Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Our Robot Overlords

This is absolutely creeping me out:

I had no idea robotics had advanced to the point where a machine could do something like this. This thing - Big Dog, it's called - is amazing. It's easy to make a four-legged machine that just plods along in the direction you point it. There are plenty of toys that do that, so long as they don't bump into anything. But to navigate over a pile of bricks? Recover from being kicked? Get up after slipping on ice? That's uncanny.

What's unsettling is that the production models this may lead to will be, basically, delivery devices. But what will be delivered, and to where? In our military we already use drone aircraft, not just to spy but to attack targets. What might be done with drone ground troops? Imagine tens of thousands of these things, heavily armored and bristling with weapons, trudging into a city to take it. Terrifying, and the potential basis of a cool thriller sci-fi movie where we of course overcome the robots and win in the end. This movie may have already been made, even. But when they're on our side? Each one remotely directed by a US soldier from perfect safety?

That becomes profoundly disturbing. Throughout human history it has never been possible to wage a war without suffering SOME human casualties. If a war can be waged by drone air, sea, and land forces, without risking a single American life, won't it become terribly attractive?


Don said...

Since war is about controlling territory / resources, there's no downside to making it safer. Or were you thinking that the potential for casualties has stopped us in the past? Can't think of a single instance.

Anyway, this is nothing compared to those driverless cars that navigated sixty miles of the Mojave without knowing the course ahead of time. Seems to me some high-tech company I'm familiar with was a sponsor, can't think of the name offhand.

Okay, okay, I agree it's creepy to reduce war to a remote video game. Next step is for each armchair combatant to not know if his battle is real or simulated. Sort of like giving each member of the firing squad hope that his gun held the blank. That would make a good movie too, with the plot descending into the consequences of someone hacking the system.

Steve T. said...

"Next step is for each armchair combatant to not know if his battle is real or simulated."

Have you ever read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game? Just so.

Don said...

Guess I otter. My boys liked it.

Anonymous said...

This robotic mule has been around for several years now. As for the driverless cars, that's the DARPA Grand Challenge. DARPA, you might notice, is the same organization sponsoring the robot in this video. For more info,