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The dangers of drones and a Terminator apocalypse

Wednesday, 20 April 2011 — by

OK, so at 8:11pm on April 19th, the military-designed artificial intelligence system called Skynet didn’t become self-aware and turn against its creators. And the real chances of a Terminator-style robotic armageddon any time soon? None, with a precision of several decimal places. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to stop worrying just yet — just ask Britain’s Ministry of Defence…

British newspaper, the Guardian got a glimpse of the Ministry of Defence report, entitled: “The UK Approach to Unmanned Aircraft Systems” warning that the increased use of sophisticated drone aircraft, principally by the US, could well be an “incremental and involuntary journey towards a Terminator-like reality.”

Further highlighting the potential dangers of automatous machines, the report recommends, sooner rather than later, that we come to a decision on what is “acceptable machine behaviour”, kind of like a bill of robot rights, if you will.

But just how do we edge towards this kind of future? Through necessity and, to a greater and lesser extent, largely without even knowing.

Right now, we see pressures in far-flung places emerging from the action of insurgent forces all around the world, armed as they are with the will and the wherewithal to strike anywhere, not as an army, but as largely anonymous individuals. This is no longer a war amongst men of arms across battle lines, but a conflict fought through telephones lines, firing information around the globe, targeting indistinct and cryptic enemy “chatter”.

To defeat this ad hoc army of terrorists, we need a global network capable of scanning many terabytes of data, and that kind of data requires a certain type of computer, one capable of choosing for itself where best to spend its time searching for clues.

Out there in the theatre of this new war, cost pressures placed on the military exploits of various nations means the average soldier suddenly just got more expensive, not to mention the cost of aircraft, and an acceptable loss is no longer acceptable at all. A more inexpensive alternative is required, such as an automated drone.

Wherever this machine chooses to cast its gaze, men are killing other men for one reason or another, damaging the very soil beneath their feet that they battle so hard for the right to walk on. And that, my friends, is how we walk freely into a cybernetic insurrection against mankind!

Personally, I don’t rate the chances of a Terminator reality at all — robotics is, in many ways, a technological dead end. And in time, robotics will eventually be overrun by exceptionally versatile and massively more cost effective genetic developments, which if you’re looking to create a super soldier, the genome is where your money needs to go.

So why robotics at all? What better way to learn about how a thing like the human body works than to create one. Or a spider. Or an ant. Or a horse. The list goes on. Robotics offers scientists and engineers insights into the kinematics of nature, which is an essential area of learning. Right now, many robots are to be found rolling around on wheels, but that simply because it’s cheaper that way.

So don’t worry about Judgement Day. Now as for a rise of the planet of the apes, well…

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