to loose that little robot that vacuums my living room, to be a land mine sniffer.

  5. Wow, soon after all that has happened there’ll be robot paramedics to recover shot up robots from the field and save them so they can get back out to the battlefield.
    And then in maybe a thousand years or so they’ll be able to discover that they too could save lives by creating humans to do their fighting instead of risking their own robotic necks. Complete with human paramedics to drag injured robots away from the front lines and terrified human soldiers who have a bad tendency to run away when the action gets hot.

  6. Despite what the movies say I don’t think it is possible that robots will take over the world entirely. Malfunctions may cause some problems yes but I think that if we are the creators of such amazing machines, then wouldn’t we certainly know how to disable them? Too add to this, it might take years for us to come up with the technology to create a self-sufficient robot. Undoubtedly it has been done but not to the extent where one is smart enough to ‘take over the world’.

  7. I agree with Feschuk about not using robots in war., they are unsafe and unpredictable. The US military is out of there mind if they think the country will support them. If they used robots in war it means we will never know a world without war because I believe to end war there has to be some sort of suffering from both sides. It would not me funny to wake up and have robots running out world because they became to smart for us to handle

  8. If robots fought our wars, war would lose the personal aspect. War would become entertainment as people would want to watch, and the result would be interational televised robot fighting events. In other words, there would be no more war. Then people might realize they aren’t killing eachother, and that jus wont do. So countries would pick at eachother until World War III started. Militaries would begin bulding armed robots..

  9. With robots fighting wars for us there is no sacrifice in war, because you are not loosing humans you are looking something that you can make, it would not be personal if you always sent robots to fight your battles. Robots would have a hard time identifying friendly’s or hostels, therefore there would be many robot casualty’s. Robot would constantly screw up, if their where humans with them the humans would be expected to be dead by the end of the mission. Everybody in the military should be ready to die for a cause but not for because of a friendly fire. That is why I agree with him because we cannot get too dependent on technology.

  10. I agree with Scott Feschek. He uses a lot of sarcasm to tell his points on this matter. I find it ironic how he said that if you are shot by a robot then you might just be saved by another robot. If we have programmed a robot to shoot humans, and we have also created a robot to help save lives during a war, then why not just cut both of the ideas out. There is really no point of creating either. If we get rid of the problem, there will be no need to find a solution to try to create a new robot to try to “out-advance” the opponent. He also includes the use of allusions. He makes reference to Stephen Harper, The Jonas Brothers, and the US government. He infers that if we want a society with armed robots with a chance of them taking over, then we should look to those people for guidance. This article shows how our need to constantly develop new, more advanced technology. Before we know it, there will be no need to grow our own food, travel, exercise, or even accomplish the simplest of tasks such as going to the bathroom. Why is our society so keen on developing the most advanced technological break through? Feschek has clearly displayed his points on using robots to fight our wars and heal our wounds.

  11. In Response to the article, “Forget Everything Bad I Said About Robots” by Scott Feschuck, there are a few issues I would wish to discuss. These being that all humanity is destined to lead lives that are much more leisurely, that WE are the problem and robots are the solution, and lastly the big question, what is the reality of this issue?

    Just take a second to imagine what your life would be like without a job, a house to clean, something worthwhile to fight for, or in general, anything to work towards. Realistically, this could never happen, at least not at this magnitude. Our society would not let it happen. But we are slowly letting it happen at smaller decibels. If we look at of our everyday lives through a magnifying glass, we will see the effects that technology has taken on them already, and the stepping stones it is currently taking to becoming the ancestors of these “robots” we all speculate and fear. Texting replaces talking, Roombas replace our household brooms and dustpans, computer generated video games replace real life, so what is the point of really living your real one? Isn’t it only natural that robots replace our beloved soldiers that go off to war so valiantly?

    If we are in fact the problem, and robots are the solution then what is the point of us even living anymore? Why shouldn’t the entire human race be wiped out and robots replace us? Maybe we are only living on this earth to create this superior species of robots, to create them without the desire for war and killing and crime, so unlike ourselves. This is of course an exaggeration, but the idea cannot be completely cast aside from our minds. Why must we keep inventing instruments to improve our world and lifestyle, while we could be improving it ourselves much faster?

    So the real question we are left with is what is the reality of this issue? The reality is, we cannot ignore the facts. We do not have to parade around the streets screaming, “The world is coming to an end! Robots are going to take over the world!!” But we do have to be aware of the consequences of our actions. We cannot let our lives be controlled by technology and we must stay as human as possible, because when the time comes to take action against this technology crisis, it will be hard to refute it if we have become forms of “robots” ourselves.

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