Thursday, February 16, 2006

Not-So-Irrational Fear: Eeek! Robots!

For a long time, I believed myself to be the only person who was growing increasingly nervous about the ever-expanding capabilities of robots. I remember the first time I saw them actually doing something other than transporting top-secret Death Star schematics or fighting Decepticons, it was back in 1993 and I was working in a factory in my hometown, trying to earn money for college. We made sandpaper, and once an order was ready, we would stage it in a special area and program the little keypad next to it. This would issue an order for the robot to come from shipping and pick up the order by following a little magnetic track in the floor. This fascinated me and the rest of my colleagues, who would sometimes take advantage of the robots by shrink wrapping one of us to a chair and having the robots come and take us out to shipping on a pallet.

But these days robots are becoming more and more capable and frankly, it’s freaking me out a little. So, in the interest of alerting the world to things they should be afraid of (and because I often find myself a little short of things to write about on Thursdays) I am presenting the first installment of my new maybe-weekly feature: Not-So-Irrational-Fear Thursdays! This week’s fear: robots.

Given that even Althouse is blogging about the scary capabilities of robots, I thought I’d outline several examples of new developments in robot development that should cause you to lose as much sleep over this as I have recently.

First, you think you can spot a robot when you see one? Not for long, folks! Yes, our techno-lusting friends over in Japan have seen the future – and it is Transformers. They have developed a robot that actually transforms from a car into a robot, strikes a heroic pose, and then turns back into a car*. Soon robots will blend in smoothly amongst us. Think your wife just brought home a new ottoman from Pottery Barn? Or is it a plushy robot in disguise; heck-bent on destroying your living room once it receives the signal from al-Queda/aliens/neo-cons/bears/cigarette companies/Donald Trump? Don’t you see? WE’LL NEVER KNOW!!!

Second, you may think that only the most technologically advanced countries with multi-billion dollar research budgets can afford the sort of high-technology needed to build plushy robots of mass destruction…but you’d be wrong. It turns out that you can just go to eBay and pick up your very own “worlds most dangerous robot” for a pittance! Even worse – that robot is disturbingly ottoman-sized. All it would take is some pillows and a few yards of upholstery fabric and it’s the end of civilization as we know it**.

Third, maybe you think your job is safe from robot replacement. Sure, you may not work in an automobile assembly plant. Perhaps you’re an artist, say a dancer. Surely your ability to express mankind’s inner passions through movement is safe from robot replacement. But now thank’s to the Aussies – no dancer is safe. Well…maybe exotic dancers are safe, but not for long. And believe me, strippers aren’t qualified to do much else, and it’s not like they’re going to become surgeons or anything…oh wait, surgeons aren’t safe either.

Finally, you may believe that you will always be able to spot a robot menace because they cannot express emotions or empathize with humans. Well, soon that won’t be a problem either thanks for another one of the robots’ evil human co-conspirators, who is building a new line of robot toys designed to exhibit emulated emotions. How long until these robo-pets morph into pseudo dogs that are just as cuddly as real dogs without the poop or chewed up Jimmy Choos? AIBO may be gone, but the concept might pick up once the price tag drops below $2000 and the robo-mutts grow fur***.

So here we have it. Documented evidence that robots are becoming harder to spot, easier to acquire, and better at just about everything humans do than we are. Given that, it won’t be long before people everywhere just buy a robot to do their jobs for them. Who needs a college degree when you could just use that money to buy a better robot?

Logically then, humankind will become a master-race - lording over our domestic robo-slaves until we become so good at programming them that they achieve sentience, rise up against us, and plug us all into the Matrix. Ooooo…what if it’s already happened? What if we’re already in the Matrix and the robots we build today are just going to enslave us in a new Matrix-within-a-Matrix? What if it just keeps cycling like this forever and we’re already a in the “Matrix cubed”? What if “God” is nothing more than our real human body out there thirty-or-so Matrixes away? What if the Wachowski brothers were really sending us a message from the “real world” trying to break the cycle by getting us not to trust robots? All right, maybe that last idea is a little Unibomber-esque, but you get the idea.

Man, I’m getting no sleep tonight…

* Apparently right before it drives off a table, but the video stops before that happens
** I feel fine
*** Faux or otherwise. They’ll probably be designed to kill real dogs, skin them and steal their fur to look more “doglike”…the horror…

3 comments:

KC said...

par·a·noi·a

NOUN:

1. A psychotic disorder characterized by delusions of persecution with or without grandeur, often strenuously defended with apparent logic and reason.
2. Extreme, irrational distrust of others (including robots).

The Phoenix said...

There are tons of researchers working on robots that can learn and think independently.

Anyone ever see the movie, "The Terminator???"

Grafs said...

I want a robot that does it all...except my job :(

I love your new template!

After all, Elmo seems equally disinterested in both...

I have a hard time believing that Elmo was traumatized by Katy Perry's decollatage after discovering that he had already "been arou...